Sunday, November 15, 2015

Behind the Wizard's Curtain: Mutual Touch and Shared Experiences

Recently, I was able to remember to take a video of a modest Orion during bath time to show an example of a shared experience.  There are so many opportunities for shared experiences out there!  The root of my understanding came from reading an article that discussed mutual touch.  This is very important to me as a parent that mutual touch and shared experiences lead to communication opportunities and language development.  It all starts small but the opportunities are endless... read on.

Mutual Touch

Did you ever think you could interact with your kid like this, "Hey, did you notice a whole lot of bumps, shapes, valleys and ridges on that lumpy kiddie slide?" Yes! You can have a conversation with your kid about this stuff. It even counts when your kid knows you explored WITH him.

A review of a sighted child and mother's interaction is mentioned in "Talking the Language of the Hands to the Hands", by Barbara Miles: "Perhaps the most important gesture in language development is the pointing gesture. A mother pointing at an object as she names it (“Look! Doggie!”) is establishing a mutual topic and ensuring that she and her child are focused on the same thing. The word that names the thing can then acquire meaning for the child."

And that brings in the blind or DeafBlind child's perspective in the same article. 
"Mutual touch is the most direct equivalent of the pointing gesture for a child who is blind since it lets him know most surely that there is a mutual referent, that the object named is the mutual topic that he shares..." (Miles, continued.)
If you have not read this particular article, I strongly recommend you read it from beginning to end and chew on the ideas and revel in your newfound empowerment.  (At least that was what it felt like for me, that's what hope feels like!)

It sure takes a lot of brainpower for me to remember to label things through tactile sign language that Orion and I touch or explore together. Sometimes he's still exploring the same thing or busy exploring the next thing he'd just found, which I don't want to interrupt.  (Let his fingers have all the time in touch possible.)  Or he's had enough signing input and I can't get a word in (he withdraws his hands or pushes mine away).  Or he has a "little" meltdown. It's OK, we all try the best we can.  Give him 5 minutes to rest and process his thoughts, try another time or even ask yourself whether he really dislikes that thing.

The Benefits of Shared Experiences

This leads me to a very short video (under a minute) I made of just one of Orion's millions of baths.  It's just one little twinkle of an example of shared experiences you can have with your child.

(Video description:
There are two shots in the video, the first is of Orion laying in a tub with a few inches of water, splashing the water with his arms.  The following shot is the same view but with an adult's hand splashing the water in between Orion's chest and left arm.

After the title, "An Orion Favorite: Bathtime", subtitles read:
"He loves to splash the water.
He loves to splash with Mom and Dad, too.
Splashing together makes it a "shared experience".
Solo and shared experiences are fun!
Shared experiences can lead to mutual joy, trust, movement conversations, and meaningful memories!)

Mutual joy: Did you see that contagious smile?
Trust: I am here with you.
Movement Conversation: I'll watch for signs, anywhere else that isn't the bathtub, that you might be remembering what you were doing in the tub and I can respond by joining you and acknowledging your self-initiated movement and even add some signs to the mix.
Meaningful Memories: There's nothing sweeter than knowing someone else shares this very moment with you.

A Mom's Musings

Mutual touch and shared experiences have many parallel benefits for language opportunities.  Shared experiences have dynamic movements that have better chances of being identified later on in a different context.  The movements initiated by a child can actually be used as a sign since it already makes sense to him.  The biggest thing of all that I love is that I can "look at things" with my son and he'll know it, too!

What a relief it is as a parent to know I can do this with my DeafBlind son.  When Orion was an infant, his dad and I wondered how do we get him from the point of a congenitally DeafBlind infant to a tactile-signing DeafBlind adult?  Mutual touch was one of the first inklings of opportunities we learned about however Orion wasn't exploring with his hands just yet and now five years later he's much more active with his hands and the opportunities are opening up.

(Hand development doesn't happen overnight, that's a whole 'nother topic.)

