Tier 2: Fostering Feelings of Success

In order for children to feel successful, they must have the confidence to act and interact with the world. This means they have to figure out how basic things in the world work; this knowledge is the foundation for all future learning. This includes the ability to differentiate object properties (texture, temperature, weight, size, shape, etc.), recognize specific movement, and to begin to form concepts related to abstract qualities like time and gravity. Children also have to be able to communicate with others about what they know.

Design activities based on the child’s interests

All humans tend to be more successful when engaging in activities that interest them. It provides motivation that keeps us engaged in experimenting, exploring, and figuring out how something works, what it can do, and what typical purpose it serves. For all children, finding things that motivate and interest them is critical to instruction. This can be somewhat more challenging with children who have very limited or unusual interests which is often the case with children who are deafblind or visually and multiply impaired, especially if they have additional disabilities.

It is necessary that we take time to observe what the child does when left to play alone with a variety of materials and when interacting with trusted others. Dr. Lilli Nielsen guides us to look at these behaviors to help identify the child’s “Pathways to Learning” or available sensory channels for learning. Dr. Jan van Dijk tells us to view these behaviors and areas of interest as potential “topics” for adult-child conversations.

Provide many opportunities for the child to explore and experiment with objects and materials

A teacher and a young boy who is deafblind enjoy playing in a tub of water and glass rocks.
A teacher and a young boy who is deafblind enjoy playing in a tub of water and glass rocks.

All humans learn critical foundational skills and concepts through our own independent exploration and experimentation with objects in our environments.  We learn about textures, temperature, weight, shape, size, density, flexibility, function and so forth. Children with sensory loss and other significant disabilities may be limited in their awareness of the things around them and/or lack the mobility to access them. We need to bring the world to the child and allow time for the child to find out on his own what each thing is like and what it can do. Dr. Lilli Nielsen’s Active Learning approach and the Curriculum for Multi-sensory-impaired Children from Victoria School, Birmingham, England are two resources that can guide educators to in providing these opportunities for foundational concept development. 

Utilize an appropriate calendar system that stays in a defined location

For all humans, stress is reduced when we know what things will happen and when they will happen each day. This is especially true for our children who are deafblind or have visual and multiple impairments. It is important that each child have a personal calendar system. The type of calendar will depend on the child’s understanding of time and his level of receptive and expressive communication. We recommend Robbie Blaha’s book, Calendars for Children with Multiple Impairments Including Deafblindness to learn more about calendar systems and how to determine the appropriate type of calendar for a specific child.

 Keep the child’s calendar in a specified location, so the child can find it when he or she needs reassurance about what is coming next or when a preferred activity will occur. The child may also need to use the calendar to help communicate his or her excitement or concerns about an event or person in their future or past. Sharing about an anticipated visit to see a beloved grandpa or a dreaded visit to the doctor can help relieve stress and anxiety about these events. This also increases the child’s confidence in his or her ability to have some choice and control over what is happening.

Calendar conversations provide a wonderful opportunity for back and forth or “serve and return” interactions. The structure and focus that calendar conversations can create, ensures a child’s subtle conversational initiations are recognized, understood, and affirmed in ways that are clear to both conversation partners.

Provide the support needed so he or she learns to cope with successes and failures

It is important to recognize the level of independence and support the child may need at any given point in time. We want our children to experience successes in all they undertake, but we also must help them cope when they fail to do something.

Resilience results from a dynamic interaction between internal predispositions and external experiences. Children who do well in the face of significant disadvantage typically exhibit both an intrinsic resistance to adversity and strong relationships with the important adults in their family and community. Indeed, it is the interaction between biology and environment that builds the capacities to cope with adversity and overcome threats to healthy development.

Resilience, therefore, is the result of a combination of protective factors—and neither individual characteristics nor social environments alone are likely to generate sufficiently positive outcomes for children who experience prolonged periods of toxic stress.

– Supportive Relationships and Active Skill-Building Strengthen the Foundations of Resilience

National Scientific Council on the Developing Child

A child who is deafblind or has visual and multiple impairments often lacks basic skills needed to make choices and participate independently in his world. When presented with a challenge, it is as if an inner voice begins to say, “I can’t do this,” and the child becomes distressed. This may cause the child to exhibit behaviors that further prevent learning and participation in the activity. When we provide just enough support, we allow the child opportunities to build skills while not feeling unable or unsuccessful. Over time with adequate and consistent support, resiliency grows, eventually allowing the child to be more successful with less direct support. Through a saturation of successful skill building opportunities, the child’s internal voice shifts to “I CAN do this.” Success coming from one’s own actions changes the child’s biology by building internal capacity to meet and overcome challenges; that is to become more resilient.

A young girl cups her hand over her ear indicating she is stressed.
A young girl cups her hand over her ear indicating she is stressed.

Any child may “meltdown” when faced with something they don’t understand or expect. Adult support to help reassure them during these times is critical. But we must be careful to balance that support with plenty of opportunities for the child to try things on his own to find his own successes and learn to cope with failures.

Respond to distress immediately by increasing support and redirecting

Any child may “meltdown” when faced with something they don’t understand or don’t expect. Adult support to help reassure them during these times is critical. We must also be careful to balance that support with plenty of opportunities for the child to try things on her own to find her own successes and learn to cope with failures. We also want the child to let us share the experience with him. So initially, we place little or no demands on the child and keep the unexpected at a minimum. As the child gains more confidence in his or her own abilities, we pull back our support slightly. We introduce novelty into the day or the activity “by the teaspoonful,” increasing challenges gradually as the child shows readiness to complete a step or action on his or her own.

Students in distress sometimes respond by rejecting things, people, or activities; displaying aggression to self or others; or being unable to move forward with activities.  These situations are most successfully defused by increasing support rather than calling attention to the behavior observed.  Defusing a stressful situation and getting the student back on track to be successful might employ modifications such as:

    • changing pace;
    • reducing demands or expectations;
    • providing more information;
    • increasing physical assistance;
    • introducing calming strategies.

Calling attention, negative or positive, to the behavior often reinforces the behavior and increases the likelihood it will happen again. Focusing on the distressed behavior diverts attention from the activity, makes it more difficult to re-engage, or causes the behavior to escalate.