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For Academic Secondary Students
who are currently in grades 8-12

Building with Spaghetti
Building a structure out of spaghetti!
Which design is strongest?
Solar Oven
Testing the temperature of a solar oven.
Which design gets hottest?

June 16 - 21

Sample Class Report

ProblemBusters! is an exciting class designed to empower students to think like problem solvers as they participate in a series of hands-on activities based on the engineering design process. 

The class will be co-taught a TSBVI teacher of the visually impaired and Cris Schwartz, Ph.D., Associate Professor in the Departments of Mechanical Engineering at Iowa State University, whose passion is to teach students to think creatively.

Students will work interactively with the instructors and one another as they learn design methods such as identifying problems, innovating creative solutions, evaluating different ideas, building prototypes, testing designs, and presenting the results.  Students will develop teamwork skills as they innovate, build and test their personally designed eco-friendly paper-based structures and machines.

On Friday, June 21, students will present the final products of their endeavors in our closing ceremonies. 



For information about program content, contact
Margaret Edwards
(512) 206-9476.

For information about the application process, contact
Cathy Olsen
(512) 206-9182


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Excerpt from "Early Interactions With Children Who Are Deaf-Blind," by Deborah Gleason

Reprinted with permission from The National Clearinghouse on Children Who Are Deaf-Blind

Abstract: This fact sheet presents numerous ways to interact with the young deafblind child and offers suggestions for giving consistent sensory cues. Caregivers are provided suggestions for recognizing and responding to the deafblind child's signals. Techniques for encouraging exploration of the environment are shared.

Key Words: Programming, deafblind, early interactions, communication , sensory cues.

Early communication development is based on four ideas:

  1. Developing a close and trusting relationship with your child
  2. Using consistent daily routines in which your child is fully involved
  3. Providing your child with cues so he or she can learn to anticipate what is going to happen
  4. Giving your child opportunities to have some control over his or her environment

You, as the parent, take the all-important beginning steps by developing a close and trusting relationship with your child. One of the most important things you can do to develop a sense of bonding and security is to hold your baby in your arms. Your baby will learn how you move and will feel safe and secure as he encounters events of the day with you. Rather than feeling alone and isolated in his own world, he will begin to learn about a larger world that includes caring people and a variety of interesting movements, things to touch, textures, smells, and perhaps some sounds and sights.

As you join your child in play, you demonstrate that you share your child's interests. You play simple turn-taking games together, which, through daily repetition, a child may learn to recognize. You interact in ways that encourage your child to tolerate touch and handling, and in which he or she can begin to demonstrate enjoyment during interactions. The following suggestions may be helpful as you and your child learn to communicate together:

"Hello. It's me. Let's play." Always greet your child with a special "hello" (touching her chest or shoulder, for example) to let her know someone is there. Then let her know who it is with your own special "name sign" (by helping her feel Dad's scratchy chin or beard, or Mom's hair, or a watch or ring you always wear). Tell her what you will do together (touch her diaper to indicate diaper changing, for example, or introduce a favorite toy or movement game). Remember to say "good-bye" before you leave, perhaps by waving "bye" with your hand under her hand.

Establish predictable routines with clear beginnings and ends. What routine activities happen during the day for you and your child? Consider activities such as eating, dressing, bathing, and playing and think about how you can let your child know what will happen, when it will start, and when it will end. Perhaps you have a special blanket on which you play on the floor together. Getting this out together and sitting down on it will signal the beginning of play. Putting it away together signals the end.

Involve your child in the whole activity. Your child will learn the sequence of the activity and develop many concepts through his active participation in the whole activity. Remember that a young child who is deafblind must physically participate in the entire sequence of an activity in order to gather the same information that another child gathers just by watching. For example, at mealtime, you and your child go to the kitchen together, open the cabinet, take out a bowl, take out the jar of food, open the drawer to get a spoon and put the food into the bowl. Perhaps you heat it up in a microwave oven and when the bell rings, you both bring the warm food to the table. At the beginning of a meal, your child may touch his bib before you help him put it on, and when he is finished eating he can help take off his bib. You bring the dirty dishes to the sink together and turn on the warm water to rinse them. Throughout the activity, you offer your child simple signs (hungry, eat, drink, all done, wash).

