The development of deaf blind-children.

By Gunilla Preisler and Helena Norström.


In 1993 a study of deaf-blind children in interaction with their caregivers was started. The objective of the study is to describe early patterns of interaction between the deaf-blind children and their parents both with respect to content of the interaction and means of communciation.Five children participate in the study, three boys and two girls. The youngest child was 13 months when first visited, the oldest 3:9 years. The children are those children diagnosed as severely visually and hearing impaired in Sweden at the present time. Four of the children have additional functional disabilies than the visual and hearing impairments. The families have been visited every third/fourth month and the parent-child interaction has been videorecorded. Direct observations of interaction as well as interviews with the parents are also made. The videorecordings are then transcribed and parts of the material micro-analysed in order to systematically transscribe patterns of interaction between parent and child. The first results show that the five children in the study elicit contact initiatives from their parents primarily by means of body movements, facial expressions and vocalizations. They can all take part in joyful interaction, best represented in body-plays. All of the children, even the youngest of 13 months, show different reactions towards important persons like mother, father, sibling or physiotherapist. All of the children, despite very different prerequisites, are attentive to the surrounding world. Play seems to be important fo these children, both exploration of toys or objects and body plays with the caregiver. The parents of four of the children use signs in their interaction with their child. The signs are simple signs placed on their child´s bodies like DRINK, COME, MUMMY, DADDY and CLEVER. Two of the oldest children have started to use some single signs.

Communication between the blind, the deaf, the severely visually impaired multiply handicapped and now the deaf blind children and their parents show a similar pattern of early interaction as that of normal children. Even if development proceeds very slowly for the children with the severe and multiply functional disabilities, it follows the same footsteps as those for the normal child.The results of the detailed analyses further show that the possibilities for a child with functional disabilities to engage in meaningful interaction to a great extent are dependent on the ability of the caregiver to adapt to the infant´s possibilities and to give space for the child to take an active part in the interaction - to follow rather than direct the child. Joyful interaction seems to be of special importance in the child´s general development and psychological well-being.

Preisler, G. The development of deaf-blind children. (1996). In Theodor Enerstvedt och Anne V. Nafstad (Eds.). Bilingualism and literacy concerning deafness and deafblindness. Proceedings of the International Workshop, November 10-13, 1994. Oslo: Research Unit, Skadalen Resource Centre for Special Education of the Hearing Impaired and the Deaf-blind.

Dept. of Psychology, Stockholm university
Return comments to: Revised: March 21, 1996

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