Awakening to Life. Alexander Meshcheryakov 1974
What does a deaf-blind child represent before it receives any special tuition and training?
All those who have observed such children, describe them as absolutely helpless and deprived of the capacities of human behaviour and thought.
The well-known French girl Marie Heurtin, who had been deaf-blind from birth, behaved at the age of nine “like a wild animal”; she was removed first from a school for deaf-mutes and then from one for the blind and placed in an isolation ward of a mental hospital, classed as an “idiot.”
After specialist intervention, however, it was established that her brain was normal and that she could respond to teaching.
Children who are not born deaf-blind but become so at an early age find themselves in a similar position. On losing its sight and hearing a child usually loses all its behavioural habits hitherto acquired.
S. Gofgaardt in a paper read at the IV Congress devoted to the education of handicapped children, told of a girl by the name of Kaata Ragnhild who at the age of three had lost her senses of hearing, sight, taste and smell. Until the age of fourteen she lived at home. It was not until she was fifteen that she was admitted to a school for the deaf-blind.
She possessed few human traits at that time: she would often sit in one spot for a whole day at a stretch without showing the slightest interest in what was going on around her, only emitting an occasional groan. If someone came up to her she began to stamp her feet, roar and scratch like a wild animal. However, once she started to receive tuition she developed more rapidly than the average deaf-blind child.
The Soviet psychologist A. N. Yarmolenko in her study of extreme pedagogical neglect in the cases of deaf-blind children describes such children in the following terms: “In the manifestations and type of their behaviour children of this group resemble most closely ‘classical examples’ of the deaf-blind, who have not experienced the ‘beneficial, revitalising influence of teaching, the divine spark’, as seen by Arnould, Lemoine and many other writers in this field. These ‘inert masses’ or ‘frenzied* animals’, as they appear to the outside observer, are shut out from ordinary life by the absence of aural and visual impressions. Passive and immobile, they would sit in the same spot for hours at a stretch, sometimes even in the same pose. They do not use their faculty of touch to investigate spatial relationships or to familiarise themselves with new objects: even the processes of eating, dressing and undressing and the satisfaction of their most basic physiological needs are only carried out after external stimulus, without which the processes concerned might be postponed in time until an extreme degree of need be reached, which in its turn would produce an outbreak of fury. They do not manifest even the most elementary urge for contact with other people”.
Observations made by the Soviet psychologist Ivan Sokolyansky show that the deaf-blind, deprived of tuition, can spend many years in bed, in a corner of a room fenced off from others, with no effort to make contact with people and objects, appearing to achieve no mental development, failing to learn to walk or to eat and drink at all normally.
Sokolyansky also describes a case of incorrect rearing in an educated prosperous family of a child completely normal as far as his brain and nervous system were concerned despite his lack of sight and hearing.
“Volodya had lost his hearing in his fifth year. Prior to his illness he had been developing completely normally. He had been a happy, lively little boy; had been talking well and had enjoyed contact with those around him. He had been an only child.
“At the time I got to know Volodya he was already twenty-four. His mother gave me brief details of his background. Volodya no longer showed any interest in anything around him. Indeed, his mother pointed out that his was the life of a vegetable pure and simple, he was the prisoner of his physical sensations.
“Volodya’s outward appearance meanwhile was impressive. He was tall and according to his mother possessed rare strength. If her stories are to be given credit, he once, with no particular effort or strain, broke a metal ring from a mincing-machine and on another occasion unbent a horse-shoe.
“However, Volodya was only able to walk with the help of other people: on his own he could scarcely move, placing his legs wide apart and bending his head right down. In his bedroom he could find his way about quite well and knew where things were to be found; he manipulated the bedclothes fairly easily. He was able to dress himself, make his bed and pull back the covers at night. He was very cleanly and used the toilet without outside help. Yet all this he did in his own room. Beyond the confines of that room he was completely helpless and when left to himself he immediately sat down on the ground, flapping his hands around him and expressing his anxiety by means of grunts.
“In the course of my visit a number of his skills were demonstrated to me: after being placed on his knees and having his head bent down for him, he stood on his head raising first one leg and then the other. He stayed in that position for about three minutes. He only put down his legs when someone touched them. His mother added that he could stand on his head for even longer. Who had taught him to do this and in what circumstances, the mother was unable to say.
“It was difficult to feed Volodya, for he used to throw his food around and also try and take food from his neighbours’ plates. For this reason he had to be fed on his own. If someone banged on the table, Volodya put his hands in his lap and sat motionless.
