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Co-drawing and Communication

co-drawing of 3 stick figures holding hands with smiles on their faces. The figures are labeled Dad, Dylan, and Mom. The bottom of the page says 3-of-us Happy.

This is the last page of the first book we co-drew and wrote at home about Dylan and Dad putting the tables together for School-Home.

In my last post, I shared my experience of talking with Dylan through tactile sign using a hand-under-hand technique. Often when we think of hand-under-hand, we think of using it to teach someone how to do a task, use scissors, zip their coat, or write their name. It is an alternative to hand-over-hand, where the helper’s hand is on top, making the student’s hand perform tasks, they aren’t yet doing on their own. Hand-under-hand in contrast involves an invitation for the student to rest their hands on yours, so they can “see” through your hands; “see” what you are doing, “see” the object of discussion, “see” aspects of the environment, or to even “see” how to do something. It is an approach that allows the child to maintain control of their body, and to be an equal partner in exploration and interaction. When, I started signing with Dylan in this way, he did not resist, because we already had a history of sharing relationship through touch. Information about hand-under-hand and resources for helping students get familiar with this type of touch are readily available through a simple search of the Internet. But now I want to share a less familiar practice called co-drawing.

Dylan was only four when I first heard Dr. Stephanie McFarland share an overview of Dr. van Dijk’s Curricular Approach, including “Drawing Instructional Strategies.” If you’re like me, you might have thought, “But I can’t draw,” and then left that strategy for someone else. At the time of her talk, I was focused on modeling American Sign Language and exploring what type of symbol, such as object, photograph, or line drawing made sense to Dylan. It never crossed my mind that co-drawing was something I could use at home, as a “language.” Using hand-under-hand to co-write has been a part of our home life, but co-drawing? Not me.

Co-drawing was something that was done at school, with Dylan’s fabulous communication specialist, Megan Mogan, and his incredible Intervener, Doe. I loved hearing the stories of how some amazing breakthrough happened during these co-drawing exchanges and I loved looking at the co-drawn experience stories that came home every day. Dylan and I shared a brief glimpse of his day through these stories.

Even better were the videos; videos that showed the connection and engagement that occurred as Dylan and Megan or Dylan and Doe wrote together. You can see this process in action in the video below, as Megan was helping Dylan grasp the concept of up in connection with the sign for up through co-drawing. Dylan learning about Up with Megan video. As great as that was, it still didn’t occur to me, that I could draw with him like they did.

Then Dylan’s school placement was changed to home, and I became Dylan’s day-to-day teacher. "Umm, now what?” I thought, “I can’t draw.” I clearly recalled my struggles in 7th grade art class. Nope. Drawing wasn’t for me. But as with everything we do in our School-Home, I learned from Dylan.

Fortunately Dylan “got it” with my rough stick figures and real objects traced on to the pages of his stories as I ventured into co-drawing with him. His engagement as we drew, led me to try basic drawings, such as a house or a tree, to provide more information. I began to let go of my need to be “good” at drawing in favor of the connection with Dylan and his learning.

Dylan and I shoulder to shoulder facing his slant board. The paper on the board has a co-drawn water bottle vending machine with co-drawn figures labeled as Dylan and Deb. Dylan’s right hand is resting on my right wrist as we complete the text “buy water bottles.”

The beauty of co-drawing, as with any hand-under-hand technique, is Dylan has a “voice” in it. The feedback between our hands constantly guides the story or lesson that emerges before us. Dylan is able to direct me to a part of the page as a request to elaborate. After just a couple of exposures, his hand can guide the direction of mine, expressing his knowledge of how to draw a rough outline of the United States for example. He also lets me know when I am starting to draw something he doesn’t want to talk about or doesn’t understand by either guiding my hand in a different direction, or taking the page, crumpling it up and throwing it in the trash.

Starting in school as a way to illustrate a concept or create an experience book for the day, co-drawing has evolved to a dynamic communication form wherever we are. I no longer have to worry about having the right picture communication symbol with me, when we leave the house. As long as we have paper and markers, Dylan and I can communicate about anything. It allows for spontaneity of topic, easy adaptations to our schedule, and best of all the opportunity for us to just “talk.”

I am sitting at a table in Target with Dylan standing beside me, his right hand on mine, as I begin to draw a square, which will become his symbol for batteries.

In this picture Dylan and I are drawing a shopping list. Our paper rests on top of a page that has photographs taken from a video of the simplest electric train, which he enjoyed watching again and again. With each viewing we talked about needing to buy the 3 objects shown on screen, batteries, copper wire, and magnets, so we could make our own. In the store, Dylan wanted nothing to do with the photographs. (I agree they are horrible contrast, but sometimes with familiarity it is enough.) More often though co-drawing our own representation has more meaning for Dylan, as it did on this day, where we stopped what we were doing to co-draw his list, and then proceeded to shop for the specific items.

If you saw Dylan on the Young Adult Panel at the 2015 International CHARGE Syndrome conference, you saw us co-drawing together as we waited his turn. You might have wondered what we were drawing together. Quite simply, I was interpreting for him, in the form of co-drawing, letting him know who was talking, key points of her talk, when his turn was, and what he was going to do. What you couldn’t see as he and I co-signed his presentation, was his “speech” lying there on the table, written out in co-drawn form for him to “read” from as we went along.

For a recent presentation, I looked up information on co-drawing, and found Dr. McFarland’s article, which was written about the time I first heard her talk about Dr. van Dijk’s Curricular Approach. As I read anew the key benefits of “drawing instructional strategies,” I thought about Dylan. Yes, co-drawing does promote the use of his residual vision, as placing his hands on mine draws his eyes to the page. Yes, co-drawing does allow Dylan and I to have communication that is clear to him and to me. Yes co-drawing does encourage Dylan to be an active participant in learning, and life. Yes co-drawing does provide a static communicative referent; that is it provides communication in a form that he can hold onto and refer to again and again. What the article doesn’t list is the benefit of competence and self-determination for Dylan and contentment for me, as we “talk” together through this shared media. I encourage you to give it a try.

Overview of the van Dijk Curricular Approach, Dr. Stephanie Z.C. McFarland, NCDB, Nov. 30, 2000

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