Already at birth, infants have a variety of behavioural features which their parents and other people close to them can interpret as expressive behaviour. They aim to answer to these expressions according to the child’s expectations, being sensitive to his or her emotional state and focus of interest. Secure attachment relationship between an infant and her caregivers supports the development of early interaction and gives the child opportunities to develop an active and independent communicative role – according to her developing skills and needs.
Early interaction forms a basis for communication and language development for all children, regardless of developing children’s individual prerequisites. Typically developing children may seem to acquire their communicative skills very naturally, as part of their everyday life with their family and other people, while parents of children with developmental disabilities may need support and guidance from professionals to be able to adjust their own communication to meet their child’s developing skills and needs.
The assumption behind starting early intervention with children with foreseeable developmental risks is usually that the sooner one begins specialised activities with the infant, the more likely one is to prevent or reduce future problems of development. Intensified activities, together with the plasticity of the developing organism, are thought to produce positive outcomes. There are great hopes for the effects of early intervention, and it is a general finding that early intervention programmes do have substantial immediate benefits for disabled populations. There are, however, many questions that have to be answered, in particular whether there are any beneficial long-term effects of early intervention programmes for infants with developmental disabilities. There is a lack of well-designed, controlled evaluation studies which can demonstrate that the intervention programmes, those already in use and those being developed, really do have long-term benefits and are cost effective.
The doctoral thesis of Kaisa Launonen (1998, in Finnish) focused on early intervention of children with Down syndrome. The findings of this eight-year follow-up study have been reported and discussed in English in:
People with severe communication disabilities have often also other severe disabilities, such as cognitive, sensory and/or motor impairments. They have a high risk of being marginalised in their society, having very few social contacts and generally poor quality of life. They are often totally dependent on other people’s help and support in all aspects of their everyday life, including social interaction. Different approaches have been developed around the world to create for these people opportunities for rewarding interaction and experiences of being respected by others.
Manual signing as an alternative communication form refers to the use of hands and body to replace or support missing speech. It has been generally used for decades all over the world with different people with developmental disabilities. There is, however, a striking lack of studies concerning all aspects of manual signing and other unaided communication forms, compared to the research on aided communication which dominates the field of studies on augmentative and alternative communication. This problem has been discussed, and hopefully also mitigated to some extent by the recent publication of:
Aided communication as an alternative communication form refers to the use of different communication aids to replace or support missing speech. These communication aids range from single pictures and simple switches to large communication books and high-tech devices, computers with communication software. The aids usually include graphic signs from different sign systems, often together with individual photographs, letters and numbers. It is characteristic to aided communication that it takes much more time than the use of speech, and very often the expressions of aided communicators are a result of co-construction between them and their communication partners. The role of the communication partner is, therefore, not only that of an ordinary communication partner but often also of a supporter and assistant of the aided communicator.
Becoming an Aided Communicator, BAC, resarch group focuses on communication and language skills of children and adolescents who use aided communication.