Tier 3: Fostering Feelings of Independence
Teach coping skills and provide opportunities to practice these skills in structured and safe environments
Coping skills are developed over time, none of us is born with the ability to cope easily with what the world brings us. Children who are deafblind or have visual and multiple impairments may be significantly delayed in their ability to self-regulate or cope with stress.
Beyond simply soothing a child, we can use strategies that help teach self-calming techniques. This could include strategies like taking deep breaths, taking a time out, or using positive physical activity (e.g., yoga, taking a walk, rocking in a rocking chair) to return to a calmer state when she becomes upset or frightened.
Learning how to name and manage one’s own emotional state in a positive way ensures greater independence in the world. Help give a name to the child’s distressed and calm states. For example, you might say, “you are angry” or “now you are calm”.
Provide direct Instruction in social skills
We learn most of our social skills incidentally by simply observing the behaviors of others. Children who are deafblind or visually and multiply impaired miss out on this information or, at best, have an incomplete understanding of “the rules” that govern our behavior. When you think about it, our social rules can be very confusing. It is okay to remove your clothing in the bathroom, but not okay to remove them in the kitchen. It is okay to sniff perfume on a wrist, but it is not okay to sniff someone’s armpit. When you first meet a colleague at the beginning of the day at work, it is appropriate to introduce yourself or say hello, but you don’t need to do it every time you interact with them during the rest of the day.
All children who are visually impaired struggle to some degree with learning the ins and outs of social interactions. That is why social skills are a required element in instruction for these individuals as part of the Expanded Core Curriculum (Dignan, 2016).
Build elements of social skills instruction into activities throughout the day, both in planned and incidental learning situations. Practice greetings and departure rituals, learn about how to properly ask for things or reject them. Take time to insure that instruction occurs about appropriate touch, modesty, and personal safety. Help the child learn to join into a conversation or introduce a topic for conversation with others.
Behavioral Supports Menu
Sometimes, it is true, a sense of isolation enfolds me like a cold mist as I sit alone and wait at life’s shut gate. Beyond there is light, and music, and sweet companionship; but I may not enter. Fate, silent, pitiless, bars the way…
Silence sits immense upon my soul. Then comes hope with a smile and whispers, ‘There is joy is self-forgetfulness.’ So I try to make the light in others’ eyes my sun, the music in others’ ears my symphony, the smile on others’ lips my happiness.
The Story of My Life (1902) by Helen Keller, Chapter 22
Demonstrate the emotional state you want the child to achieve
One fascinating scientific discovery in recent years is the existence of “mirror neurons.” Mirror neurons represent a distinctive class of neurons that discharge both when an individual executes a motor act and when he observes another individual performing the same or a similar motor act.” (Acharya and Shukla, 2012)
For a child who is deafblind or has visual and multiple impairments, observing someone might include not only visual and auditory information, but also tactual information. Many adults who are deafblind report that they gain information about the emotional state of others through touch. Dr. Jan van Dijk first used his “resonance” approach in working with congenitally deafblind individuals because he felt “we can mirror each other’s actions and emotions”. (van Dijk, J. Role of the Emotional Brain, no date provided) When working with a child who is deafblind or has visual and multiple impairments, we need to demonstrate the emotional state we want from the child.
We have to be mindful during our direct instruction. This allows us to slow our pace, use relaxed, expressive touch, and not become distracted by events and people around us. Keep the focus on the child. Observe his emotional state as it may manifest in body tension, vocalizations, and movement. Model a calm demeanor as you work with the child and don’t let your emotions escalate as the child’s escalate. (Miles & Riggio, 1999 and MacFarland, 2000)
The way we touch a person who is deafblind is very, very important. For a significant proportion of the people who are deafblind, touch is their primary (and most reliable) way of receiving information, and they will be sensitive to how they are touched in ways that most of us who can see and hear may only begin to imagine. A touch for a person who is deafblind can convey emotion, intention, goodwill or lack of it, haste or ease, approval or disapproval. We need to know when we touch what it is we wish to communicate. We need to learn how to make our hands and bodies convey our intentions.
Remarkable Conversations, 1999. Barbara Miles and Marianne Riggio