Orion was being cared for by his dad, in school or was sleeping during the typing of this blog.  That kind of time is very rare these days as he's more active! Blogging time is stop-n-go for me.  That's a nice problem for us... 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Educating DeafBlind Children: Current National Needs (With Links)

Wanna chew on the idea of becoming a Teacher of Deaf-Blind (TDB)? Or DB Intervener? Or IEP provider with specialized training in DeafBlindness?  Browse or message me. Let's have a dialogue on supporting our current personnel and growing more!

In this post I share about:
  • Current National Needs and Works In Progress
  • Orion visited the statue of Alice Cogswell and Thomas H. Gallaudet
  • Professional Development and Degree Programs

Current National Needs and Work In Progress

CEC Competency Based Dialogues to Support Students with Deaf-Blindness by Dr. Amy Parker, posted on in October 2015. I invite you to read the entire, richly informative article to visualize what has been happening in the years before and to imagine and believe in what could unfold for our DeafBlind children.

As mentioned in the article, Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) has knowledge and skill competencies spelled out for those who work with our kids.  Even though DeafBlindness is a very low incidence disability, there is a national theme of a need for supporting and developing our current school staff working with DeafBlind children plus a need for more numbers of qualified personnel in this field.  

The Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act (a.k.a. Cogswell-Macy Act or HR 3535) that has been introduced in the US House of Representatives, as of September 2015, included "Title III" which is for our DeafBlind children.  It also has language, that parallels the needs of our kids' Blind and Deaf counterparts, that they be served by qualified personnel.  

We still need more support from both sides of the aisle in the House.  The bill has yet to be introduced in our Senate. 

You can read in further detail (and see a list of current sponsors) about HR 3535 at (Deaf/HH) and (Blind).

Orion Visits Alice Cogswell and Thomas Gallaudet (Photo)

Mom and Orion with the statue of young Deaf student Alice Cogswell and her teacher, Thomas H. Gallaudet on the campus of Gallaudet University. Photo credit: Tammy Murphy.
(The statue is of a seated Thomas Gallaudet and standing Alice Cogswell, both their right hands show the handshape "A" and they are on a large pedestal base.  Orion is standing on the pedestal in front of Alice, one hand is on Gallaudet's knee and the other is on his coat, Mom is holding him up with a delighted expression on her face.)

Professional Development/Degree Programs

For Texans (and those out-of-state who can make it), the path to becoming a Teacher of the DeafBlind can go through Texas Tech University's "Dual Sensory Impairment Certificate" (a.k.a. DeafBlind, that!). It can be used as a specialty area for Masters of Education in Special Education.

Interveners-to-be anywhere can take online classes at Utah State University- (I hope this is the right link, but it's the right school!)  Students go through 8 online credits in one year (two courses), plus do a practicum to receive their Intervener Credentials.

A bonus for Texans interested in USU's Intervener Training, there is a scholarship opportunity to pay for your studies!  Apply for a DBMAT Intervener Training Scholarship by following this link to further information and criteria-  This scholarship is made available through the hard fundraising work of family members of Deaf-Blind Multihandicapped Association of Texas (DBMAT).

In other states, you can reach out to your state DeafBlind Project and inquire about Intervener scholarship opportunities they may know of.  State DeafBlind Projects (<- follow the link to a national list) are also sources of workshops of whatever length of time on a variety of topics in Deafblindness for both professionals and family members.

For your viewing pleasure, more photos from our time at the statue...

Orion's left hand appears from out of frame touching Gallaudet's right ankle (Orion loves shoes, in case you didn't know). Photo credit: Tammy Murphy  

View of Orion from the shadow of Alice Cogswell, the Gothic Revival style stripes and arches of Gallaudet's Chapel Hall is seen in the background.  Orion's right hand is touching Gallaudet's left ankle.
Photo credit: Heather Withrow
Seated Orion, with his back to us, faces south toward the statue.  Even though he does not see it, he has "been there".  I would presume he would remember the cold metal, the feet and legs (both human and chair).  Repeat visits would be needed for him to build the complete statue in his mind.
Photo credit: Tammy Murphy