A child who is deaf-blind—also referred to as dual sensory loss or combined vision and hearing loss—has a decrease in both hearing and vision. Few children who are considered to be deaf-blind actually do not see or hear at all. Most children have some usable vision, usable hearing, or both. The time when each sensory loss first occurred makes a difference. If your child has learned to understand or speak some language before his hearing loss occurs, learning new language will be easier, even if it’s in another form, such as sign language. If your child loses vision after learning to move around and after having visual experience with certain concepts, understanding those concepts and learning alternative methods of reading and writing (such as the use of braille) will be easier.
The needs of children with deaf-blindness vary, but for most, the greatest challenges they face are associated with communication—both understanding what others are trying to tell them and having a way to express their own thoughts. The impact of deaf-blindness can be reduced by understanding how to help your child learn about his body, other people, and the world around him.
It is important to remember that children with deaf-blindness can’t understand something unless they experience it themselves. They cannot easily learn by observation or seeing pictures in a book. Therefore, involving your child in all parts of an activity or routine will help him better grasp the information. For example, if your child is having a scrambled egg for breakfast, he can help you take the carton of eggs out of the refrigerator, remove the egg, break it, mix it, put it in the pan, listen to it sizzling, help to stir it, and help to slide it onto his plate. In that way, he learns what cooking is about, and that food doesn’t just magically appear on the table. You will be his best teacher because you know your child so well.
The use of eyeglasses and hearing aids or cochlear implants are important for a child who is deaf-blind, beginning as soon as the child’s diagnosis is made. In general, the sooner your child learns to use his remaining vision and hearing as well as his sense of touch, the faster he will progress.
To learn more about deaf-blindness, you can visit the National Center on Deaf-Blindness “Families Matter” page. On that page, you may discover programs located within your particular state and much more.