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Non-Verbal Communication
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Our tendency, in fact our training, has led us to believe that children with visual impairments need a steady stream of an adult talking in order to learn.  While the development of language and communication skills is critical for individuals who may be non-verbal or have only a limited verbal ability, there is a time and place for talking.  If you think about trying to learn something new or examining an unknown object, someone else's comments can be distracting and break your concentration.  The same is true for all learners, no matter what disabilities they might have.

Patty Obrzut explains why one of the basic principles of Active Learning is not to talk while the child is actively engaged in exploration or experimentation with objects and activities.

Description: Talking can be a distraction during an activity. It can move the focus from the activity to the adult. When you're playing with a child, you talk in the pauses of the activity, briefly and quickly, and then you let the child explore for themselves.

Talking During an Activity
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One very human trait we all share is the need to regulate our sensory nervous system.  Sometimes we are very sleepy and need to rouse ourselves, and at other times we need to calm ourselves down.  If we are bored we will look for something to hold our interest, and conversely if we are overly stimulated we will seek a way to tune out some of that sensory information.  What we do at those times is find some way to regulate our response to overly-stimulating situations or boredom.  

Frequently this process is referred to in individuals with significant disabilities as "self-stimulation", "stereotypical behavior", or "blindisms". (See Looking at Self-Stimulation in Pursuit of Leisure: or I'm Okay, You Have a Mannerism) Individuals who are visually impaired with additional disabilities often demonstrate behaviors like these.  Some of these behaviors are viewed as problem behaviors, and in fact can become that when the individual persists in these behaviors to the exclusion of other activity.  

It is not uncommon to see these behaviors occur with children who have significant additional disabilities.  These behaviors can be troublesome, but if we try to remove them often the behaviors escalate.  Sometimes these behaviors can become self-injurious and put the child at risk.  So what can we do?

Dr. Nielsen addressed this concern and in the following videos, Patty Obrzut discusses this issue and how to address it using an Active Learning approach.

Description: Stereotypical behaviors occur for several reasons. It could be that there's a lack of opportunity to move to the next developmental level, or it could be a form of communication, or a form of protest. You have to respect that a child's stereotypical behavior is part of that child's personality.

Stereotypical Behavior
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Description: Providing an Active Learning environment will help to facilitate sensory input for children, so that they don't have to turn to their own bodies, or self stimulation, to provide sensory input.

Self Stimulation
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Our tendency, in fact our training, has led us to believe that children with visual impairments need a steady stream of an adult talking in order to learn.  While the development of language and communication skills is critical for individuals who may be non-verbal or have only a limited verbal ability, there is a time and place for talking.  If you think about trying to learn something new or examining an unknown object, someone else's comments can be distracting and break your concentration.  The same is true for all learners, no matter what disabilities they might have.

Patty Obrzut explains why one of the basic principles of Active Learning is not to talk while the child is actively engaged in exploration or experimentation with objects and activities.

Description: Talking can be a distraction during an activity. It can move the focus from the activity to the adult. When you're playing with a child, you talk in the pauses of the activity, briefly and quickly, and then you let the child explore for themselves.

Talking During an Activity
Downloads: Transcript (txt) Audio (mp3)

SpiderA massive anxiety cannot be removed just by someone telling you to not be afraid of whatever it is you're afraid of ---- people are afraid of spiders, water, and many other things.  Children with special needs also are subject to fears and anxiety; many of them are in continual stress due to their sensory deficits. Their anxieties cannot be removed by demands or requests to not be afraid or upset. If they're anxious about a toy that vibrates, new situations or new people, for example, our insistence only leads to their resistance and perhaps even behavioral challenges.

The person or persons who push you to do something you are afraid to do can become the enemy or perhaps someone we actively try to avoid. We have to become mindful of these fears and anxieties and provide support to help the child step out of his or her comfort zone. 

Here are some basic tips:

  • Take time with the child to develop a trusting relationship utilizing the treatments of Offering and Imitation described by Dr. Nielsen in the Five Phases of Educational Treatment.
  • Make sure the child can control his participation with the object or in the activity, e.g. be able to remove hands if something feels icky, walk away from you if he is feeling overwhelmed, reject that activity for today.
  • Be a good playmate and play at the child's emotional level.  

Effects of Anxiety and Stress

Description: A massive anxiety cannot be removed by demands or requests to do what you are afraid of doing. While using energy to resist child is unable to learn anything at all. If learners want to spend time with you, you're probably playing at their emotional level.

Effects of Anxiety and Stress
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