Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

The Advantage of Encoding Tactile Information for a Woman with Congenital Deaf-Blindness

Academic journal article Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness

The Advantage of Encoding Tactile Information for a Woman with Congenital Deaf-Blindness

Article excerpt

Little is known about how individuals who are deaf-blind process information within the tactile modality. Individuals who are congenitally deaf-blind are at risk of developing learned helplessness, coupled with emotional and behavioral problems (Durand & Berotti, 1991; Janssen, Riksen-Walraven & Van Dijk, 2004). These problems are at least partially due to the lack of insights and skills of educators (such as teachers, caregivers, and parents) to adapt tasks and communicative behaviors to the tactile capacities of individuals who are deaf-blind (Bruce, 2003; Vervloed, van Dijk, Knoors, & van Dijk, 2006).

To what extent can tactile information processing compensate for the loss of interaction with the environment through the auditory and visual modalities? There is evidence that sensory deficiencies can be compensated for by increased sensitivity in the intact modalities, generally referred to as sensory compensation (Cohen et al., 1997; Sadato et al., 1996).

Memory is generally seen as a three-faceted process of encoding (perception), storage (consolidation), and recall (reproduction). Recognition is also generally regarded as dependent on activation and the reproduction of information from memory (Baddeley, 1990). However, research on cognitive processing among people who are deaf-blind has been limited. Arnold and Heiron (2002) investigated tactile memory in 10 adults who are deaf-blind and l0 control participants (with typical vision and heating), specifically recognition of complex three-dimensional objects, recognition of tactile domino tiles, recall from spatial memory, and recall performance on a spatial matching-pairs task. They observed no faster recognition times among the participants who were deaf-blind than among the control participants and found a similar number of errors for both groups. Arnold and Heiron only speculated about the better or faster encoding strategies of the participants who were deaf-blind, because of the enhanced past experience with tactile perception of these participants, but they could not demonstrate this possibility. Their method did not allow for a distinction between encoding and recognition.

Extended experience, such as that of experts, results in better encoding strategies, the so-called "expertise effect" (Anderson, 2000). Individuals who are deaf-blind may do better at reproduction from memory than may control participants as a consequence of their extensive encoding experiences. This first assumption, namely, an enhanced encoding capacity in individuals who are deaf-blind, can be tested by investigating tactile perception in a discrimination task, one that does not involve long-term memory. If a difference between individuals who are deaf-blind and individuals in a control group can be confirmed, an additional superiority effect in recall by individuals who are deaf-blind is not a necessary condition for outperforming the control individuals. This possibility can be tested with a task requiring the discrimination and maintenance of tactile information, controlling for differences in encoding capacities. The goal of the current pilot study was to determine whether an individual who is congenitally deaf-blind has superior tactile perception skills than do individuals with typical heating and vision and whether this perceptual superiority can explain potential differences in tactile memory performance.



Chris, a 40-year-old woman who is deaf-blind as a result of congenital rubella syndrome, participated in the study. She is totally blind (with some light perception) and profoundly hearing impaired. Reports of earlier psychological examinations (1968, 1978, and 1983) stated that there were "no further associated mental limitations." The study was conducted at the Department for Individuals with Deaf-Blindness at Viataal in Sint-Michielsgestel, the Netherlands.

In addition, eight adults with typical vision and hearing were recruited from the area surrounding Viataal to serve as the control group. …

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