Provide opportunities to make choices. Throughout the day, give your child choices: bounce or rock? cracker or juice? bells or slinky? pat your hands or kick your feet? You could show her two toys (perhaps the giggle ball and a mylar balloon) from which to choose. If she has some vision, you may hold the toys where she is best able to see them, alternately moving each one to help get her visual attention and watching to see which one she looks at longer or reaches toward. If she is not able to see the toys, you can help her touch each toy by gently bringing the toys to her hands (rather than taking her hands and putting them on the toys) and watching to see which one she touches longer, keeps her hand on, or tries to grasp. (Sometimes you may have to guess her choice.)

Remember to offer pauses. Some children take a little longer to process the information that they are receiving. It is important that they are given enough time to respond. If we don't allow the child this time, she may give up trying. Respect your child's pace and follow his or her lead. If she has chosen the giggle ball, you turn it on for her, then after a brief play time, turn it off and pause, waiting expectantly, leaving both your hand and the giggle ball very close to her hand. She can have some control over the game by telling you she wants "more." When you slow down and offer plenty of pauses, you allow your child time to anticipate and respond. You also give yourself time to recognize your child's responses.

Perhaps your son has a music box with illuminated moving pictures that he enjoys, but he doesn't have the motor ability to turn the knob to activate the music and light box himself. You and your child touch the music box together, pause, and then you turn the music box on for your child. When the music and moving lights stop, however, you don't immediately turn it back on. Instead, you wait with both your hand and the toy near your son's hands for him to give a signal, such as touching the toy or your hand, or waving his arms or vocalizing that he wants more. You then immediately respond to his request by turning on the toy for him.

Watch for cues. Stay alert for signals your child may give you that he or she is "ready" to communicate and participate in turn-taking games. Your child may signal that she wants to continue the game or, perhaps, she is "all done" or needs a break from the communication/interaction. She may kick her feet, wave her arms, make sounds, reach to touch your hand or the giggle ball, or use another signal. When she no longer indicates she wants "more," you may offer her another choice of play activities. Look for the following: quiet alertness, orienting toward the person or activity, reaching toward the person or activity, or vocalizing. Children have many ways of letting you know they would like to continue the interaction. Watch for small hand or body movements that reach toward the person or object. Watch for searching hand or foot movements, a smile, an open mouth. Stay in physical contact (allow him to lean on you or keep his hand on you or sit close enough so your leg is touching his leg). The following cues will tell you when your child has had enough and needs a break: turning away the face or body, leaning back, stiffening, fussing or crying, withdrawing, engaging in self-stimulatory behavior such as head waving or eye poking, closing eyes or mouth, or shifting attention to another object or activity (pulling on a blanket, sucking on fingers, etc.). Reading these cues and responding appropriately is a very important part of early interactions.

Invent your own games. Perhaps now she'd rather play one of her favorite games that you and she invented together. You begin at her toes and slowly move your hands up her legs, up her chest, pause at her chin, then continue to her cheeks, ending with a "nose kiss," rubbing your nose and face against hers. Because this is a game you often play together, and always in the same way, she has learned to anticipate what will happen. You may notice her excitement build as she begins to anticipate the fun "kiss" at the end. Perhaps she starts to move her face back and forth too, or reach up for your face. When you put your hands back on her toes, she might kick her feet indicating she wants to play again.

Explore the world together ("hand under hand"). It is very important for family members to remember that if a child has limited vision and hearing that they are not aware that you are both "looking" at the same object or engaging in the same activity (for example, the child may not be aware that other people eat!). Helping your child understand that others are sharing in the same experiences with him is an important factor in building relationships and self-esteem.

The hands of a child who is deafblind become his ears, eyes and voice. If he is exploring a toy, join him by gently placing one of your fingers under part of his hands. Likewise, if you want to show something to a child, encourage him to place his hands over your hands as you move toward the object. This way you can explore together. Then you may gently remove your hand so he can play on his own.

These strategies will send a message to the child that you are joining him and not simply manipulating him. When a child's hands are being manipulated hand over hand through a task often his reaction will be to pull away. If, however, a child learns to seek out your hands to share and explore, you will naturally be fostering a stronger desire to reach out to you for information and again, building a stronger sense of self-esteem.

