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Spring 2001 Table of Contents
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A Celebration of Communities and Connections: The 2001 Texas Symposium on Deafblindness

By Kate Moss, Family Specialist, TSBVI, Texas Deafblind Outreach

It was a dark and stormy night when families, professionals and paraprofessionals from across Texas began arriving in Dallas for the 2001 Symposium on Deafblindness. Despite the terrible weather typical for Texas in February, spirits were high as people gathered in the registration area to renew old friendships and make new connections. The Symposium that followed over the next two days proved to be both a valuable training opportunity and an event that celebrated the community of people who are connected by deafblindness.

The Friday morning general session opened with a welcome by Outreach Director, Cyral Miller, followed by a "state of the State" message from Marty Murrell, Texas Deafblind Project Grant Director with Texas Education Agency. The almost 400 individuals in attendance were then treated to a keynote address from Cathy Allen, parent of a young girl with CHARGE Syndrome who is deafblind. Cathy set the tone for the entire conference by reminding us of the importance of collaboration between the family and the professionals in achieving quality services and programming for a child with deafblindness. She made us laugh and also cry with her comments on the joys and struggles of parenting a child with deafblindness and navigating the educational and medical systems. Cathy was definitely a tough act to follow.

Probably the only person brave enough to take on the challenge of following Cathy was the next scheduled speaker, Dr. Jan van Dijk of the Netherlands. His general address, "Stress: The Destroyer of Healthy Brain Formation," reviewed information about how stress prevents the growth of neural networks in the brain of a person with deafblindness. In addition to giving the general presentation, Dr. van Dijk presented three other breakout sessions over the next two days, including a discussion of the essentials in his methodology, delayed manifestations of Congenital Rubella Syndrome, and information on a new CD-ROM curriculum on assessment of persons with deafblindness.

Following the keynote and general session, breakout sessions were held on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. There were many wonderful speakers, and most participants had a great deal of difficulty deciding which sessions to attend. Some of the speakers presenting during these sessions included Barbara Miles, Jim Durkel, Millie Smith, Cathy Allen, Kathy Williams, Marsha Dunn Klein, Marlyn Minkin, Kim Conlin, Fran LaWare, Deanna Peterson, Lauren Lieberman, Maria Velarde Bove, Tom Miller, Sally Prouty, Linda Mamer, Melvin Marx, Casey Grim, Chris Montgomery, Tish Smith, Sandra Davenport, David Wiley, CC Davis, Steve Schoen, and Jeanne Reeves. Topics included information on touch, communication, routines, Usher Syndrome, CHARGE, Congenital Rubella Syndrome, assistive listening devices, family issues, assessment, home life, interveners, sexuality education, orientation and mobility, braille, feeding issues, self-determination, and mental health issues.

A new feature of this year's Symposium was the presentation of four awards during the Saturday luncheon. We hope this will become a regular feature of future Symposiums. Each year preceding the Symposium on Deafblindness a nomination form will be published in the Summer edition of SEE/HEAR. Anyone may nominate individuals for each of the four awards and return the form to Texas Deafblind Outreach. A committee made up of individuals with deafblindness, family members, educators, interveners, and rehabilitation staff working with individuals who are deafblind will review the nominations and select the recipients. Awards will be presented every other year at the Symposium on Deafblindness. The awards are the Trail Blazer Award, the Intervener Award, the Excellence in Education Award, and the Ann Silverrain Award.

The Trail Blazer Award is given to a family member who has, through their advocacy or efforts on behalf of their family member with deafblindness, blazed a trail that has made it easier for other families who follow. This year's Trail Blazer Award was given to the parents whose advocacy efforts resulted in the first school services in Texas for children with deafblindness. They included Gail and Paul Abraham, Mary and Dick Behnke, Jackie and Everett Bryan, J. W. Carter, Larry and Evelyn Clark, Wandene and Wes Coughran, Angie Dugan, Lloyd and Faye Eller, John and Geraldine Ellis, Sandra and Beau Faircloth, Marion and Lynn Freeman, Marilee and Clay Frost, Holton and Rita George, Richard and Joyce Hixson, Robert and Geneva Koonce, Vidal and Yolanda Maldonado, Patricia McCallum, Lorene and D.W. Murphy, Betty Murphy, Celestine and Riley Rand, Gilbert and Socorro Salazar, Delia and Andres Sanchez, Margaret and Michael Seguin, Homer and Mary Smith, Annie and Garland Wade, Evelyn Ware, and Anita Wheat. Accepting the award on behalf of these families were Evelyn and Larry Clark, Marion Freeman, Patricia McCallum, and Celestine Rand. Each of these families are still involved in supporting individuals with deafblindness. Dr. Evelyn Clark is a school principal in Houston and currently has a young deafblind student at her school. Marion Freeman is the Treasurer of DBMAT. Patricia McCallum is the Secretary of NFADB and a former Executive Director of DBMAT. Celestine is a DBMAT Regional Coordinator in ESC Region 18, the Midland/Odessa area.

