The Impact of Cognitive Closure on Students who are Deafblind

Closure for Individuals who are Deafblind with Other Disabilities

Maurice Belote speaking at a podium.
Maurice Belote speaking at a podium.

Almost everybody wants and needs closure from spurned lovers to crime victims. If our professional life does not provide closure readily, we often develop hobbies that provide closure for us such as quilting or woodwork. Many children who are deafblind operate at high levels of stress, often toxic levels, and may not be available for learning and engagement. Lack of closure contributes to stress.

We all face ambiguities in life:

      • Who are you?
      • What are you doing?
      • Where am I?
      • Why am I here?
      • What’s happening?
      • Where are we going?
      • When will this be over?

Deafblind children are frequently faced with these ambiguities, in particular:

      • I don’t understand what you are telling me ….
      • You don’t understand me …
      • Why don’t you understand?
      • I don’t want either choice.
      • Slow down, I can’t understand you.
      • I can’t walk and pay attention at the same time.

Lack of Closure 

Ambiguity –  Higher levels of stress

Try singing the Happy Birthday song, but start with the second syllable on the first note so that the song ends before the melody resolves on “you”. Sung like this the happy birthday song really leaves  people hanging. Like Sheldon needing to knock three times on the door on the Big Bang Theory, if the door opened before he knocked three times it drove him crazy and he couldn’t let go of it.

Consonance and Dissonance

One of the key things to note about consonant sounds is that they sound very stable; you don’t feel any anxiety if the music doesn’t change because there’s so feeling of needing the sound to be “resolved.” In dissonance there is an “unresolved” quality to the music and many people find it unsettling.

Consonant musical sounds are often described with words like “pleasant”, “agreeable”, “soothing”, and “melodious”.

Conversely, dissonant musical sounds can be described as “sharp”, “jarring”, “unnerving”, or “unsettling”. This is because dissonant sounds create tension that the listener naturally wants to hear released (or “resolved”).

Tension-Release formula

We seek out experiences that provide a clear ending whether it is in music, literature, or other things. This is closure.

Originally proposed by Arie Kruglanski. An individual has a desire for a firm answer to a question and an aversion toward ambiguity. We need to predict the future – cause and effect. We are good at thinking about past experiences and patterns to predict the future. People vary in their need for closure.

The human mind is incredibly averse to uncertainty and ambiguity. – Maria Konnikova

Dr. Pam Ramsden, University of Bradford – Every person’s need for closure is different and appears as a function of the situation as well as personality characteristics and values. When we are under stress, for example, our need for closure increases. Certain personalities are different in the ways they approach closure. One study found that people who prefer order and predictability – having more rigid way of thinking and low tolerance for ambiguity – struggle when they are unable to find answers to help them move on. In contrast, people who are more open minded, creative and comfortable with ambiguity are better able to cope with not achieving closure.

Roets & Van Hiel Scale – Personality and Individual Differences

Examples of items from Need for Closure Scale:

      1. I don’t like situations that are uncertain.
      2. I dislike questions that could be answered in many different ways.
      3. I feel uncomfortable when I don’t understand the reason why an event occurred in my life.
      4. When I have made a decision, I feel relieved.
      5. I dislike it when a person’s statement could mean many different things.
      6. I do not usually consult may different opinion before forming my own views.

Closure for Students

For typical students they find closure in things like:

      1. Finish assignments, projects
      2. Turn in assign project
      3. Getting graded
      4. Complete quarter or semester
      5. Stepping up to higher grad
      6. Graduating
      7. Performing in concerts or plays
      8. Participating in sporting events

Divergent Perspectives on Closure

For the student who is deafblind, we can imagine a different perspective based on reactions we have observed. For example, there is a party in the classroom and a cupcake, the favorite sweet, is handed to a student who is deafblind. Then he drops it on the floor. He doesn’t know there are other cupcakes available to him. He might think he will not get another cupcake. He might get very upset or try to eat the one that he dropped on the floor because he doesn’t know that there are many more cupcakes. He might think the party is over and his chance for cupcake has been missed.

The Road Trip

Mileage Sign on highway in California
Mileage Sign on highway in California that shows 46 miles to Placerville, 107 miles to South Lake Tahoe, and 3073 miles to Ocean City, MD.

When we take a trip we see mileage signs that indicate how far each town is along the way. We can predict certain things based on the distance we see listed on the sign. Placerville will be here in no time and when I get there I can have a drink and go to the restroom. South Lake Tahoe is further, we may need to stop on the way for a stretch break, a snack, or the restroom. If we are traveling all the way to Maryland, we will probably stay nights in a hotel, eat at restaurants along the way, etc. but eventually we will end up in Maryland. The sequence of things form units that help me move forward towards closure.

