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A Publication about Visual Impairments and Deafblindness for Families and Professionals

By Chris Montgomery, Deafblind Education Specialist, TSBVI Deafblind Outreach

Abstract: The unique needs of students with deafblindness must be met by teachers who have specialized training and knowledge in the combined effects of hearing and vision loss. This article is Part II on the Teacher of Deafblind Project in Texas and how it has provided training and support to professionals serving students with deafblindness.

Keywords: deafblindness, deafblind, teacher training, professional preparation, Teacher of the Deafblind (TDB) 

There are approximately 750 children in the state of Texas with deafblindness. This is a unique disability which involves a combined sensory loss. Texas has highly qualified teachers of the deaf and hard of hearing (TDHH) and highly qualified teachers of students with visual impairment (TVI), each with specific skills and a community of practice. Members of these two teaching disciplines do not necessarily have training specific to deafblindness, however. The unique and varied educational needs of students with deafblindness must be met by teachers who have specialized training and knowledge in the combined effects of hearing and vision loss. Utah and Illinois formally recognize the role of teachers of the deafblind, but at this time there is no certification for a teacher of the deafblind (TDB) in Texas.

Description of the Teacher of the Deafblind Pilot Project

The goal of the Teacher of Deafblind Pilot Project was to provide participating teachers and districts with increased knowledge, skills, and strategies for serving students with deafblindness. The project sought to raise awareness of the need for dedicated professionals to work with students with deafblindness at the state and local levels. It also presented a structured approach for providing technical assistance to districts and helped identify the role of highly qualified teachers of deafblindness (TDB’s) in the IEP process. Most importantly, the project provided a model for how to provide quality support for students and their families. 

People asked questions about why the role of the teacher of the deafblind is so important. Here are some common questions addressed by the Teacher of the Deafblind Pilot Project.

Isn’t a TVI or TDHH who has had special training already highly qualified? 

Why are you recommending college coursework or a package of training for a TDB?

Deafblindness is a complex disability. A body of practice and research has identified  specific instructional strategies for this population. To serve these students, professionals need training in a scope and sequence based on a standard set of core competencies, such as the ones that have been validated by the Council for Exceptional Children (Initial Special Education Deafblind Specialty Set, 2010).

I have an intervener, why do I need a teacher of the deafblind?

There is no coursework on instructional design, or best teaching practices, for interveners. Legally, teachers are responsible for assessment, IEP development and student progress.

Money is tight. How are schools going to be able to afford to hire ANOTHER teacher?

We are not adding another person. The teachers of the deafblind would already be part of the IEP committee. We are attaching teacher of the deafblind (TDB) licensure to teachers who are already certified as a TDHH or a TVI.

Specific Information About the Technical Assistance Provided in the Teacher of the Deafblind Pilot Project

The Teacher of the Deafblind Pilot Project was based on a three-year technical assistance program serving local districts in the Houston area. The pilot was a joint partnership between the TSBVI Outreach Deafblind Project and Region 4 Education Service Center (ESC). It provided an opportunity for teachers and administrators to participate in a training project supporting new models for teachers of students with deafblindness (TDB). A second pilot project is using a two year time frame for this project.

The Workshop Model

Through a process of needs assessment, onsite visits, and participant feedback, the Texas Deafblind Project discovered that a large group workshop model was not always effective in bringing about change for students with deafblindness. Although large group trainings were well attended and participant response was very positive, there was a breakdown between what participants learned in the workshops and their application of the strategies, techniques, and concepts that were presented. The gap between learning and practice in relation to programming for students with deafblindness was quite large.

Another challenge was the lack of an identified “community” of teachers of students with deafblindness who had an understanding of their role and its importance as a distinct profession. To address these challenges, the Pilot Project was designed around a series of group workshop days, followed immediately by one-to-one onsite visits. During the onsite visits, teachers were able to apply and practice ideas and concepts from the workshop, with support from members of the Pilot Project. For example, after a workshop on deafblind communication, interaction strategies learned during the workshop (hand under hand communication, calendar construction, and routine building) were used directly with case study students. The workshop also helped create a sense of group cohesion by regularly discussing the role of the teacher of the deafblind. Each of the participating teachers developed deeper knowledge and skills and were then able to practice them with their students.

