Can you recognise deafblindness?

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All young people have the right to a high quality education which is tailored to their specific needs, says Carolyn Greig.

However young people are taught, there are some simple things which all teachers and parents can do to make learning easier for children with deafblindness. Deafblindness is a combined sight and hearing loss to the point where someone’s communication, mobility and ability to access information are impacted. Many people who are deafblind do still have some sight and hearing, but living with deafblindness is difficult. For young people who are deafblind and those who support them—in the classroom and at home—learning is about making the most of any remaining sight and hearing and adapting to changes. 

Otherwise known as dual sensory loss or multi-sensory impairment, deafblindness is a completely different condition to a sight loss plus a hearing loss. One way to think of this is to imagine the hearing impairment as the colour blue and the visual impairment as the colour yellow. When the two sensory impairments, or in this case the colours blue and yellow, come together they become something new and different—deafblindness, or in this analogy—green. 

One young person, Asia was born severely deaf and has worn hearing aids since she was 11 months old. Then, as a teenager, she started to lose her sight. “I have around 10% of my peripheral vision and pretty much no hope of seeing anything if it’s even slightly dark.” 

Common signs of deafblindness in young people include being uncomfortable in bright or low lighting, finding it hard to read materials and books, struggling to process information and becoming easily exhausted. 

For these children, life is different. From a young age, they learn to adapt and find new ways to communicate. They have a different experience of the world, it might be darker, quieter, or muffled, but that’s the world they know. They develop resilience and experience things in their own way.

This can be exhausting and frustrating. Students with dual sensory loss might have hearing aids, a cochlear implant or use a loop system which, to the outside world, appears to make things better. However, it is likely that they will still find it hard to follow conversations and will finish the school day exhausted, from concentrating on trying to keep up. 

Louise is deaf. She said: “I noticed that I was often leaving my lessons with throbbing headaches and began to suffer from migraines on a regular basis. As the day went on, I realised that the more tired I became, the more my hearing deteriorated. I began to learn this was my body’s way of telling me that I needed a break.”

Some of the ways schools are increasing provision for students with multi-sensory impairments include providing large print materials, voice over software and dedicated staff to support people. However, Deafblind UK believes that there are still gaps in provision for and understanding of deafblindness in mainstream schools.

Asia continued: “Throughout nursery and primary school, I received support from a teaching assistant who would explain anything I’d misheard. During my mock exams and SATs, we did mental maths tests where questions were played from a tape or CD. The teaching assistant would take me into a separate room and read the questions out so I could lipread, as I could never understand the recordings properly. In secondary school, I had to learn to have my own voice and speak up for my own needs, as there was nobody there to do it for me. I had to explain my deafness to teachers, ask to be seated near the front of the class, and even carried a small information card to bring supply teachers up to speed.”

Carolyn Greig
Author: Carolyn Greig

Carolyn Greig
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Carolyn Greig is Schools Liaison Officer for Deafblind UK.

Website: https://deafblind.org.uk/
Facebook: @DBUKcharity
Twitter: @Deafblind UK
Instagram: @DeafblindUKcharity

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