What if the trip is on the river?

Picture showing people wading in the headwaters of the Mississippi River.
Picture showing people wading in the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

For a deafblind child imagine the journey as if it were a river trip. From the headwaters of the Mississippi to New Orleans there is just a constant flow – the river just keeps going and getting bigger and deeper and wider, but it just keeps going until it dumps into the Gulf. A student who is deafblind might perceive school more like this. It just keeps going without definition, without clear and predictable units or sequences of time.

Donnellan’s Least Dangerous Assumption

Anne Donnellan – The criterion of the least dangerous assumption holds that in absence of conclusive data, educational decision ought to be based on the assumptions that, if incorrect, will have the least dangerous effect on the likelihood that students will be able to function independently as adults.

Motivators at various ages

      • Preschool – toys, treats
      • Elementary – access (front of the line), options (order of activities)
      • Middle and High School – status (highlighted on website), power (real decision-making

What Can We Do?

Don’t ask children to do same activity over and over and over for no real reason. When children have mastered an activity they don’t have to continue to do that exact same activity over again. They may choose to repeat it or you can occasionally see if they can still do it. Are your activities relevant to the student each time they do them or are you just filling in time.

Use a finish box, for example:

      • Symbol of the day goes into a finished box at bedtime
      • Symbol of the month or calendar/school year) goes into a finished box
      • Symbol for classroom goes into the finished box
      • 2020 in the trash can
      • The student helps set up the classroom at the beginning of the year and take things down at the end of the year.
      • Finished board on the wall in classroom for work projects that have been successfully completed.
      • Dividers in classroom for 1st year students, 2nd year students, etc. – or change to different room.

People do things over and over and over —- we call them hobby. If your student enjoys doing something over and over, maybe you can expand it into a recreational routine.

Create a routine that has a beginning, middle, end to provide closure.

Create a schedule that can be understood and represented to the the student. Programs and activities may cause stress because it just keeps going without clearly defined closure.

What was left out?

Children in school too often do many activities that don’t have a satisfying end – many, many times in a day in the child’s life and they don’t have the opportunity to finish an activity on their own. The teacher feels pushed to go to the next activity and ends the activity before the student is done. She or he might also remove or disassemble the materials so the child has to start back the next day from the beginning.

Remember we have closure with people – When an important person is leaving we need to make sure that we honor that closure in the relationship.

Maurice shared a story about a former student who thought that people who graduated from school were like people who die and would never be seen again.

Panel Discussion with Maurice Belote

Mary Gyori: (General thoughts.) My son, Sasha, will turn 41 this year and is a graduate from Perkins. Maurice was talking about my son when he talked about the upside down cupcake and the meltdown trying to get the cupcake from the floor to eat. He has a big need for closure where he has a defined end and a sense of accomplishment.

Charlotte Cushman: (General thoughts.)  I am so glad Maurice highlighted this as we all have this need. I kept thinking about the need for knowing when will this all be over? I think our field is good about letting folks know what is next rather than when it will all be over. Knowing you are finished is different from wondering if you are finished. If closure is not our choice it can be as stressful as no closure.

Adam Graves: The idea of control is a huge part of closure.

Linda Mamer: (General thoughts.) The topic is amazing, and we can look at it in so many ways. I was thinking about the presentation on TDB … so there should be some closure for them for all that work. Dr. Cameron talked about building brains and Dr. Nicholas about tactile working memory; closure is something we don’t talk about in our field. I was reflecting on closure. We need to give it language. We can’t assume they will not get it or don’t need it. Presume potential, presume competence. It is important that we are always thinking about closure for our students.

Adam Graves: When we have that presumptions of competence we tend to make more of an effort to provide closure for our students.

David Brown: (General thoughts.) In 40 years in the field no one has presented about closure. We only address it in terms of the calendar. I also liked Maurice’s analogy of life for our students being like a river trip. You need a goal or a plan to know when you have reached closure. Routine is best for conveying the concept of closure. Success is emotional closure – lack of cognitive closure is lack of emotional closure. Take the time to tell the individual what’s different now – you have one sock on one foot and one foot without one. Motivators – success, it is finished. It is so difficult to move on if you don’t get closure. That makes it difficult to move on to new topic.

Hillary Keys: Thank you David. Words and labels have such power and putting the name to it, “closure: is so important.