“He only became active when mealtimes drew near; the rest of the time he used almost always to sit motionless in his bedroom, with head hung low as if asleep. In actual fact, he was just patiently waiting to be led to his meal.
“During my visit he was given a handful of cherries. He grabbed the cherries and began to eat them greedily although his mother had given him a good meal just before my arrival.
“Nevertheless, there were sufficient indications that given proper teaching Volodya could have attained a normal level of mental development and engaged in productive labour.
“What had turned him into the kind of being I met during my visit? It was of course the incorrect care in the family. An excess of love for their ill child had led the parents to turn him into a complete invalid, without realising it or seeking to do so” (78, p. 141-42).
When selecting pupils for a special school for the deaf-blind in Zagorsk, we made a study of a group of children whose training had been neglected and who had come to us straight from their families. Some of them were absolutely incapable of independent existence. Since they had been carried about by their mothers all the time they were not even able to regulate their body temperature. In this respect it was difficult to regard them as independent organisms, they were really appendages of their mothers’ bodies. They were unable to sleep away from their mothers at night, or to remain even a minute without her in the day-time. It was extremely difficult to wrest them away from their mothers, teach them to sleep on their own, to forego being carried around or to eat by themselves.
One of the boys who came to us at the age of six, was unusual in that he would suddenly freeze over, as it were, and remain motionless for long periods. It emerged that in his family there had been no one to stay with him at home during working hours and he had had to stay by himself. He had thus grown “accustomed” over the previous three years to wait for hours on end for someone to come up to him. He had no interest in anything except food. He was completely unable to look after himself or to use the pot. After systematic training he quickly learnt self-care habits and was able to find his way about.
There were other pupils sent to us from various homes for sick children who were comparable to this boy. Some of these were unable to walk, others were only prepared to walk in a confined, familiar space. They were unable to eat on their own, even hold a spoon or use the toilet, dress and undress. Their habitual occupation was to sit in bed or on a mat swaying their bodies to and fro with the monotonous regularity of a pendulum. These children do not take hold of or feel over any objects. They are not familiar with toys and do not understand what they are. They manifest no need for contact with other people. They respond negatively to any attempts to touch them: they either move away from or push away an adult’s hands.
The whole of these children’s mental activity is confined to the perception of the most elementary physical needs and the experience of elementary pleasure at the satisfaction of those needs or displeasure if the needs are not satisfied. Elements of human behaviour are for all intents and purposes missing altogether. In its place we find stereotyped motor activity that allows the children to expend their energy.
This means that deaf-blindness in unfavourable conditions, ruling out as it does all ordinary forms of human contact between a child and people around it, condemns such a child to isolation and a semi-animal existence. In such cases development of the human mind virtually fails to take place, despite the fact that the child’s brain, from the medical point of view, can be completely normal and adequate for the execution of all higher mental functions.
The French psychologist Lemoine in an attempt to convey the psychological changes connected with the loss of hearing and sight, writes that the fear of the unknown, and darkness that close in on the deaf-blind, their lack of confidence and inability to communicate make them lose all sense of reason and moderation. This is why they are often held to be idiots or lunatics. He also writes of the “fatal influence” of the simultaneous onset of deafness and blindness upon the mental development of a small child with as yet unconsolidated speech skills. The speech skills of such children, that were only just emerging, quickly disappear. Not only their powers of reason and judgement, but also their emotional development, will and imagination are severely impaired. Their imagination is reduced to a minimum and only exists within the framework of their tactile sensations. These unfortunate children robbed of the two most vital senses soon begin to appear stupid and insensitive to any external impressions (29). Lemoine attributes to the deaf-blind traits that are not intrinsic to them, attempting to imagine the results of the loss of hearing and sight. It is therefore not surprising that he eventually arrives at the incorrect conclusion to the effect that the deaf-blind are uneducable. But he is right, when he speaks of the “almost fatal” effect (“shock” would perhaps be a more apt expression) of the simultaneous onset of deafness and blindness upon a child’s speech, indeed, not only on his speech, but on his whole behaviour and mental make-up. Until he begins to receive special instruction a deaf-blind child may fail to manifest any signs of human behaviour or mental capacities, so that the specific nature of the teacher’s task in such cases is the need deliberately to build up patterns of human thought and behaviour in all their rich diversity.
Yet how should the teacher set about moulding these patterns of human behaviour and thought in the deaf-blind child? What is the foundation on which the edifice of a human mind must be built up? We shall attempt to provide answers to these questions in the next section of this chapter.
