When it comes to teaching children with special needs and requirements in the classroom, it’s up to educators to step up and provide that extra support needed to ensure every child can thrive.

In mainstream schooling, this is even more vital when it comes to teaching students in need of that extra care or help. Deafblindness is one example of a situation where a child will need a great deal more support to allow them to succeed in learning and development.

As with any condition that results in traditional schooling being difficult for a student, children with deafblindness can have varying levels of requirements or support needed. As an overarching category for several different disabilities, from reduced sight and hearing to the inability to use one or both senses, it’s essential that teachers understand how they can help students with this condition go further and do more in a standard school setting.

What is deafblindness?

According to Sense, the definition of deafblindness is an individual who has reduced hearing or sight. There is a wide range of different levels of blindness or hearing impairment from individual to individual, but overall any student that falls under this category has reduced capacity to see and hear effectively. This has a direct impact on the way they interact with the world, as well as how they learn and communicate with others.

As with any broad condition, there are countless different ways in which an individual with deafblindness may choose to experience the world, from their style of communication to their connection with others. Multi-sensory impairment is another term often used to define deafblindness.

Thousands of people across the US have deafblindness to a varying degree, with the National Center of Deafblindness identifying over 10,000 children requiring educational assistance in 2017 as a result of this condition. Deafblindness can either be congenital, meaning the child is born with the existing impairment, or it can be acquired as a result of an accident or illness.

Causes of deafblindness can include:

  • A variety of syndromes, including Down syndrome and CHARGE syndrome
  • A premature birth
  • An accident or illness
  • Aging
  • Medical issues or complications from pregnancy or birth

It’s vital that teachers have a strong understanding of the reality of deafblindness, and as a result, the impact this condition may have on a student’s learning and development capabilities. This allows for the creation of more informed and active teaching plans, providing students with deafblindness with the best possible chance in school.

Deafblindness in the classroom

For students with deafblindness, whether it’s mild or severe, adaptations will be required for them to get the most out of their time learning. These adaptations and changes to the primary curriculum not only provides them with the tools they need to succeed; it also ensures their inclusion within the class as a whole. Because of their unique educational requirements, it’s essential to have a good understanding of how deafblindness impacts each specific student.

Several things are vital for providing children with deafblindness an effective and practical way to study. These are giving the student the right tools to learn, and offering them the safety to do so. For many children with this condition, development can be far more challenging. This is because the majority of children learn through listening and visual stimuli, whereas a child with deafblindness can’t achieve the same level of immersion in traditional lesson planning.

Another challenge for teachers with deafblindness students is the increased level of care and support required for even simple activities, such as moving around the classroom or taking part in more active lessons. Because students with this condition don’t have access to the same cues – whether it is being told to stop or viewing the obstacles in front of them to avoid harm – it’s vital for teachers to provide a closer focus on the student, to ensure their safety and understanding of hazards at all times.

For this reason, many teachers feel the need for additional support through a specialist when working with deafblind children. This is to provide them with the best possible support to encourage learning and improve engagement.

Teaching students with deafblindness

While some teachers may already have experience in providing useful learning tools for students with single sensory impairment, when it comes to offering practical education for children with deafblindness, it’s an entirely different matter. Because of how deafblindness children interact with the world, they will have far fewer opportunities for organic learning, so it’s especially important to have the tools in place to create excellent strategies for their education.

For teachers considering the best way to include deafblindness students in their lesson planning, these factors should be of primary focus:

  • Working to develop active foundations for communication – using tactile forms of communication is often the ideal starting point for students with deafblindness, providing them a new way to interact with others and their educators.
  • Using signals, gestures or physical objects – these are practical ways to incorporate communication development. Involving and educating other classmates in this way of communicating is also an effective way to help a deafblindness student interact with their peers
  • Establishing concepts – while a child with full use of their vision or hearing may have a greater grasp of a wide range of concepts – such as animals – goals and strategies can be developed around learning and exploring those concepts in more tactile ways
  • Understanding actions – beyond concepts, it’s crucial for both the safety of the student and development of their education to learn the communication of actions, whether it’s pulling, pushing, sitting or standing
  • Meaningful participation – often, deafblindness students can find themselves isolated from children of a similar age. Encouraging interaction with other students through actions or concepts can provide all children involved with new ways to communicate and work together

All of the above ideas, plus the support of an individual member of teaching staff, can provide deafblindness students with a far more involved, compelling and engaging educational experience. For teachers, sites such as the UNC Center for Literary and Disability Studies, offer many classroom resources to help provide a better education for students with additional needs.