Beginnings and Endings

How often do we forget to say hello and goodbye to our students who are deafblind? Do they know we are even in the room if we do not greet them? Are they aware when we leave them if we don’t say goodbye?

The Power of Hello 

There is a lot of power in hello, and even more power in “hello, how are you?”.  One of the ways people show their friendliness is by offering a greeting when they first encounter someone. Whether it’s an old friend or a new acquaintance, we usually start our interactions with a simple greeting. It’s how we let the other person know we’re present and available. It’s how we “notice” and “affirm”. It may be a simple acknowledgement of another human being as you pass on the sidewalk.  It may also be how you start the serve and return for further conversation. 

In the short moment it takes to make eye contact with another person passing on the sidewalk; as you exchange a smile, a nod of the head, and a “hello”, we have just had a three turn (serve and return) greeting. It happens so fast and is such a natural human interaction that we usually don’t realize we’re doing it. When our simple greeting is reciprocated it also makes us feel good; another person has noticed us, and affirmed our “hello”.

Saying hello starts the release of chemicals like serotonin and oxytocin in our brain which lead to the feelings of connection and wellbeing. Saying hello is the beginning of the social interaction and connectedness that is needed for all humans. 

Don’t You Like Me? 

How odd would it feel if we didn’t get the affirmation of a hello? Maybe we might think the other person is unfriendly, or, maybe even rude.  How often do we forget to say hello to our students? If they are unable to notice us as we enter the room, does our simple greeting, that usually starts with eye contact, come as naturally? If they have no concept of eye contact does saying hello matter? In a word, YES!  As we have discussed throughout our many pages, all human beings need the same interactive experiences in order to bond with others, build concepts and language, and establish a sense of self. For people without vision and hearing our hellos are just as important, but they might look different. 

Maybe we are thinking about other things and preoccupied with the lesson we’re about to teach or the errand we need to run on the way home. If we forget to say “hello, how are you?” how will the person who is deafblind even know we’re in the room? We will need to give them access to us using a common language or co-created mode of communication. 

Greeting Rituals

We have different ways to say hello with the many people who are in our lives. Our greeting is very different with the person we pass on the sidewalk than it is with our significant other. For the people who are most familiar, we usually have a greeting that is specific to them; we have a greeting ritual. When our significant other comes home after a long day at work, we might give them a hug or kiss to show affection and ask how their day was. Using this same greeting with a stranger passing on the sidewalk might get you arrested. 

It is important for us to have a greeting ritual that is specific to our partner who is deafblind; a way that only you two share a “Hi, how are you”? For the person who is deafblind, this can help them further identify that it’s “you”. It’s your personal identifier. Perhaps it’s holding hands and swinging your arms together in a way that is the same each time you meet.  It may be a hug and saying the word “hug”. Your personal greeting ritual not only lets the deafblind person know you’re there, it also lets them know it’s you.  It promotes that connection and bond to start to develop. 

Goodbye Rituals

Happy Trails… goodbye… until we meet… wait, when will I see you again? 

As important as it is for us to say hello, it is also important for us to say goodbye. Saying goodbye provides closure. It lets everyone know that our conversation is over and that at least one of the people present is leaving. It’s also polite. 

Happy trails… Until we meet again… Saying goodbye might not be enough. 

Remembering the old song, “Happy Trails”, the hope is for good things until we meet again.  It’s easy for us to understand that for the two people in the song, being together brings joy. The song also has a feeling of melancholy. As listeners, we don’t know when, or even if,  these two people might meet again. When we say goodbye to a person we care for and are left not knowing when we might see them next it can be a little sad.  It’s not only important to say goodbye, it’s also important to let our partner know when we’ll be coming back.

Co-creating the goodbye ritual is especially important for children who don’t have a clear understanding of time or calendars or a tangible knowledge of when they might be with you again. Learn more about calendars.