The mistake made by most teachers of the deaf-blind in the past was that they started by attempting to develop speech skills in their pupils. They started out from the principle that the main difference between man and animals was the “gift of speech,” and they went out of their way to develop the “gift” in oral or written form or as finger-speech. However, this speech, with no roots in a system of immediate images reflecting the child’s environment, had no foundation and thus could not provide a basis for the child’s mental development.
Work carried out in teaching the deaf-blind has shown that fostering speech skills in such children is not and indeed cannot be tackled as the first objective in the nurturing of a human mind.
I shall now permit myself a small digression from the survey of the problems of deaf-blindness to try and formulate the more general theoretical principles on the basis of which questions connected with the psychological development of deaf-blind children were analysed. Reference was made earlier to the idea put forward by Karl Marx to the effect that man shapes his mind, his ideas and attitudes, while transforming the world around him, an idea that was to prove profoundly important for the science of psychology.
The humanising influence of objects, as the products of social labour, and the importance of teaching a child to manipulate them correctly are to this day underestimated both by teachers and in psychological theory. Yet it is precisely this behaviour with objects, that is, the ability to use objects in accordance with their intrinsic logic, which constitutes the essence of human behaviour. In this connection Marx wrote: “Each of his human relations to the world – seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, feeling, thinking, observing, experiencing, wanting, acting, loving – in short, all the organs of his individual being ... are in their objective orientation, or in their orientation to the object, the appropriation of the object, the appropriation of human reality” (2, pp. 299-300).
Human behaviour and thought in an individual take shape and develop on the strength of the availability of objects created by human labour, in which man’s skills are made tangible.
“The appropriation of a totality of instruments of production is, for this very reason, the development of a totality of capacities in the individuals themselves” (3, p. 87).
Alexei Leontiev noted the decisive significance of these fundamental utterings by Karl Marx for scientific psychology.
“In the course of his ontogenetic development man is drawn into distinct, specific relationships with the world of objects and phenomena around him, that have been created by preceding generations, “ wrote Leontiev. “In relations to these (tools, instruments, everyday objects. – A.M.) a child must carry out a practical or cognitive activity which adequately corresponds (but which is not identical) to the human activity embodied in them” (56, p. 21).
“Thus the intellectual or mental development of the individual is the product of a highly distinctive process of appropriation, which is not to be found at all in animals, just as they do not manifest the opposite process of objectivisation of their abilities in the products of their activity” (56, p. 22). Further: “A man’s adequate relation to a tool is expressed first and foremost in his appropriation of the operations which are embodied in it, thus developing his human abilities. This naturally applies also to all other human objects” (56, p. 23).
The Soviet psychologist Pyotr Galperin (48) noted that for a child an implement which he needs to master (as indeed any thing that is the product of human hands) constitutes an object in which are represented socially evolved operations pertaining to it.
A child’s mind takes shape and develops as a result of its interaction with the world of things and the world of people. The things with which a child interacts are the products of human labour. The essence of interaction with things and people consists in the fact that in both cases this is interaction with a human factor. Expressing this idea in somewhat paradoxical terms we may say that the individual’s relationships with other people are realised through things and his relationship to things through his relationship to other people.
The socially evolved method of using a thing is a human factor; at the same time in that method are reflected the objective characteristics of the given thing following from the fact that it is the product of practical actions (i.e. labour).
This socially evolved method of utilising a thing which inevitably reflects its objective properties, also constitutes the social significance of each thing.
In the course of being taught to behave in the world of things, as it masters actions correlated with various things, a child comes to grasp their social significance, their essence. These are the general principles underlying the moulding of a child’s behaviour and mind, that we have tried to follow in evolving a theory of deaf-blindness and also in the practical work of teaching deaf-blind children. Now let us relate these principles directly to the deaf-blind child.
Until he begins to receive proper training, the deaf-blind child’s world is empty and devoid of objects. For him the objects that loom so large in our life do not exist, that is they are discovered by him only insofar as he knocks into them, but they do not exist for him with functions and designations – with their social significance as we may say now.
In what way, as we seek to mould and develop the deaf-blind child’s behaviour and mind, can we bring about this appropriation of human skills objectivised in a humanised environment? How should a non-seeing and non-hearing child be made aware of the diversity of objects in the world around him? It is clear that the path to knowledge of the world can follow only one course for such an individual; it must be effected via analysis through touch and movement. It might seem that there is a simple solution: a child should be given objects to hold, then he will feel them over and in this way he will gradually come to create for himself an infinitely large number of images of the objects around him.
