Homeschooling the Multiply Handicapped Blind Child
By Didi Goodrich
Samantha Goodrich was adopted from India in the Spring of 1983 as a special needs preemie. When she arrived in the U.S. she was seventeen inches long and a little more than four pounds. Her handicaps were uncovered over the first year of her life when she wasn’t following developmental milestones. When she was five months old, I determined she was blind from ROP after she didn’t respond to bright light. We determined that she was suffering from cerebral palsy when she was ten months of age. Samantha experienced her first seizure a little past her first birthday. Samantha is a most amazing little fighter with a zest for fun and life, more than anyone I have ever known. She is not aware of how hurt she is and she is always happy. She loves to tease and play and has a tremendous amount of curiosity. Over the last ten years I have watched her progress and learn skills and then helplessly witnessed the seizures rob her of those skills. She has struggled again and again to relearn what she has lost and still is a very happy young lady.
I have been homeschooling my 10˝ year old daughter, Sam, for 5˝ years. Previously we had worked in cooperation with our local school district utilizing ancillary services for Teacher for the Visually Impaired and Physical Therapist. We contract privately for the services of an Occupational Therapist for sensory integration training.
For the last ten months I have been using the educational theory and philosophy of Dr. Lilli Nielsen of Denmark as a basis for the curriculum used with Samantha. Dr. Nielsen has developed innovative and unique growth environments such as: "The Little Room", "Support Bench", "Resonance Board", and the "Essef Board" for blind multi-handicapped, retarded, or autistic children.
In an attempt to emulate Dr. Nielsen’s methods, my husband Don has constructed many pieces of the equipment to create the specific environments which make it possible for a blind multi-handicapped child like Sam to learn. This equipment addresses the child’s specific developmental needs while helping them learn basic skills and achieving their ability to interact with their environment.
Lilli believes that "surroundings with insufficiently stimulating objects may result in the child’s being denied the opportunity of pushing, grasping and letting go of objects, which is crucial for fine motor development, or is denied all the leg and foot movements, like kicking and the turning up and down of the foot, that are essential for achieving the ability to stand and walk. Thus, the child will suffer because too many ‘links’ are missing, which makes it difficult for him/her to follow the range of development which enables any child to cope with daily living skills, as well as being a contributing factor to his interaction with others." (Quoted from Environmental Intervention for Visually Impaired Preschool Children with Additional Disabilities by Lilli Nielsen)
In September of 1992, when I started using the materials that Dr. Nielsen writes about, Samantha would throw everything that came into her hands after a few seconds. Sam no longer does this. She places things in specific places so she can find them again. Samantha has started to feed herself using either a spoon or fork with only minimal assistance. Prior to September she ate only using her hands. In the last ten months Samantha has gone from emptying out her "treasure box" to putting things back in. Sam likes to take the tops off jars and enjoys manipulating any nesting or stacking objects she can find. Developmentally she has gone from a two year old level to the level expected of a three and a half or four year old who has handicaps. This coming school year (1993-94) we will be homeschooling Samantha without utilizing school district services. We are going to implement a "Basic Skills for Community Living" curriculum this year which was obtained from the Texas School for the Blind. In addition we will begin to use a tactile symbol system for communication that was developed as the Texas School for the Blind to use with this curriculum. This program was developed for and is used with students who are between the ages of 6 and 22 years and who have visual impairments (deaf-blind) and/or severe developmental delays. I have been doing quite a bit of research on multi-handicapped children and access to Apple computers, augmentative communication boards and speech devices. I now have a list of computer programs that can be used with a totally blind child with an unknown cognitive level. Several augmentative symbols systems have come to my attention which are appropriate for this population including: tactile symbol systems, Morse Code, and Fishburn, which is an alphabet for nonbraille. These all show real potential for giving Samantha and other children like her the power to communicate effectively. We are also going to use some materials from the American Printing House for the Blind called "On the Way to Literacy: Early Experiences for Visually Impaired Children." This material presents a framework for helping young children develop the skills that form the basis for literacy. It is intended to be used with children from birth to five years. Skill areas discussed are communication, hand skills and tactual exploration, concepts, and book experiences.
We will also be using some resource materials from Hope, Inc. Hope Inc. is a pioneer in early childhood intervention home-based programming. They offer comprehensive materials that can be used for all children with disabilities. This material is especially suited for use with children functioning at the infant, toddler or pre-school level who are deaf, blind, or deaf-blind.
In addition to the listings mentioned previously, we have for eight years had Samantha assessed by the National Academy for Child Development. We see Bob Doman every three months and he writes an individual program based on Samantha’s level of functioning.
Below find a listing of the resources mentioned in this article. Additionally, if you have questions regarding our program or other topics regarding schooling multihandicapped children, please contact us through NATHHAN.
1. Dr. Lilli Nielsen. Obtain books from:
Blind Children’s Fund
C/O Center of Blind and Visually Impaired Children
8500 West Capitol Dr.
Milwaukee, WI 53220
2. "Basic Skills for Community Living" (Pilot Draft) "Standard Tactile Symbol System"
Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired
1100 West 45th St.
Austin, TX 78756-3494
3. Fishburn Enterprises
actus Valley Rd.
Hemet, CA 92543
4. American Printing House for the Blind, "On the Way to Literacy: Early Experiences for Visually Impaired Children" Catalog #6-77500-00
1839 Frankfort Ave.
P.O. Box 6085
Louisville, KY 40206-0085
5. Hope Inc.
809 North 800 East
Logen, UT 84321
6. National Academy for Child Development
P.O. Box 1001
Layton, UT 84041-1001