The Real Toy Story: Jenna

Four-year-old Jenna loves swings, donkeys and exploring. She communicates using sign language and a range of symbols and toys.

Jenna holding her Fairy DollyWhen it’s time to go out, her family give Jenna her Fairy Dolly, to show what they’re about to do.

Jenna was born with a complex brain condition. She has very little sight or hearing and can also have seizures. Jenna’s mum, Katy, met lots of medical professionals who talked to her about the range of problems that Jenna might face. She feared that these problems could mean that Jenna would never be able to communicate.

Katy said:

“When she was a baby there was an endless round of hospital appointments. All the experts said the same thing, that communication would be difficult if not impossible. But then we met our Sense support worker Vikki, she told me that Jenna would be able to communicate from the word go. We started using toys and everyday objects to communicate with Jenna and slowly moved onto signs.”

Illustration of lego and jigsaw pieces

Vikki, their Sense family support worker, started introducing ‘objects of reference’ to Jenna and Katy – everyday things that act as a symbol for an activity or person.  So if, for instance, it’s time to eat her mum will give Jenna a spoon to let her know it’s dinner time. Or when it’s time to go donkey riding her mum will give her a toy donkey. Objects of reference and sensory toys helped build a shared language between Jenna and her mum and made it easier for Jenna to learn how to sign.

“I had learned to read Jenna’s body language and expressions, but I wanted for her to find a way to express her desires, thoughts and feelings so that she could live an active and independent life.

"With Sense’s support Jenna and I started using symbols and sign language and that changed everything. Jenna can now communicate with me and understand more of the world around her.”

Helping a child with sight and hearing difficulties recognise an object of reference can take a long time. But the process helps develop a shared language between children and their parents and makes it easier to connect with the world around them.

Sense can help children with sight and hearing loss and their parents find ways to communicate. We can also offer practical tips on suitable play activities and sensory toys tailored to each child’s needs.


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First published: Thursday 13 November 2014
Updated: Tuesday 1 December 2015