Mary Gyori: (Closure at home.) I see myself as Sasha’s intervener in so many situations and activities. A bath at the end of the day was non-negotiable. I also wanted him to make choices. With his bath he would get to have choices  – bubbles or no-bubbles, food coloring in the water. He had power in a non-negotiable activity. Signaling him to bring closure was infused by telling him we needed to share the water so other family members could bath. We built in choices in all his activities with food, dressing, clothing choices, activities. As an adult, when he wants to do something he will choose the order of the activities and tell me when he wants to do each thing in the day. At work, he needs to be totally exact. He works at a nursery and clips cuttings that need to be dipped in root starter. The clippings need to be put on the tray and we need to give him only the number he can finish in the time period. That way he automatically knows when the activity will be finished.

Charlotte Cushman: (Strategies for providing organic opportunities for closure in Active Learning activities.) Some things lend themselves to natural order of sequence and closure. With Active Learning there is not a built in closure so using ritual can help provide that, even if there is no clear beginning, middle, and end. Student/teacher set up the activity together, interact and play independently, then come in to wind the activity down and call attention to basket and say “finished” and return to shelf. This provides some closure for the student. Understanding symbols and sequence may be at a higher level than some students are at, but developing a routine ritual can help provide this notion of closure. We have to build meaning into the basket or symbol.

Lilli Nielsen reminds us that in constructive play we need to not take things apart that the student is still working on. This is like taking the classroom apart at the end of the school year.

Hillary Keys: Yes, looking for ways to find closure in a developmentally appropriate way is so important. Teachers have to notice what their student is doing and help them find closure.

David Brown: (Thoughts about the need for closure in students with CHARGE.) All students with deafblindness (generally speaking) need to have closure, and children with CHARGE syndrome really need this. We don’t really know what goes on neurologically with these students with CHARGE. Executive functioning skills in children with CHARGE are often challenging or lacking. The smallest thing that goes wrong can be a tragedy. They are often very good at remembering things. Their actions – very impulsive.  Many are more concerned with finishing than quality of work. We are a long way from coming up with good strategies that definitively work with these children, but our deafblind approach is helpful with executive functioning. I think we have to factor in pain and the multisensory nature of their disabilities. There are other etiologies that may also have challenges like this.

Maurice Belote: Just a thought.  ‘When will this be over’ is something I don’t think we think enough about. Is this a 30 second opportunity to scribble or is this going to go on for an hour? How many laps or how long to I have to run around the track?

David Brown: I think closure is like a drug, they (children with CHARGE and perhaps other etiologies) want it. They don’t care how well it is done, but their thing is to get it done.

Adam Graves: I didn’t always provide the structure to let the student know when it would be finished other than providing a finished basket. Having some sense of how long an activity is going to last is so important to give them so sense of closure.

Linda Mamer: (Role of the intervener in providing closure.) In response to David…we have all used calendars, but what Adam says about the time element within an activity. Remote home learning with her nanny…days long — follow his lead. Structured physical environment, organization for the day. I love the idea of CHARGING STATIONS form Dr. Cameron. If the student has varied experiences with “charging stations” during his day. One year to know child, relationship developed and working together, intro to new intervenor, preparation to move on to new intervenor. We work on the transition within the IEP to the new intervenor. We have to look at emotional closure. One intervenor didn’t know she was a paid professional and not a friend. She created a handbook to roles of different professionals in their life. Always thinking long-term with concepts – finished, start-to-finish, etc. The idea of change, how do we show that, especially on a calendar. Student saw on regular basis – photo of Linda, calendar talk of can’t fly, took photo and turned over. We need to try to see it and label it. Life cycle of the salmon activity in Canada, pet in the classroom on the weekends, breaks, pet sickness, etc. Experience books can be ways to bring closure because you can go back and know that you survived it or finished it.

Adam Graves: Here is a question from our audience. How do you give closure to a deafblind child in a classroom where the child wants to do things themselves but time starts running out and people want to finish the assignment for the student?

Charlotte Cushman: (Closure in the classroom.) Students at Perkins were always running late because they had to take a long time for breakfast. Can you think about quality rather than quantity?

Linda Mamer: (Closure in the classroom.) At the IEP we talk about what is the best use of the student’s time. Is it important that he stay with an activity that he is so interested in completing rather than running off to the next activity? I teach intervenors that it is better to do two activities well than five poorly. The intervener needs to be able to make the call if the child needs longer and the activity is important to completing the goals of the IEP. The team needs to agree and understand that the intervener determines the best use of the child’s time during the course of the day.

Maurice Belote: One of the roles of the intervener in planning the activity is to be sure the activity can be finished within the time limit. Let the child have the opportunity to experience closure and the resulting security that comes from that.