However, experience in teaching deaf-blind children has shown that such a path is impracticable. Deaf-blind children, before they receive special training, are completely bereft of any aspects of human mental processes – these exist only in potential (which, if realised, can promise the highest level of development). Initially, they have no need to discover the world, and possess no skills enabling them to find their bearings within it or analyse what they encounter.
If such a child is given objects to “peruse” he drops them at once without even bothering to familiarise himself with them. This is understandable insofar as the objects given to such a child have no significance for him. Regardless of how novel tactile stimuli might be when attempts are made to place various objects in the hands of a child they. do not arouse any orientative reaction.
How can a deaf-blind child be made to handle objects? It is necessary to provide conditions in which getting to know objects would become a need for the child.
Any deaf-blind child has a number of basic natural wants (to eat, excrete and protect himself). Initially these wants do not in themselves constitute true needs in the psychological sense of that word. They do not exist as human needs in the strict sense, they cannot as yet provide the motive force behind purposeful behaviour, and for this reason no human behaviour is to be observed in the early stages. These wants become true needs only after they start to be objectivised and satisfied through human methods involving tools and implements.
A child’s familiarisation with objects from the world around him takes place in the course of his activity directed towards the satisfaction of these elementary natural wants. This means that during the early stages of a deaf-blind child’s development, the appropriation of social experience, which is humanising him, must be linked with concrete practical activity, activity directed towards the satisfaction of his real (at first organic but later more diverse) needs that will expand in pace with the range of his activity.
In order to satisfy his natural wants, at meal-times for example, man uses a number of “tools” – spoons, forks, plates, etc. This fact is utilised to familiarise deaf-blind children with objects. The adult teacher, while feeding a child, teaches it to use a spoon, plate or napkin, holding the child’s hands in his own.
In the course of this practical activity a child is obliged to become familiar with various objects. “Obliged” insofar as this encounter with objects at meal-times is essential if he is to receive direct sustenance in the form of food. At other times outside the meal-time situation these objects did not produce an orientative reaction (after being placed in the child’s hands they immediately fell or were dropped or pushed away by the child), but at table the child’s perception of these objects is reinforced, they become significant for him and he begins to feel them. Gradually, in the course of this unconditioned fixation (in this case in association with food), the child’s orientative and analytical activity begins to develop.
In the physiology of higher nervous activity it has been established that in order for a conditioned reflex to a specific stimulus to develop it is essential that an orientative reflex to that same irritant be present. This principle should be regarded as indisputable. However, it should also be pointed out that the scientists who established this principle were considering higher nervous activity already in its more or less definitive form. We, on the other hand, were observing the emergence of children’s behavioural reactions. It soon became clear that during the initial stages of a deaf-blind child’s development, preliminary reinforcement of an orientative reflex to a particular stimulus Is essential for that reflex to become properly established.
Those engaged in the practical rearing of these children have to come to terms with their lack of any orientative reactions to new stimuli and to the need to foster such reactions during the early stages of their development.
A completely unfamiliar object placed in the hands of a deaf-blind child does not stimulate any tactile investigation on the latter’s part: a pen, a box of matches or a pencil will be dropped or thrown away by the child. However, a blocked teat from which a child can no longer suck in milk or water or the changed shape of a spoon give rise to an energetic orientative reaction (handling).
So the “What’s this?” reflex (to use Ivan Pavlov’s term) is a later achievement in the case of the deaf-blind child. We have never observed the “What’s this?” reflex in the early stages of a deaf-blind child’s development. In its place we observed more concrete reactions such as “Is it safe?” or “Is it edible?” If it emerges that the stimulus is not linked to the body in a practical relationship, the orientative reaction to it does not evolve.
The emergence and degree of the orientative reaction are determined not by the novelty of the stimulus, but, on the contrary, by the similarity between the new stimulus and those which have already become signals and have previously been fixed. The newer the stimulus the less chance of it producing an orientative reaction in the deaf-blind child. The situation in which an orientative reaction is most likely to evolve is when a child is presented with an altered variant of a stimulus previously fixed.
There probably are forms of behaviour which appear innate, because they evolve easily in the course of ontogenesis. The emergence of new forms of reaction in a changing environment is something vitally important, and so some forms of behaviour evolve very quickly; only one reinforcement is required before the necessary association is formed. Some other reactions evolve thanks to generalisation, which can be elective from a very early age. Such reactions function thanks to the fact that a similar link was formed earlier, and this similarity does not need to be self-evident.