Join your child in her play. What is interesting or fun for your child? Perhaps she has one of your shiny metal mixing bowls filled with brightly colored mylar paper and she likes to move her hands over the crinkly reflective paper in the bowl. You could sit across from her with your hands partly under hers in the bowl. After she moves her hands in the mylar, you can take a turn crinkling the paper. She will feel the movement of both your hands and the paper beneath her hands and will know that you share her interest. Pause so she may take another turn. As you take turns back and forth, you are having an early "conversation" about something that is of interest to your child. Initially, your son may accidentally bang his arm down on his sound/light piano toy, not realizing he has caused the sound and the keys to light up. With repeated experiences, however, his movements will become more purposeful as he realizes he made something happen. You can join him in play as you invent a turn-taking game: First, he bangs on the piano, then you take a turn and pause and wait for him to repeat his turn. By joining your child in a movement or activity he likes, by following your child's lead, and by imitating your child's movements and/or sounds, you and your child can share many enjoyable "conversations."

Encourage use of all sensory information. Help your child who is deafblind learn to use vision and hearing for functional activities and to interpret the limited sights and sounds that are available. Approach your child gently to let him know you're available for interaction; do not "surprise" him with unexpected or abrupt touches or sounds. Attend to and imitate any actions and sounds; invite him to take another turn; let him know you share his interests. Offer consistent touch and object cues to signal the beginning of an activity and use movement and body contact during your interactions.

Adapt the environment. Create clearly defined spaces for your child to play and explore; provide optimal visual contrast and auditory feedback; include toys and materials with sensory characteristics she will appreciate (e.g., shiny reflective toys such as a mylar balloon, toys with vibration, and easily activated sound toys that provide auditory feedback within his or her range of usable hearing). Objects may be placed where your child can find them—attached to the crib, high chair, or car seat, or in a hanging mobile or some special play space. In this way he or she will not "lose" them. They may also be placed so any movement the child makes produces a result. You need to provide opportunities that not only encourage your child to interact with the environment and the people and objects in it, but also give results of that interaction, so he can make the connection of "I did something. I made that happen." The little boy who kicks his feet while lying on a water-filled mat may not initially realize that he caused the movement he feels. However, with repeated experiences— "The mat only moves beneath me when I move"—the child will learn that he can make something happen. This child will become a more active player in the world.

Monitor levels of stimulation. Be sensitive to the type and amount of sensory stimulation your child can handle at any given time and adjust activities and materials accordingly. Be sure to monitor or eliminate background noise and confusing visual effects.

Use appropriate cues. Use simple, consistent, and respectful cues that will be understandable to your child. Cues should be clearly related to the activity from your child's perspective and presented just before the activity starts. To let your child know it is bath time, for example, you might dip his foot in the water, sign "bath," pause to observe his response, then lower him into the tub. In this way your child will learn to anticipate familiar activities; his world will be predictable and interesting; and he will develop a trusting relationship with the people who care for him.

Expose your child to language. Children hear a great deal of verbal language long before they learn to talk themselves. Likewise, a young child with deafblindness needs to be involved in an environment that is rich in all forms of communication. This may include words, signs, gestures, touch cues, object cues, movement cues, contextual cues, visual and/or auditory cues. Provide your child with language in any form he can understand. It is important to expose the youngest infant to sign language. When you use object cues, pair them with simple signs. As you respond to your child's communications, offer him simple signs. As a parent, you instinctively can discriminate between a cry of hunger and a cry of pain. Just as a mother would respond to a baby's cry by saying, "Oh, you're hungry", we must provide the same response using signs so the child will gradually learn that "every time I'm hungry and I cry, mom does this; maybe if I do the same thing I won't need to cry.

Help your child interact with others. As she begins to interact with other children, you can be a facilitator. Help other children learn effective ways to understand and respond. Help them learn how to use their hands to provide cues and how to use their hands to play together in a respectful way that encourages active participation and exploration by both children.

Playing games is much more than mere play. Through play, your child can learn a great deal:

  • Trust and anticipation that certain things will always occur
  • How to make things happen
  • Ways to ask for help, ask for more, ask to be done
  • The power of making choices
  • Better understanding of the world
  • Communication in its many different forms


Originally reprinted in See/Hear Fall 2005