The Intervener Award is given to an intervener who has demonstrated excellence in supporting a child with deafblindness and whose efforts have contributed to the success of the intervener model in Texas. This year's award went to Ann Bielert, who has served as an intervener for four different children with deafblindness and was one of the first official interveners in Texas. Ann has worked hard over the past nine years to improve her skills and knowledge about deafblindness through onsite visits from Outreach, participation in workshops, and involvement in the intervener training meetings. She has also shared her expertise with others by presenting at Outreach sponsored training, and at the Canadian Deaf-Blind conference held in Vancouver in 1998. Ann also serves on the Texas Deafblind Outreach Advisory Board.

The Excellence in Education Award is given to an educational professional who has made a long-term commitment to excellence in education for Texas students with deafblindness. Karen Buchine, Teacher of the Deaf and Hearing Impaired, with the Regional Day School Program for the Deaf in Alief, Texas was the first recipient of this award. Karen has worked with numerous deafblind children and has been a strong advocate for quality programming. She has also been a valued collaborator with Texas Deafblind Outreach, serving on our Advisory Board and helping with many special projects.

Our final award, the Ann Silverrain Award, is given to a person who has made an extraordinary commitment to improving the lives of individuals with deafblindness in the Texas. Randy Feille, Supervisor of Deaf-Blind Services for Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) , was given this special honor. Over the years, Randy has worked in many capacities to improve the lives of individuals with deafblindness. He began his career in deafblindness instructing deafblind students in after school activities and daily living skills at TSBVI's Deaf-Blind Annex. He's been a houseparent and instructor at Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center, and was instrumental in starting the Deaf-Blind Services department at Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) . He also served as the Co-Chair of the Texas Interagency Task Force for Future Services to Deaf-Blind from its inception in 1979 until 2000.

We are proud of these individuals and very thankful for the support they have given to Outreach through the years. We look forward to many more years of working together with them in support of individuals with deafblindness in Texas.

Some of the most valued sessions at the Symposium were presented by individuals with deafblindness. Alberto Gonzales from Austin, Texas talked about his life and how he has overcome many obstacles related to deafblindness. Sharing this presentation with Alberto were two professionals who help Alberto make connections in the world. These individuals are Nancy Kimbro, O&M Specialist, and Jackie Souhrada, Deafblind Community-Based Apartment Supervisor. One parent who attended Alberto's session commented that she now has hope for her son. Alberto helped her see that, despite being deafblind, her son can grow up and have a good life . This was a good reminder to me about how important it is for parents to have adult mentors and role 
models who are deafblind. There is no one more experienced about deafblindness than a person with deafblindness. As professionals, we really need to utilize this expertise more often.

Three other individuals with deafblindness, Andrew Prouty from Shoreview, Minnesota, Rosie Yanez from El Paso, Texas and Edwin Carter from Dallas, Texas also shared their experiences with us during the Symposium. These young adults were keynote speakers at our closing session on Saturday. All three of these wonderful individuals had participated in the "Self-Determination: Creating a Path to the Future" seminar held in conjunction with the American Association of the Deaf-Blind Conference in Columbus, Ohio during the summer of 2000.

Andrew showed a video that his brother, Bill, had made as a graduation present when Andrew completed high school. It featured highlights of Andrew growing up in the Prouty family. Andrew talked about the challenges he faces, the two jobs he currently holds, and his dreams for the future. He reminded us of the important role his family has played in his life, but emphasized how important it is for him to believe in himself. Andrew also co-presented with his mother, Sally Prouty, Coordinator of the Minnesota Deafblind Project, in a morning breakout session. A parent whose young child has CHARGE commented later that seeing Andrew renewed her. He made her even more determined to keep pushing for quality programming for her child.

Edwin and Rosie were our final speakers. Their presentation had the greatest impact on me because I have known these "kids" for a very long time. Hearing them share their experience from AADB and talk about their dreams was very exciting. They were both eloquent about why the things they learned about self-determination are important. I know that Edwin and Rosie will always be leaders and friends. They will advocate for themselves as well as for others with deafblindness. They will face the challenges that come their way and persevere. I felt a deep sense of pride in knowing them; they truly inspired me with their message. I know that their parents, Linda and Jackie Carter and Suzanna and Oscar Santillon, their siblings, their friends, and all the professionals who have worked with them through the years are proud of them, too.

From the comments shared by the participants and presenters, and among Outreach staff, I consider the 2001 Texas Symposium on Deafblindness a success. I came away with a renewed sense of commitment to improving the quality of lives for all individuals with deafblindness in Texas. I also feel that my efforts will be magnified through the connection I have with a larger community of other committed individuals, throughout the state, the nation, and the world.

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