Such a situation is to be found with regard to man’s cognitive behaviour, starting with the orientative-investigatory reflex and ending with his search for the truth. It is hardly correct to link this activity with so-called innate unconditioned orientative reflex; most probably there exists no reflex as a result of which orientative behaviour develops, nor are there any other biological preconditions for the emergence of specifically human mentality. Yet it should be remembered that orientative-analytical behaviour starts to take shape as soon as the influence of the external environment, beneficial or harmful to the organism, is felt. The resultant need does not manifest itself like a biological want, which, once satisfied, disappears. While for instance the need for food once satisfied fades away, the orientative-learning need, once satisfied, moves on a step further.
Orientative-investigatory activity emerges as activity directed towards knowledge of an object that has previously figured in a practical activity. It is thanks to such activity that a child is able to actualise the image of a thing, with the help of which one or other of its physical wants were previously satisfied.
The widening of the range of objects used to satisfy the child’s basic wants places new demands on orientative-investigatory activity, which at this stage must include the choice of one from a group of things, which vary in their suitability for the achievement of the objectives inherent in the practical activity.
But an overwhelming increase in the flow of objects brought into the practical activity not only complicates the activity in quantitative terms but also leads to qualitative restructuring. In order for objectives to be reached this or that practical activity has to be effected in different ways depending upon the conditions. The range of objects used to carry out this activity is not merely extended but also changes depending upon the changed situation. In different conditions one and the same activity requires now one set of objects, now another. Consequently the tasks of orientative activity also change and grow more complex: it consists in the search for the necessary object. In this search the child comes across a large number of diverse objects, both those which have some bearing on the practical activity, and those which are divorced from it. In order to find the thing he is looking for, the child has to compare objects he lights upon with the image he carries in his mind and measure up the real object against the ideal image.
This comparison of an object with an image that has grown up in a child’s mind gives rise to new knowledge, to new images for articles that have no direct bearing on his practical activity.
In this way there takes shape, as an aspect of the practical activity, the orientative-investigatory function, which then gradually emerges as an independent activity, giving rise in its turn to a secondary, “superstructural” need for the knowledge of objects in the surrounding world.
At this stage occurs not only the actualisation of images directly necessary for the success of the practical activity but also the accumulation of knowledge “for future use.” Now the orientative reflex can in itself provide a sort of reinforcement, and on that basis an enormous number of temporary links can be formed making possible the attainment of more and more new knowledge.
However, at this stage, too, the final selection and consolidation of emergent images take place in the context of concrete practical activity that is in some way beneficial to the organism, although this “benefit” must be understood in a wider sense, not confined to food, protection from pain or cold, etc.
Images that have taken shape as a result of orientative-investigatory activity “for future use” provide a reference point with relation to much more complex behaviour on the part of the child: by this time he has been taught to walk, to put on his own clothes and shoes, overcome obstacles in his path and use correctly a large number of everyday household objects (furniture, clothes, toilet articles, toys, etc.). New objects which the child encounters or is given are carefully examined (via his hands) with the guidance of his teacher, and he learns the purpose of each new object.
With what “tools” does the deaf-blind child become familiar during the early stages of his training, what functions associated with these “tools” does he master? Initially one can count such “tools” in tens, later in hundreds and thousands. First of all there are the numerous household objects, the mastering of which proceeds imperceptibly in the case of an ordinary child possessed of normal sight and hearing, is taken for granted as it were. A child learns to eat with a spoon and fork from a plate, sitting on a chair at a table, biting off a piece of bread and then taking a spoonful of soup, later stirring a drink in a cup or glass with a teaspoon, drinking out of that cup or glass and finally wiping his mouth with a napkin. He is taught, in accordance with a clearly defined timetable, to go to bed, lie on a sheet, put his head on a pillow, cover himself up with a blanket, to wake up and get up at a set time, then to make his bed, use the pot or lavatory, do his morning exercises, go to the bathroom, turn taps on and off, regulate the flow of warm and cold water coming out of the mixer-tap, soap his hands and face, then wash the soap off, brush his teeth, rub himself down with a towel and comb his hair; to put on and take off pants, stockings, trousers and a shirt or a dress, to put on and take off socks, slippers, shoes, felt boots and galoshes, coat and hat; he learns to open and shut doors, go up and down stairs, play ball or dolls and enjoy other toys as well.
This list is not a haphazard string of activities because a deaf-blind child really does have to be taught to do all these things one by one by specially devised methods. In practical terms the whole life of a deaf-blind child is an unending learning programme.
A deaf-blind child is taught not only to do the things listed above but also to do tens and hundreds of other things, to apprehend and acquaint himself with tens and hundreds of objects made by man, and to master and understand the functions that are inherent in these objects. As he comes to master and manipulate numerous household and everyday objects, such a child makes his first real contact with his fellow-men, and, as he assimilates the experience accumulated by men over thousands of years and embodied in these objects and their functions, the child himself comes into his own as a human being.
