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The danger in doing the right things, but measuring the wrong thing

Have you ever felt like you were doing everything you possibly could to help your child or student communicate, and yet felt frustrated by the slowness of their language development? Have you ever felt like you weren't doing enough to help your child or student communicate?

I think at times, everyone on Dylan's team - including me - has felt both of these emotions; frustration with his lack of progress and self-doubt or self-blame. Clearly my son, Dylan, was a skilled communicator with those who knew him and what his body actions, patterns, and nuances meant. But naming things, initiating signs, and expressing choice were far more challenging, in spite of the team's focus on these very areas in each of his IEPs and related educational interventions.

When Dylan was 10, we completed the Communication Matrix for the first time. Ah ha, I thought. Perhaps we have been doing the right things, but measuring the wrong things. His Matrix showed mastery through Level 3, reflecting his skill as an unconventional communicator. When looking at his IEP goals, it was clear they were all focused at Level 7, Language. The mismatch was clear for us all to see. Yet, it also showed the vast array of language development skills in the levels between Unconventional Communication and Formal Language, with each providing an opportunity to support Dylan's expertise as a communicator.

Over the next nine years, the Communication Matrix has been our guide. It's shown progress, regression, and further progress, yet with each update, it has given us the opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate Dylan's communicative strengths and our successes in supporting his language development. These updates have also shown where Dylan can use more support and where we've been off track with our interactions, interventions, or expressive language goals, and helped us redirect our efforts.

Dylan's story is not unique, particularly for those who are deafblind. As natural as it is to focus on formal language as our communication goals, it is easy for all to be frustrated when these goals are not met year after year. Why is the student not meeting their language goals? Are the interventions appropriate for the student's level, but the goals not? By using the Communication Matrix, teams can identify what level the child is communicating at, and explore where they can best target their supports, and measure progress. In this way, progress towards formal language is more likely to be seen and celebrated along the way, which is far more fun and rewarding for all.

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