Deasy, Kathleen and Lyddy, Fiona
Exploring Language and Communication in an
Individual with Congenital Deafblindness:
A Case Study.
NCSE Special Education Research Initiative (SERI), Trim, Co. Meath.
The combined hearing and visual impairments associated with congenital
deafblindness severely diminish access to information from the environment and
impede opportunities for interaction and development of symbolic language.
Congenital deafblindness involves the impairment of both vision and hearing to such
an extent that an individual cannot function as someone who is deaf or as someone
who is blind. The term congenital deafblindness covers a spectrum of combinations
of varying degrees of vision and hearing loss. A total absence of vision and hearing
lies at one end, while at the other end, residual vision or hearing, or some residual
facility in both senses, is available. The degree of impairment varies within this
population, which precludes generalising as regards successful remediation
strategies. Concomitant physical or cognitive impairments will bring further
challenges. People with congenital deafblindness who are able to use their residual
sight or residual hearing are at a relative advantage, availing of communicative
options that make use of the residual sense. Nonetheless, individuals who present
with impairments within the spectrum of combined hearing and vision loss are at a
great disadvantage when developing communication.
Educational strategies for promoting communication and language in this population
generally advocate an individualised approach (see McInnes and Treffrey, 1982; Van
Dijk, 1986; Nafstad and Rødbroe, 1999; Chen and Downing, 2006). Many different
strategies may be utilised when supporting language acquisition. Such methods
involve the use of sign systems and tangible objects of references. Examples of sign
systems are formal sign language, adaptive signs and natural gestures. Tangible
objects of reference are those that are used to refer to other objects, people, places
and activities. They can be concrete representations, for example a spoon used to
refer to dinner time, or abstract representations, for example an arbitrary piece of
fabric that is used to refer to a day of the week.
Stereotypic behaviours are commonly observed in individuals who are deafblind.
Idiosyncratic or stereotypic behaviours may appear unconstructive but could prove
beneficial to developing communication. A type of echolalia (using signs instead of
speech) and imitation rituals are sometimes exhibited by individuals who are
deafblind, and may be significant in efforts to communicate for this population.
||This study was conducted as part of Kathleen Deasy’s doctoral research. We are
greatly indebted to Amy*, her family, her school, her teachers and her support
assistants, for facilitating the detailed observation involved in this research. Our often
lengthy visits were accommodated, with great hospitality, over an extended period
and, in addition, Amy’s family and teachers provided a wealth of supplementary
information that greatly informed our interpretation of the data. We also thank the
teachers for the deafblind who acted as coders in this study. We are grateful to the
National Council for Special Education for funding this research. Responsibility for
the research (including any errors or omissions) remains with the authors. The views
and opinions contained in this report are those of the authors and do not necessarily
reflect the views or opinions of the Council. Correspondence may be directed to
Kathleen by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
* The name ‘Amy’ is used throughout this paper and is not the real name of the girl
involved in this study.
||Exploring Language; Communication; Congenital Deafblindness;
||Science & Engineering > Psychology
||15 Sep 2011 08:17
||NCSE Special Education Research Initiative (SERI)
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