Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Early Intervention for Infants with Deaf-Blindness

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Early Intervention for Infants with Deaf-Blindness

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT: Few individuals labeled deaf-blind are, in fact, totally deaf and totally blind. Many of these individuals have residual sight and hearing, but may not receive adequate early training in using these senses effectively. Effective early sensory training with infants entails the use of consistent reinforcement methods in natural social contexts. Preservice and inservice teachers must become knowledgeable in high-quality programming components in which the goal is to increase the abilities of students with dual sensory impairments--in both mobility and communication--and to help them become independent, responsible adults.

In recent years, educators and researchers have directed their attention to early childhood and early intervention programs for infants with severe disabilities (Bickman & Weatherford, 1986; Ramey, Trohanis, & Hostler, 1982). Specifically, this focus has resulted in an increase of interest in services and programs for infants with dual sensory impairments (Freeman, 1985; McInnes & Treffrey, 1982). In relation to early intervention and deaf-blindness, however, there is a need for improvement in university-level pre-service training programs, development of better identification and educational placement procedures, and the establishment of research-based intervention programming.

In this article, we briefly discuss the effects that definitions of deaf-blindness may have on educational placements and services for infants with dual sensory impairments and on the training of pre-service university students interested in becoming professionals in this area. Several intervention theories and their effects on current special education practices are also presented. In essence, we argue that the establishment of appropriate early intervention programs entails methods that address the use of residual sight and hearing, as well as the development of other senses. Thus, much of our focus in programming is on assessment and training in the use of vision and audition.


Problems in the development of effective intervention programming and the training of professionals have resulted from the range of interpretations for the federal government's educational definition of deaf-blindness (Baldwin, V., 1986; Bullis & Bull, 1986). In general, the federal definition does not suggest the multiplicity of services and the types of professional training needed to support these individuals with such diverse characteristics.

Many students with dual sensory impairments are categorized as multihandicapped (D'Zamko & Hampton, 1985). Their sensory impairments are not recognized as primary disabilities. Thus, these students may be placed in programs that lack sufficient supportive and consistent services to meet their needs effectively (Fredericks & Baldwin, 1987). For example, most teachers of students with severe or multiple disabilities may not be familiar with vision and auditory assessments; residual visual-training and auditory-training methods; coactive, cooperative, and reactive learning techniques (Van Dijk, 1965; 1968); and alternative modes of communication (e.g., communication boards, American Sign Language). In general, these teachers may have little or no knowledge of programming for students with dual sensory impairments.

Even some universities may not be equipped to provide preservice students with necessary skills to deal with the multiplicity of programming needs for teaching children with deaf-blindness (Baldwin, V., 1986; Bullis & Bull, 1986; Covert & Fredericks, 1987). For example, some preservice training programs for certification in multihandicaps or severe handicaps do not address functional visual or auditory training and assessment. In many states that offer certification for multihandicaps, the requirements are so generic they do not specify the skills necessary for dealing effectively with individuals who are deaf with additional handicapping conditions (Curtis & Tweedie, 1985; D'Zamko & Hampton, 1985). …

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