Deafblind Awareness Week: Hand Under Hand

Learners who are deafblind, who cannot use their hearing to compensate for their hearing loss and cannot compensate their vision loss through hearing are truly deprived off information unless they learn to use their sense of touch.

These learners need a way to compensate for the missing information that vision and hearing provide.  Barbara Miles in her article The Importance of Hands for the Person Who is Deafblind writes:

It is the hands that take over the function of the eyes and ears for the person who is deafblind.  Oliver Sacks reported that the brain is extremely plastic and when sense is used a great deal, the brain is able to process information from that sense more efficiently. Those areas of the brain used for visual or auditory processing can be taken over to processing tactile information, providing the hands with even more brain power. 

The hands of a deafblind learner need access to objects, people and language.  Early intervention for a deafblind learner is so important for them to learn to use their hands to gain information and become a voice to express.

Hands for a blind learner are important in early bonding, developing object permanence and mobility.  For a deaf learner the hands are their voice.  What about the hands of a deafblind learner???  Their hands also become their voice and make connections with the world helping them to develop a sense of self, independent mobility and language development.  The hands of a deafblind learner must become curious and must learn to search, explore and express even where there is some residual vision and hearing.

So where do we begin? Especially when many of our learners will have had negative experiences from the beginning of their journeys or insensitive handling of their hands. 

Where did it start with some of our learners who have had such experiences?  David is 9 years old and is deafblind. He has no hearing and his vision fluctuates daily therefore gets little useful information.  His world was a very scary place as he received distorted and fragmented information and found it difficult to connect with people and objects.  Through working with experienced Intervenors he learned to develop bonds and relationships through touch using hand under hand.  This extended outwards exploring objects in his routines using a hand under hand approach and brought order to his world.   David’s confidence and self esteem developed and the world became more interesting.  His Intervenors were now labelling using co-active hand under hand signing around things he explored within his routines.

Benefits of using hand under approaches:

  • It builds trust.
  • It is less controlling.  The learner is not being forced to do something and they have the option to move their hands away if they do not want to interact. 
  • Doing with:  The adult is doing with the learner and they can feel the muscle movement without directly touching developing the motor pathways without direct physical intervention.
  • The learner is in control on participation.
  • Active learning: the learner is not a passive learner.
  • Develops tactile communication in deafblind learners.