Recently a DeafBlind friend wrote me sharing her frustration that her son, who is very intelligent and mature for his age, was forced to wait to start school because her state changed the age requirement to August 1st from September 1st. He was born later in August and just celebrated his fifth birthday. She lamented that she couldn’t afford private schools, so her child must continue in pre-k, bored. I suggested that she homeschool if she was that concerned. My friend’s response was that she didn’t have help and that she must accept that there were things she just can’t do.
Well, I beg to differ in regards to her inability to homeschool because she is deaf and blind. Although I no longer homeschool my own children, I do homeschool others, and I am deaf and blind. Yes, I have to do things differently, especially if the student is not deaf and blind and doesn’t know ASL, but it can be done.
I do realize that homeschooling isn’t for everyone. We all have to look at our circumstances, abilities, priorities, and path God has us on to determine if God intends for us to fulfill his command to educate our children by homeschooling them ourselves or through some other method. However, I definitely disagree with my friend’s opinion that she can’t homeschool because she is deaf and blind. If God wants you to homeschool, He will gives you the provisions that you need to do His appointed tasks.
Well, now I need to back up these outrageous sounding claims, right? There is no way I can tell you how to teach every concept in every subject from birth to adulthood even if every student were exactly the same. I can’t even begin to give you a general idea of how to teach everything even if every student were exactly the same. The simple fact is that every student is different, and every teacher is different. Teaching and learning require resourcefulness, open-mindedness, and flexibility to say the least. That is true even if you have no physical issues to deal with such as DeafBlindness. What I will try to do is give you some examples of some seemingly difficult tasks. Then you can apply that to your special situation and your special student. All situations are special and all students are special even if it just refers to their uniqueness.
Writing is one area that many teachers or parents want to know if I can properly teach. Writing takes special skills such as proper pencil position, proper letter formation, proper pressure of the pencil to the paper, to just name a few. Without sight and sound, how can a DeafBlind teacher know it is done correctly? You begin with learning how letters are created using tactual methods that will help you and the student. I first introduce letters with actual hand-held alphabet and number sets. I usually have two sets, so I can always hold my own to model. We use that to touch the letters, feeling every straight line, bend, and curve. We hold that letter and touch each part carefully and deliberately, getting to know it with eyes, hands, and mind. Then we place it on the table and trace it with our finger, following the correct motions for writing the letter For example, capital A is trace down the left leg and then down the right leg and then the crossbar from left to right.
We also use tactile methods to create the letters, capital and little, with pipe cleaners, puffy paint, and anything of the sort. Again, we “write” the letters the way that is correct to write it on paper. Students really learn how the letters are created this way. I can feel if they form the letter correctly; I can also evaluate if they truly can identify their letters or even numbers, too, using this method. If you are wondering how I can tell if they form the letter the “right” way without sight, I simply lightly touch their hand without interfering with movement as they from the letter. Students who work with me quickly get used to this “touching” process because of our normal methods of communication.
A DeafBlind parent will also have obviously formed the sense of comfort and security needed to do this as well, even if their child has issues such as Autism (as mine did). Touch is developed from birth, so even though I had Autistic children and one who didn’t like touch or even accept it from others for a time, he would accept my touch. This conditioning from birth actually made it possible, I think, for my son to eventually not only tolerate, but like many kinds of touches, though he does still have some sensory difficulties.
Now, after using these tactile methods well and knowing my student knows the steps, we move to the actual process of picking up a pencil and writing a letter. I demonstrate the proper position for holding a pencil. [As a side note, I do not dictate which hand my student uses. I let the student use the hand that is natural for him and teach the methods for holding a pencil and writing a letter appropriate to that hand. I, myself, am ambidextrous and can write left-handed correctly forming letters without turning my left hand in a “clubbed fashion” to write. My husband, who is a left-hander, also writes without turning his left hand. It can be taught properly, but that is the subject for another time.]
As I teach the student how to properly hold the pencil, I monitor the progress again by lightly feeling the child’s hand and pencil position. The student can then practice writing the letter. I monitor by lightly touching his forearm or maybe, when necessary, the top of the pencil to feel the movements. Of course, I can always find a sighted person to verify this, too; but so far, I have been very aware of how the student was correctly or incorrectly following the process. Another great method for me (and the student) has been using those primary writing sheets that have the grid lines – by making them slightly tactile for a while. If I use the slightly waxy colored pencils while the student is learning I can actually feel where the student draws the lines to “see” if the student can write the “sticks” from baseline to top line, curve properly to mid-line for the “balls” of the “h”, “p”, “c”, etc., and properly go below the baseline for “y”, “g”, “j”, “p”, etc. Again, sighted help is always good for verification, but it is through touch that I can see what the student is learning.
I teach differently, but I can teach. At times, my differences have given me unique ideas for the teaching of children. Some might think it is crazy, but I know often these crazy ideas work. I have taught sighted children with dyslexia to read braille by sight or even by touch to bring the world of language to them. Most, if not all, went on to read print with few struggles. I have brought music to the deaf which gave them a glimpse of the unheard world around them and how it might work even if they can’t experience it with working ears. They learned to use vibrations to gather more information about the world. Many actually used in later with speech therapists to improve their ability to speak. Music is full of vibrations at intensities greater than just mere voice, so they can learn more about pitch and rhythm than they might otherwise. And those ideas that didn’t work, I figured out that it didn’t work, and we moved on. No harm done if you are open and honest with yourself and your student. We have to find a solution to the problem. That means we will fail as we walk the path to success. We will learn from each failure, so we will travel that much closer to success.
Yes, I teach differently, but it is often what is needed to bring the joy of learning to one who hadn’t been able to experience it before. While homeschooling isn’t for every family, your limitations and flaws are not an excuse to say, “I can’t do it.” If you are supposed to homeschool, if you are supposed to do any number of things actually, you will have and be given what you need to be successful. God uses us because of our weaknesses to show His power and love through those weaknesses. Don’t limit yourself from seeing God work through you by saying, “I can’t because…”