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Mother-child interaction revisited: communication with non-speaking physically disabled children

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Lindsay Pennington, Emerita Professor Helen McConachie


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This paper presents an in-depth analysis of the interaction between mothers and their severely physically disabled children who have motor speech disorders. The study was designed to partially replicate previous investigations, most notably those undertaken by Light et al., to examine ii the patterns of conversation previously described were observed in interaction involving children of a wide age range. Twenty children who had four-limb cerebral palsy, with no diagnosed learning difficulties or sensory impairments, and who were between 2 and 10 years of age inclusive participated in the research with their mothers. Children's speech was unintelligible to their parents out of context and most had been provided with aided communication systems. Other carers were excluded from the research due to possible differences in interaction style. Conversation between mothers and children was videotaped in a standard play situation. The toys used to stimulate interaction had been shown to elicit the full range of communication skills targeted in the present study from nondisabled children. Videotaped interaction was coded to show the structure of conversation and the functions used. The mode of communication used by the children was also recorded. In addition, communicative functions were elicited from the children in a semi-scripted conversation with a clinician developed from that used by Light et nl. Structural moves and communicative functions used by mothers and children were examined using mean proportions. Sequential analysis of mother-child interaction was also undertaken at both levels to investigate the patterns that recurred in conversation. Results support those obtained in previous studies, showing restricted conversation patterns and high levels of maternal directiveness. Mothers initiated most communicative exchanges, asking many questions and issuing many requests for attention, objects or activities. Children across the age range produced more response moves than any other move type. Their responses contained yes/no answers and acknowledgements, and to a lesser extent provisions of information. When children did produce communicative functions other than simple confirmation denials and acknowledgements, they were often not fully understood and were followed by requests for clarification by the mothers. Children produced a wider range of communicative functions in the semi-scripted elicitation conversation with the clinician than in conversation with their mothers (z= 3.52, p = 0.0002). The results obtained support those of previous research and suggest that interaction for children with severe motor and speech impairments becomes 'fossilized'. changing little throughout childhood. Findings support the two-pronged approach to intervention for children using augmentative communication systems that is non developing. intervention should focus not only on the children, teaching them how to use their augmentative systems and to produce a full range of conversation skills, but also should focus on their carers. Training for carers aims to increase their interaction skills, teaching them how to facilitate and expand children's communication skills.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Pennington L, McConachie H

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders

Year: 1999

Volume: 34

Issue: 4

Pages: 391-416

Print publication date: 01/10/1999

ISSN (print): 1368-2822

ISSN (electronic): 1460-6984