Introduction Recent studies show that the existing interaction patterns of children with multiple disabilities should be taken into consideration when planning communication interventions. For children with disabilities, it is especially important that the partner in interaction is sensitive and well aware of the importance of a qualitatively successful interaction. Wilder (unpublished report) found that the behaviour style of 30 children with multiple disabilities was more related to the caregiver-perceived interaction than the communicative skills and functional abilities of the children. This study inductively explored the caregivers’ perceptions of interaction within seven caregiver–child dyads. The research questions were: How do the caregivers perceive the interaction? How do the caregivers perceive the children's behaviour style to be related to the interaction with the caregivers?
Method The children were selected individually from the participants in Wilder (unpublished report) depending upon the responses the caregivers had given about the children's self-regulation and reactivity in the Carolina Record of Individual Behaviour questionnaire. The study was undertaken by means of home visits where the caregivers participated in an interview asking about their strategies for interaction, how they perceived the roles of the children and their own roles in interaction, the caregivers’ opinion of what an interaction constituted of and the caregivers’ aims and aspiration for interaction. The data analysis was performed by meaning concentration and categorization through a pendulum between the parts and the entirety of the interviews. In this way, hermeneutics and thematic analysis were both being practised.
Results The results of the interviews are presented as a model with categorizations as a network. The categorizations reflect the system of themes that permeate how the caregivers perceived interaction in the dyad. The themes are: sharing of experience, successful interaction, role of the child, role of the caregiver, interaction methods, obstacles and facilitators and aims and aspirations.
Discussion The caregivers perceived their own role in interaction to be of a sensitive leading kind. The caregivers lead the interaction by using their knowledge about the children's usual way of interacting, the children's behaviour styles, functional abilities, the children's current mood and situation as well as the whole context. They monitored the interaction such that, throughout an interaction sequence, the caregivers always tried to optimize the interaction between the parties in the dyad. The behaviour style was a background factor that the caregivers had knowledge of and scanned in their everyday turn taking. Although there were differences in the children's behaviour styles, the caregivers discussed the same themes in the interviews. The behaviour style became a facilitator for the whole interaction, forced the interaction in certain directions and made the interaction more complete with turn taking of different kinds from both parties. The findings show that it is imperative to see caregivers as experts on their children and to make them assertive in this in relation to professionals. Furthermore, as a successful interaction can boost the development of children, it is essential to direct interventions to the everyday interaction in caregiver–child dyads.