California Deafblind Services


Gloria: Isolation Versus Independence

04/21/2009 09:39

Think about this common classroom-setting scenario: A student is doing a task, and the person who is working with him is observing him carefully to make sure he is doing it correctly. This person only intervenes when she sees the student needing help to finish the task or when he is taking too long. The only times when this student and the person teaching or supporting him have physical contact is when the student needs help. When he is doing things well he is left alone, isolated, in what other people may perceive as “independence”. Imagine that this student is deaf-blind with very limited vision and hearing or totally blind with a profound hearing loss.

In a scenario like this, it is very likely that the student who is deaf-blind may be reticent to become independent, because it will mean very limited human contact.

This scenario reminds me of a student who was totally blind and had a moderate to severe hearing loss, and who loved to ride the swings at school. The people working with him knew that the student could independently walk to the swings because he had been doing it for several years, and had shown on some occasions that he could do it on his own. When he walked independently to his destination, it meant walking alone with his cane because the person walking with him would be looking at him at a distance. So what usually happened is that this student stopped several times on the way to the swings waiting for some kind of touch before resuming the walk. Was this only prompt-dependency, or was he looking for some kind for human contact? Sometimes when he was prompted with a touch cue on his arm, he even looked for the adult’s arm asking to walk with her using her as a guide. 

These are some things that you can do that may help lessen this kind of situation: 

  • Be aware that the child or youth who is deaf-blind who has very limited vision and hearing is isolated from others when there is no physical contact.
  • This student or youth may be stopping in a middle of a task that he already knows because he may want to interact or have contact with another person. This may be the way he had learned to communicate with others: I stop, and then they will touch me, and perhaps tell me something.
  • Do not limit your interactions to only supervision: “I observe you and I intervene only when you need help, otherwise I leave you alone.” This would be an incomplete approach.


The relationship and in consequence - the interactions - should mostly be about sharing an activity where both parties are engaged and even have fun while doing it together; having parallel activities where both parties share what they are doing; showing an object or a place; introducing another person; having a conversation based on an object, with signs.


- Gloria Rodriguez-Gil, CDBS Education Specialist

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Topic: Gloria: Isolation Versus Independence

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