Exploring Language and Communication in an Individual with Congenital Deafblindness: A Case Study
Deasy, Kathleen and Lyddy, Fiona (2006) 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.
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