We also need to consider the issues of access. When we leave the room, does the person who may not be able to see or hear know that we have gone? Shouldn’t we make sure they have access to this information and tell them goodbye? Maybe we say that we’re done for today, but we will see you again on Tuesday…. Happy trails until then. 

 

Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. By photo by Alan Light, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2009795
Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Photo by Alan Light, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2009795

Happy Trails to You

Some trails are happy ones,

Others are blue.

It’s the way you ride the trail that counts,

Here’s a happy one for you.

Happy trails to you,

Until we meet again.

Happy trails to you,

Keep smiling until then.

Who cares about the clouds when we’re together?

Just sing a song, and bring the sunny weather.

Happy trails to you,

Until we meet again.

 

Happy Trails written by Dale Evans and Roy Rogers

Young boy who is deafblind and his teacher having a conversation.
Young boy who is deafblind and his teacher having a conversation.

Chris, Ray, and the Hug 

I first met Ray when he was five years old.  It very was hard for both he and his mother to be away from each other while he attended school at TSBVI. It was during the course of that year when we developed a close bond.

I was Ray’s classroom teacher for four years and we worked very hard to learn to communicate with each other. He had no vision, but he did have some hearing. Ray was a very smart kid.  He didn’t have any formal language when he first came to TSBVI. As we first started to communicate, Ray would take my hands to things he was interested in and we would explore together. Through hours spent together in the classroom,  we developed a bond. I became a safe, trusted person for Ray, and he let me help calm him down when he was upset or scared.  

Every morning Ray and I greeted each other by saying hello and giving each other a big tight hug.  Since Ray had some hearing I would say “huuuuuggg” in my deepest voice while making a larger-than-life sign for hug; After signing and saying hug, Ray would crash into my chest and we’d give each other a big squeeze! Our greeting was the same every morning

During our time together, Ray became a very sophisticated communicator. He developed more formal language and was even starting to repeat certain familiar words. He gained confidence in his daily routines and developed close bonds with many of the adults at TSBVI.

Eventually, I moved to a different area of teaching. Ray stayed at the school for a couple more years in other teachers’ classrooms and then eventually went back home with his mother. I left the classroom to work as a deafblind consultant in TSBVI’s Outreach department.  

One day a request came for assistance with a deafblind student who was having severe behavioral problems and injuring himself. The student didn’t seem to have any formal language or any communication system in place. The local team didn’t know what to do. The request was for Ray.

As I drove the many hours to where Ray was now living, I wondered how he might have changed since I last saw him.  When I got to the classroom, I found a tall gangly kid sitting on a couch in the corner with his head all wrapped up in bandages. His teacher told me no one really interacted with Ray because they were afraid he would try to use his head as a ram, either to hurt himself or someone else who got too close. From what I was able to figure out, Ray had been sitting alone on his couch for a couple of years. To be fair, people at the school wanted to talk with Ray and wanted good things for him, but didn’t know what to do. 

Though it had been many years since we’d last seen each other, I went to Ray. Unsure if he would remember me or how he might react, I offered him my hands and invited him to stand up from the couch. Ray stood in front of me, appearing neither interested nor uninterested. While I was focused on Ray I hadn’t noticed what was happening around me. Staff from around the school had gathered around in a big circle to watch what might happen. Ray had a reputation and the guy from Austin was here to get beat on.

I  unwrapped the bandages from Ray’s head and stared at the young man in front of me, hardly recognizing him as the little kid I used to know. He was still very thin but now he needed a shave. I started to sign into his hands, “Hi, it’s Chris”. Without thinking too much about it, I signed hug, while saying “huuuuggg” in my lowest voice.  I pulled Ray into me and gave him a tentative squeeze. 

The teacher, who was standing next to me, asked a question, and I briefly turned my attention from Ray to talk to her. Then a gasp came from the crowd that had gathered. The teacher’s eyes went wide and swung from me to Ray. Startled, I looked back to Ray. He was still standing in front of me, and he was signing “hug”. 

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