Instruction of such children in the skills of self-care, that is aimed, essentially, at enabling them to satisfy their individual needs using socially evolved methods, is a fundamentally important stage within the overall programme of rearing and teaching the deaf-blind child: it constitutes the laying of the foundation for his subsequent development.
At the initial stage of a child’s development the relationship and interaction between practical forms of activity, aimed at satisfying basic wants, and orientative-investigatory activity with cognitive objectives are as follows.
Cognitive activity arises within the practical activity and for the satisfaction of the latter’s requirements (indeed this is the only way in which it can come into being); it emerges as an indispensable condition for the realisation of the practical activity. However, after first emerging within practical activity, cognitive activity assumes relative independence. As a result of its relative independence, a child acquires knowledge of the outside world (images of objects) which extends beyond the narrow range of knowledge essential for the execution of concrete types of practical activity. In this way conditions are created for the mastering of more complicated forms of practical activity, and new forms of activity emerge. Practical activity becomes more varied and extends beyond the simple satisfaction of the child’s physical needs, and this, in its turn, makes possible the further advance in learning.
The relative independence of cognitive activity enables the teacher of the deaf-blind child to enlarge his knowledge, not merely in the course of practical activity but also through special tuition and games.
It is essential to understand that not until a child begins to be instructed in practical activity and not until relatively independent cognitive activity starts to emerge within the framework of the latter, will the conditions be provided for special lessons to promote the child’s so-called sensorimotor culture. To encourage a child’s sensorimotor development before he has mastered elementary skills of self-care is not only futile but harmful because the child will become profoundly hostile to the very process of instruction.
The need to establish self-care skills is acknowledged by all those who have had anything to do with the teaching of deaf-blind children. Deaf-blind children in the United States and Britain are instructed in the skills of self-care. However, in those countries these skills are seen as just one of the objectives in the teaching of these children, and by no means the most important one.
While in this country the main objective at the first stage of instruction provided for these children is to teach them the skills of self-care. At the Condover school for the deaf-blind in Britain, for example, the main emphasis at the initial stage is laid upon sensorimotor development. Children are taught to perceive such things as toys and bricks, to develop their sense of rhythm. Special attention is paid to the development of their tactile perception by means of special exercises, moulding activities, etc. Their motoric function is developed via outdoor games with large building blocks, walks, swimming in the pool provided at the school; they are taught to work with clay, sand and water.
It should be pointed out that such forms of activity for deaf-blind children can be extremely valuable, indeed, they are quite indispensable, if we bear in mind all the time that the main form of activity at the first stage of such children’s development should be the training of self-care skills and that non-practical forms of activity should arise within the framework of practical ones. As it acquires relative independence, non-practical activity serves to promote the children’s sensorimotor development, and this in its turn creates the prerequisites for the further development of practical activity.
The main teaching task at this period should be to instruct deaf-blind children in the skills of self-care. This of course does not in any way rule out exercises to promote their sensory development and develop their motor skills. Objectives connected with sensory and motor development of deaf-blind children can be attained both in the course of their training in self-care and also through special exercises, if such children have already achieved relative independence in their cognitive activity.
The previous chapter provided only the barest of outlines for the pattern of the deaf-blind child’s initial development. The path of development for each individual child can be significantly more complex, depending upon the conditions he lived in before he began to receive instruction.
One factor which frequently complicates the teacher’s task in the initial stage of his work with a deaf-blind child is the previous neglect with regard to training. Parents often fail to consult a specialist before several years elapse after the onset of deaf-blindness. During this intervening period and as a result of misguided handling, a deaf-blind child’s activity and need for movement can be inhibited to a large degree.
These children often find an outlet for their energy in aimless, meaningless movements, such as the swaying of the body to and fro pendulum fashion while in a sitting position, or in abrupt, jerky movements of the hands and trunk reminiscent of convulsions, etc. Such behaviour combined with complete lack of mental development gives rise to the impression that these children have suffered severe brain damage. In the case histories of such children one may often find the diagnosis “mental retardation.”
A great deal of work and meticulous teaching are necessary to overcome the child’s persistent passive-defensive reaction, to nurture natural needs in him, to get rid of inert patterns of movement and establish habits of normal behaviour.