Over the three-year cycle of the pilot, a total of nine group workshops were presented. Topics for the workshops were based on a combination of the predetermined “Roles of the TDB”, group needs assessment, and the CEC TDB competencies, the set of “specialized knowledge and skills that professionals must master to educate individuals with exceptionalities” (Initial Special Education Deafblind Specialty Set, 2010).

Sample Training Sequence and Menu for TDB Program

  1. Intro - What is a Teacher of Students with Deafblindness (TDB)?
  • Program overview – contract, expectations, and outcomes
  • Why do we need the TDB?
  • Roles of the TDB – It’s more than Part C and FVLMA
  • The national, state and local scene – building capacity
  • TSBVI deafblind classroom observations
  1. The Role of the TDB on the IEP team
  • The FIE process
  • Deafness/Hearing Impairment, Visual Impairment, Deafblindness - definitions
  • Special Factors
  • Appropriate assessment
  • What does a quality “deafblind” IEP look like?
  • Positive teaming strategies
  • How to be a coach
  • Working with the intervener
  • What is the DB Child Count?
  1. Deafblind Strategies
  • Tactile communication strategies
  • Interaction and bonding
  • Assessing communication systems – calendar systems
  • Developing functional routines
  • Developing meaningful IEP’s that address deafblindness
  1. Functional hearing, vision, and functional communication assessment for students with deafblindness
  • Developing functional routines that promote the development of listening skills in DB children
  • Assessment issuers and strategies for beginning, developing, and advanced deafblind communication
  • What does the FVLMA look like for a student with deafblindness?

Options Menu

  1. Helping Students with Deafblindness and Challenging Behaviors
  • Understanding sensory impairments and the effects
  • Preventing problems is better than reacting
  • Analyzing the function of behavior
  • Behavior as communication
  1. Parents as an Integral Part of the Team
  • Transition to adult life
  • A parent’s journey (guest parent presenter)
  • Understanding stress
  • Community resources – who are they?
  • State agencies – who are they and what do they do?
  1. The Impact of Etiology and Complex Sensory Issues on Deafblind Programming
  • Considerations when designing a BIP
  • 10 Issues to Always Consider When Intervening for Students with deafblindness
  • DB Etiology

During workshop meetings, administrators often formed a separate group in order to focus on systems change, looking at topics on a larger, district level. The remaining group of participants focused on topics of student and teacher change.

Make-up of the teams

The mentor group consisted of three deafblind education specialists, the project director from the Texas Deafblind Project, and two deafblind program specialists from Region 4 ESC in Houston. The group provided one-to-one mentorship to the TDB’s and their teams, coordinated the workshop training sessions, and met with administrators from participating districts. For the one-to-one onsite visits, TDB’s were paired with one of the participating mentors from either the Texas Deafblind Project or from the local Education Service Center.

Outcomes

The Deafblind Pilot Project endeavored to determine appropriate ways to measure the effectiveness and success of their efforts. They established three central measures of change: student change, teacher (TDB) change, and systems change. Technical assistance was directly tied to these measures and was provided throughout  the three-year cycle of the pilot.

Student Change

Ten students were used as case studies during the pilot. Base-line information showed that most of them were not receiving consistent programming specific to deafblindness at the beginning of the pilot. By the third year, however, nearly all of the students had IEP’s created specific to their needs and appropriate classroom programming - deafblind communication strategies, assessments specific to deafblindness, and modifications and accommodations specific to their individual sensory needs.

A number of assessment tools were used during the pilot. These included: The Communication Matrix (Rowland, 2009), The Infused Skills Assessment (Hagood & Hauser), The ADAMLS (Blaha & Carlson, 2007), and the Sensory Learning Kit (Smith, 2005). IEP Quality Indicators for Students with Deafblindness, from TSBVI, guided the development of IEP’s specific to deafblindness, and objectives were designed to provide students with opportunities to build concepts, skills, and independence within the structure of functional routines.

