Communication
for Children with Deafblindness, or Visual and Multiple Impairments

Avoid Pitfalls

There are many factors that come into play that influence how we design our instruction. Some are things we were taught in school or learned on the job from peers. Some come from the culture of the school. If the student is not connecting with the teacher, then the teaching strategies must be reconsidered. Here are some ideas to think about--have you fallen into these traps?

System-centered teaching: Parameters that are mandated from those who do not have experience with this low incidence population can appear insurmountable. If we think outside the box, we can usually find ways to appropriately connect with and teach our students while working within the confines of the system. Our instruction must begin with child-centered strategies to have success with this population. This means connecting with our students using topics that are important to them.

Teaching from a distance: Traditionally, we have thought of teaching as something that happens through the distance senses; we explain and show, students listen and copy. This is an impossible task for someone who may not hear what is being explained and/or may not see what is being shown. Even when someone has some amount of vision and/or hearing, there may be processing difficulties that can impair the message that the brain is receiving. Visual and auditory clutter may make it difficult to know what information to attend to. So we must bring our instruction to our students; many times their whole world consists of what is within arms’ reach.

No fun at school: Chronologically or developmentally young children learn through play. Their play is their work. We know that strong emotions are tied to learning and we want to target the positive ones. This makes play a vital teaching strategy for reaching these children.

Distraction: As teachers, we are responsible for the learning of many children as well as the coordination of many staff people. It can be difficult for us to have uninterrupted time with our students. One way to get around this is to schedule time with your student that can be uninterrupted. You may assign other staff to take care of situations that may come up, or to oversee the classroom during these times. You may also want to schedule these kinds of times for your teaching assistant if they have a particularly strong bond with a student.

Too much talk: Teachers often feel the need to be instructing at all times. This may especially be true for our visually impaired students who are missing out on all the visual information around them. But when we consider the student's previous experience, or lack thereof, words that we’re using to explain might be more like white noise than meaningful information. Master teachers are adept at being quiet. When we are quiet, we are able to listen to our students. Listening may involve watching them, noticing small changes, noticing what they are attending to, noticing how they are moving or if they’re uncomfortable or ready to move on. We have a hard time listening when we are filling all pauses with sound.

Short attention: The partner skill to being quiet is waiting. When we wait expectantly for our students to respond, we’re supporting the idea that they are an active participant in their environment. We are much more likely to notice the subtle changes or communication attempts while we are still and attentive. If we don’t expect our students to respond, we will not wait for them to respond, and we will miss out. Additionally, our students may be processing information and this might take them longer than you would think. So each time we prompt, we need to wait for a response before we prompt again, because with each prompt, the processing time starts over.

Hand-over-hand assistance: Hand-over-hand assistance has been taught and modeled in schools for a long time, but that does not mean that we must keep doing it. If our students learn from us using this type of prompting, they are learning in spite of us, not because of us.

    • When we have our hands over a child’s hands, they will most likely be paying attention to information they get from our hands, such as texture, temperature, and pressure, and not to the object or action we intended to show. Children also do not develop muscle memories of actions that another person is controlling.
    • For the child who is visually impaired, the hands function as eyes. Imagine trying to control what a person with vision looks at. Would you move their eyeballs for them?
    • Children may demonstrate a variety of ways to deal with the stress of having their hands controlled. Examples include:
      • Shutting down: some children respond by occupying their minds with other things or going to sleep.
      • Increasing negative associations with being touched, or “tactile defensiveness”, causing them to pull away more and want to be touched less.
    • Replace hand-over-hand with hand-under-hand guidance to see an increase in your child’s:
      • Attention to objects.
      • Willingness to reach out and explore the environment.
      • Level of trusting you.