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In this study, we will focus on the interpersonal communication of two groups of people with hearing impairment and multiple disabilities: people with Intellectual Disabilities and Hearing Impairment (IDHI) and people with Congenital Deafblindness (CDB). These people have in common that they experience serious challenges in communication, which negatively affect their social participation. Their communication partners may find it difficult to adapt their strategies in interaction to the individual’s unique needs and possibilities. To avoid communication breakdowns in interpersonal communication, the communication patterns between individuals with IDHI or CDB and their communication patterns can become rigid and mainly focused on fulfilling basic needs.


Several studies indicate that storytelling with sensory objects can foster interpersonal communication with people with sensory and/or multiple disabilities. However, insight is lacking in effective strategies for communication partners to stimulate the interpersonal communication with people with IDHI or CDB, during storytelling. Furthermore, communication partners expressed a need for support in implementing storytelling activities.

Previous studies of Sensory Enhanced Interactive Story Telling (SEIS-T) involving both target groups, revealed spontaneous occurrences of joint attention and shared enjoyment during some of the storytelling-sessions, which were not the specific focus of these studies. Joint attention and shared enjoyment are communication aspects that are considered more advanced manifestations of the ability to share subjective states with other people. This ability is known as difficult to further develop for individuals born with sensory disabilities.


The aims of this study are (1) to get insight in specific story-elements and strategies that lead to shared enjoyment and joint attention between people with IDHD and CDB and their communication partners during SEIS-T storytelling activities, and (2) to test the effect of supporting communication partners in using specific strategies during SEIS-T storytelling activities. The study will use a mixed design of qualitative and quantitative methods: a critical review of the literature, focus groups and a multiple-case experiment with 12 dyads. The results of the critical review, the focus groups and baseline-recordings will be used to develop an observation instrument to measure joint attention and shared enjoyment during storytelling sessions, and to determine specific strategies and story elements for stimulating joint attention and shared enjoyment with people with IDHI or CDB. The results of these findings will also be used as a basis for an intervention that aims to support communication partners in the use of the specific strategies during storytelling activities. The intervention consists of instruction and two communication coaching sessions. The effectiveness of the intervention will be determined by comparing the occurrences of the independent variables, the specific partner strategies, and the dependent variables shared enjoyment and joint attention in the videos of storytelling sessions in the intervention phase with video-recordings from the baseline phase. Fragments in which joint attention and shared enjoyment were frequently coded, will also be analyzed to see which strategies and story elements elicit these targeted aspects of interpersonal communication. The results of the study will be used to develop a guide for communication partners and communication coaches, and a toolkit for creating personalized stories.

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