In overcoming inert motor stereotypes and physical inhibition in the deaf-blind child, the training in new motor habits should correspond to the level of development of the child’s needs. Re-education in this context should not be of a coercive character. In all cases it is essential to take account of the child’s readiness to apprehend what people are trying to teach him. Direct coercion should not be used even when incorrect methods for the satisfaction of needs have taken root (for example, eating with fingers instead of spoons). However, the teacher’s approach should not only be adapted to the development of a child’s needs at the moment in question, but also anticipate the further development of those needs.
While a child is being trained in one or other set of skills it is essential to keep careful track of his manifestations of active behaviour. It is important not to miss a single trace of an independent execution of the particular movement in which the child is currently being trained. The deaf-blind child easily grows used to having everything done for him by an adult and if a barely perceptible manifestation of independence is passed over, then this independence may vanish and give way to total passivity.
An idea of the versatility and subtlety required of the teacher fostering a deaf-blind child’s elementary behavioural skills can be provided in the description of several actual cases.
One of the deaf-blind children under our observation was Nina H. She had contracted meningitis at the age of eight months. On recuperation she became sleepy, stopped sitting up and standing. When she was taken to a neurological hospital and an eye clinic at the age of eighteen months it was established that she could not see or hear. At the age of four she was sent to a home for handicapped children. At the time when we first began a study of this case, her customary pose and way of passing the time were as follows: she would sit on her bed swaying her trunk to and fro, stopping occasionally as if she were listening to something; she would then shake her head two or three times from side to side and then start swinging her body again; each time she leant forward she used to breathe out hard through clenched teeth. Sometimes she would raise her right arm and leg at the same time, turning her head to the right as she did so. She made the same movements with her left arm and leg sometimes, but less frequently. From a lying position she would sit up on her own but usually she would not lie down independently; sometimes she even fell asleep sitting up. The little girl’s right arm was considerably more active than her left. Sometimes she would put her right fist up against her cheek or gently tap her face round the right eye, on the forehead or the bridge of her nose. She used to rub her right eye with her right hand. When sitting she would independently change the position of her body, turning, bending up and then stretching out her legs. She was able to stand if holding on to a support, but she never stood up on her own. If someone stood her up but then left her without support she would sit down again immediately. If someone touched her in order to dress or undress her, or to stop her swaying to and fro, the little girl would freeze over for a moment as if expecting something to happen and then start to whimper. If she was then left alone the whimpering would stop. She used to cry loudly, throwing her head back convulsively as she did so, occasionally throwing her legs up into the air or to one side. Her behaviour at bedtime varied: sometimes she would fall asleep as soon as she was made to lie down, other times she was reluctant to lie down. At night she slept peacefully and sometimes could sleep through breakfast if not woken up for it. The movements of her tongue and lips were very varied: sometimes she used to stick her lips out in a pout, other times she would stick out her tongue either down towards her chin or up towards her nose, etc., and she used to utter a number of inarticulate sounds. That was to the best of our knowledge all that Nina H. was capable of; she could not walk, feed herself, use a pot, dress or undress herself. She would not take hold of or handle any object. Any object (except the dummy) put in her hand. she would limply let go of, and if it was put in her hand again she would push it away; she would not make any attempt to handle a toy or anything else, even if it was actually put into her hand. Meticulous observation of Nina’s day-to-day timetable and her whole life and attempts to train her in the most elementary behavioural skills revealed several factors which made work with this child particularly difficult. For instance, the little girl’s attitude to the process of feeding was resolutely negative. During feeding she would cry, try and clench her teeth, turn away from the spoon, spit food out, etc. The nurse in charge of her told us that when Nina was having tantrums and refusing to eat, they had to lie her down on her back and forcibly pour food into her, and then, although still crying, she did at least eat.
We used special methods to encourage a more active approach to food. A teaspoon was used to feed her. Only the first spoonful was poured into the child’s mouth, while she remained completely passive. The second spoonful would then be placed into the child’s mouth, but the food not poured in immediately, only after she had taken hold of the food with her top teeth and top lip, after which the spoon would be drawn out, while the food gripped by the upper lip would remain in her mouth. This constituted the manifestation of the child’s first active response to food, and it was vital, come what might, not to overlook that activity and let it die out. It was essential that the next spoonful of food should not simply be poured into her mouth; that it should be taken by the child actively moving its lips. This way, gradually and in measured doses, holding back the moment when food would actually be poured into the child’s mouth, we encouraged the child to make an active movement with her upper lip, and later to carry out a more difficult movement – that of sucking in food, i.e. the introduction of food from the spoon into the mouth, by means of active movements of the upper and lower lip, together with a stream of air. The child’s active movements during feeding gradually and slowly increased. The spoon no longer needed to be placed in the child’s mouth but merely brought up to her mouth where it was just touching her lips. In response to that touch of the spoon Nina learnt to bend her head forward, open her mouth and suck in the food. The spoon was then brought to her lips in a number of different places. Gradually the range of movements made by the little girl with her head and mouth increased so that she could take hold of the spoon regardless where the spoon might touch her lips. In this way the signalling zone within which the response to grasp food was aroused, was gradually developed and extended. This response was produced most effectively of all when the middle part of the lips, was touched. It gradually emerged that she responded more precisely when the upper lip was touched with the spoon, rather than the lower lip. The extension of the receptor zone for feeding signals had to be done most carefully and at a strictly measured rate: if the child’s lips were touched with a spoon too far from the receptor zone, where the feeding response could reliably be produced, then the food-grasping response might not ensue. When for the first few times the spoon touched the child’s face beneath her lower lip, Nina refused to grasp at the food, although later she learnt to take in food in response to a touch of the spoon in that place as well.