The pilot group also developed student portfolios so that enduring and ongoing information could be gathered and tracked on each student. Along with IEP documentation, the portfolios included videos and pictures of the students’ specific signs and gestures, calendar keys for set-up and design of student calendars, routine sheets that listed the steps of known routines, and modifications, accommodations, objectives, and language specific to each routine. Some portfolios also included information regarding outside service agencies, Personal Futures Planning, meeting notes, etc.

Teacher of the Deafblind Change

Seven teachers were originally enrolled in the pilot project. All had either an endorsement in auditory impairments or visual impairments, or both. The teachers had varying experience working with students with deafblindness. Benchmarks for change were based on the Roles of the Teacher of Students with Deafblindness (TX Deafblind Project, 2013) and the CEC set of teacher skills and competencies (Initial Special Education Deafblind Specialty Set, 2010). Tools used to measure progress included video logs, teacher action plans, and teacher/student portfolios.

In the beginning, it was important for the pilot to identify teachers who had demonstrated an interest in deafblindness.  Many of the pilot teachers had worked with members of the deafblind team of the TSBVI Outreach Deafblind Project through onsite consultations, workshops, or family events. It was hoped that because of their demonstrated interest they would continue to pursue coursework in deafblindness and help further the development of a deafblind community of practice.

Systems Change

To measure systems change, the group examined increased efficiency in deafblind child count reporting, school programming change as noted by increased use of appropriate and specific deafblind strategies, establishment of collaborative teaming strategies, collaboration with outside agencies, and better satisfaction for families and educational professionals in the IEP/FIE processes.

After the completion of the first Teacher of the Deafblind Pilot Project, the TSBVI Outreach Deafblind Project team expanded the program, and they are now near the end of the first year of a new two-year Teacher of the Deafblind Pilot Project. They are partnering with different school districts and working with a new cohort of teachers to help test the model and apply the information learned during the initial pilot which concluded in 2014. Some of the changes for the second Teacher of the Deafblind Pilot Project include: 

  • The project will continue for two years instead of three. A three-year commitment of time and resources was deemed too long for both the Deafblind Project and the partnering districts.
  • The new pilot will be conducted on a smaller scale – it includes three TDB’s, their sensory teams, and students from two local districts.
  • They will establish “sensory” teams from the beginning – i.e. identify the counterpart to the TDB (TVI/TDHH), and include the special education teacher, COMS, and parents, as appropriate.
  • They will use the documents and protocols developed during the first pilot: Roles of the Teacher of Students with Deafblindness, TDHH/TVI/SPED Job Comparison, student assessment protocols, and teacher/district needs assessments.

Conclusion

In Texas, students with deafblindness must be served by both a TVI and TDHH. A separate (3rd) sensory licensure for TDB could mean that districts would need to hire an additional person for students with deafblindness. Instead, the Teacher of the Deafblind Pilot Project suggests attaching additional certification in sensory impairments to ones that already exist (i.e. TVI or TDHH).

References

Blaha, R., and Carlson, B. (2007). Assessment of deafblind access to manual language systems (ADAMLS). Retrieved from the National Center on Deaf- Blindness: http://documents.nationaldb.org/products/ADAMLS.pdf  

Hagood, L., and Hauser, S. (1997). Basic skills infused skills assessment, as part of Evals – Evaluating visually impaired students-kit, ©TSBVI.  Austin: Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

IEP Quality Indicators for Students with Deafblindness. (2003; revised 2009). Austin, Texas: Texas Deafblind Outreach, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.   http://www.tsbvi.edu/attachments/other/IEP_Indicators.pdf 

Initial Special Education Deafblind Specialty Set (2010). Council for Exceptional Children (CEC). https://www.cec.sped.org/Standards/Special-Educator-Professional-Preparation/CEC-Initial-and-Advanced-Specialty-Sets

Role of the Teacher of Deafblind (TDB) Itinerant in Texas 2012-2013 http://www.tsbvi.edu/role-of-teacher-of-deafblind-tdb-itinerant-in-texas-2012-2013

Rowland, C. (2009). Assessing communication and learning in young children who are deafblind or who have multiple disabilities. Portland, OR: Oregon Institute on Disability and Development.

Smith, M. (2005). The Sensory Learning Kit.  Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind.