Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Feeling It: Orion is Eavesdropping!

Heather Withrow
April 23, 2019

With his right hand, Orion feels the hands of Roxanne, his teacher aide, and Elizabeth, his teacher, having a tactile conversation at school.
April 16, 2019. 
Orion is eavesdropping at school. Yes. This is mom-approved! A DeafBlind child tactually nosing in on conversations!

He’s been checking out tactile conversations through him touching the hands two adults in his classroom. A three-person unit! Two adults signing to each other and Orion is touching them with his hands. Using his feet are always an option for Orion. I know other DeafBlind children can relate to him this way--- being handy and footy. 
With his right hand already there, Orion brought his feet in to feel a tactile conversation between two happily amused educators.
April 16, 2019.

Observing conversations are a natural way of learning language and about the world; that doesn’t happen naturally for children who are DeafBlind. It dawned on me, perhaps during one of my past musing moments, that Orion didn’t have the benefit of just observing conversations happening between two other people, whether they were mundane or captivating. Growing up (Orion is now 8 1/2), when Orion experienced conversations, hand-under-hand observations, and hand play, it usually was between himself and another person. He had not extensively explored a tactile conversation between two other people. Orion has felt my arms or hands signing in the air, but not the hands of the person I was signing to. Children who hear can listen in on conversations, Deaf and hard of hearing children can see a conversation flowing through hands, facial expressions, body language. While conversation tones can be heard and seen, it can be felt as well. 

Symbolic words on the hands and body may still be abstract or elusive to him (I’m assuming… it’s a work of love in progress); I am thrilled he gets to observe the characteristics of a conversation between two others. He can feel the tone and responses of conversation participants. The best part is that he gets a kick out of it!

Moving onto an area I believe is an important part of this--- the home and school connection. I truly appreciate Orion’s team at school. They can sign visually with us parents and tactually with Orion and other students who benefit from it. They’re interested in tactile information, tactile feedback, ProTactile. When a school team picks up different ways to communicate, they’re ready to use them with any unique DeafBlind child who comes to them. Orion’s teacher is constantly reflecting on what’s happening in the classroom, accessibility and on the conversation topics between home and school. As a Deaf person, I know what it is like to suddenly realize I’d been unaware of a spoken (or signed) conversation happening nearby. That perspective helped me consider the DeafBlind version of the same thing--- missing a tactile conversation nearby simply because the Deafblind person was not made aware of it. Orion’s teacher was listening to us parents, and of course, she reflected and now Orion has opportunities to "eavesdrop". I love it. 

The delightful photos shared in this blog post were the roses that we just had to stop and smell during this bustling "rat race" season for our family. We want to create the time and space to do the same thing at home as well.

As a parent, I can say that having open lines of communication between home and school nurtures learning opportunities, whatever they may be, within the classroom and at home.
Orion experienced the laughter of others, Roxanne and Elizabeth, through ProTactile--- one way is feeling the laughter at the throat and the other is "tickle fingers".
April 16, 2019

Mom's note: I'm learning bits of ProTactile here and there from my DeafBlind friends. One etiquette tip I want to share with you that I've learned is that if you are watching a tactile conversation between two DeafBlind people and they're unaware of your presence, please let them know you are observing. (Strategies may vary. I've seen putting hands on the shoulders of the signers, or "looking eyes" (index and middle finger) touching on the shoulder.)

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