To celebrate Deafblind Awareness Week, our Seashell Sensory team have crafted a series of blogs, delving into different aspects of understanding and supporting someone with deafblindness.

This blog, written by Deafblind Specialist, Heather Colson-Osbourne explains the meaning and uses of Tactile Communication.

“Congenital deafblindness or multi-sensory impairment (MSI) is a unique disability and affects the person’s ability to communicate, access information and mobility. Professionals working with children and young adults with MSI will need to receive specialist training that allows them to become effective and responsive communication partners.

Communication for children and young adults with MSI will look quite different to typical communication that is based on hearing and seeing. Very often, their mode of expressive communication will be tactile, even if they have residual hearing and vision. This is because the way they experience activities will be through the tactile sense. This different from the way seeing and hearing people experience and remember activities. This can create a mismatch in communication between sighted and hearing communication partners and the child who is deafblind. The communication partner will be using cultural conventional sign language which may not mean a huge amount to the child who has MSI, particularly if they are in the early stages of communication. It may also be the case that the child does receptively understand a conventional sign but still chooses to express themselves in a tactile way, as it is what they experienced during a meaningful activity. These expressions are very unique to the person and are generally not based on any cultural signs.

There is ongoing research on these unique communicative expressions. They have been described by the Deafblind International Communication Network as Bodily Emotional Traces or BETS for short. These are unique, spontaneous recreations of memories that come from people with deafblindness themselves, rather than cultural language. An example could be the feeling the movement of a boat, the feeling of breeze through hair or the feel of sand between toes. These recreations may not be recognised by their communication partners as they have ‘low readability’ and thus may not be responded to or missed completely. We as communication partners need to be fully tuned into the person and their communication styles in order to capture these expressions and respond meaningfully to them.”