The services of the Wisconsin Deafblind Technical Assistance Project (WDBTAP) are free to schools and families. To see if your student qualifies or if you wish to make a referral to WDBTAP please click the following link.
Deafblindness encompasses a spectrum from mildly hard of hearing plus mildly visually impaired to totally deaf and blind. The later constitutes only 6% or less of all identified children who are deafblind nationwide. Most have some usable vision and/or hearing.
Challenges that students have in educational and other settings include:
- Difficulty with communication.
- Distorted perceptions: Difficulty in grasping the whole picture or relating one element to the whole.
- Lack of anticipation: Difficulty in knowing what is going to happen next because the context normally provided through ‘overseeing’ or ‘overhearing’ information and cues is missing or distorted.
- Lack of motivation: The motivating factors may be missing from a situation, going unseen or unheard.
- Lack of incidental learning: Firsthand individualized experiences are a much more effective way for a someone who is deafblind to learn than incidental observation or group experiences.
Effective teaching strategies and techniques include:
- Help the learner communicate and understand communication of many types.
- Make use of the residual hearing and the residual vision but not regard hearing or vision as all or nothing. Know what the learner can and cannot hear or see and how it changes in different environments. Understand the relative importance of all five senses.
- Respect the use of touch since hands may be the link to everything and everybody.
- Give plenty of time for reactions and decisions. With less access to context it may take longer to ‘put the pieces together’.
- Build a strong relationship.
- Develop positive self-esteem by giving the learner opportunities for choices.
- React to the learner’s actions and communication attempts as they happen.
- Give immediate feedback to their actions, including reinforcing success and giving strategies to refine their actions.
- Plan experiences so that problem solving is required.
- Use functional activities that can be learned in the natural routines of the day.
- Plan activities and experiences so they involve the learner at every step, from start to finish, of an activity. Too often, people and objects appear as if by magic and disappear the same way.
- Consider the use of Experience Books to give the emerging communicator a way to have a conversation about what they have experienced.
- Let the learner know who is in the room, when they enter and leave if they are not able to see. Even if they can see a person enter, they may not be able to discriminate who that person is.
- Include communication in all aspects of the IEP.
Intelligence in children who are deafblind is routinely underestimated. Because such children are "input impaired" and no method is available medically or educationally to assess actual mental processing, the only option is to evaluate output. Beware! Garbage In-Garbage Out. No standardized tests are available which accurately assess any individual who is deafblind. However, the goal is to provide information to the educational team and the family about the current level of functioning, and this can be done in various ways. A listing of assessment materials is available on DB-LINK.
The average size of a team for a deafblind student is 13. Half of the team will turn over each year and all the personnel on the team will usually be completely replaced within 3 years. For this reason, team communication is essential. The best results are obtained when these educators meet face-to-face on a regular basis (weekly to monthly) to talk to each other, do observations, interventions and/or help the other members of the team understand the impact of the sensory losses on all aspects of schoolwork.
Important members of the educational team are individuals who provide one-on-one assistance to the child with vision and hearing losses. They become the auxiliary eyes and ears for the student. Unlike an interpreter for the deaf, they will need to tell the student what is taking place apart from the words that are spoken. They may describe or facilitate exploring the environment. They may need to let the student know when someone enters or leaves the room if the student cannot see that for him or herself. Such individuals require specialized training.