Further extension of the signals to produce the food-grasping response included variation of the actual signalling method. Attempts were made to teach the child to respond to the smell of food brought near her mouth, or to the warmth emanating from it. The quality and pattern of activity in feeding also altered. To movements of the head and lips the child later, admittedly with the help of an adult, added movement of its hand which followed the feeding hand of the adult and was supposed to eventually take over from it. In this way a child comes gradually to learn to lift a spoon to its mouth and open the mouth according to the position of its hand in space. Thus, a complex series of coordinated movements of hand, head and mouth takes shape which is necessary for the correct execution of the eating procedure.
Nina’s previous living conditions had also repressed any versatile motor activity. When Nina was brought to the home of handicapped children she was not used to sleeping in a cot. Her activities had not been ordered in accordance with a natural pattern: she had not been taught to stand, walk, dress and undress herself or to use a pot. All these processes – dressing, eating, moving from one part of a room to another – had been carried out by the nurse rapidly, with no thought for the child’s needs and no effort to develop her activity the while. For the little girl this had meant – a constantly chaotic and incomprehensible series of contacts, as a result of which she would freeze over with fear on finding herself “airborne,” as it were, without any firm support when being carried from one place to another, suddenly find herself in water when being bathed, or being dressed and undressed, all for no apparent reason. Her first natural manifestations of activity, if they had existed at all, had been virtually snuffed out. By the time we came to examine her, Nina reacted to any touch by drawing away from it: if more persistent efforts at contact were made, she would then start to whimper or even cry. She satisfied her need for movement by swaying her body forwards and backwards for hours at a stretch. All other movements were forced and carried out without any active participation on the part of the child. It was essential to determine the potential for developing the child’s motor activity and the ways in which that could be effected. Further examination revealed that it was quite possible for motor activity to be brought about and developed.
This can be illustrated by an account of how Nina was taught to stand up from a sitting position.
Usually, when Nina had to be moved from one place to another, to the bathroom, etc., she was quickly grasped under the armpits, lifted, carried to the required place and then sat down. In the process Nina’s legs would remain in a sitting position in mid-air just as they had been on the bed. When I attempted to lift her, she also kept her legs bent up at first. In order to stop her bending her legs into a sitting position when lifted the following steps were taken: a support was placed under the soles of her feet, the hand of the nurse if nothing else, and her trunk was lifted up much more slowly than usual. On feeling constant support beneath her feet, the child began to let her legs unbend; as her body was lifted up from its support, the feet remained pressing lightly on it. Gradually the teacher provided less and less support for the child’s body and at last the moment came when no more support whatsoever was required.
In the act of standing up as described above the child’s activity is minimal, it is only just taking shape. Here the lifting of the body is still carried out by the adult at the child’s side, and not by the child’s own muscular activity. Later the child’s active participation in the standing up procedure increases. The teacher places her hands beneath the child’s armpits and begins to lift the child; however, this lifting is deliberately carried out slowly and in such a way as to provide only weak support, in order that the child itself with its own muscles should begin to participate in the work of standing up.
In this way joint action on the part of the adult and the child comes into being: the adult begins the action, but the child carries it forward. This is a vital step in the early training of a deaf-blind child.
Soon Nina learnt to stand up from her bed independently holding on to the mesh at the side of it, and then to stand up from a chair. Next, work began on teaching the little girl to walk. One of the teachers would take hold of both her hands and pull her gently forward, while another would lift the little girl’s feet and move them forward one after another. Later Nina began to move her feet forward herself, when her hands were pulled. After making several steps in this way she would bend her legs and sit down or just hang on the hands of the teacher. However, with each day that passed the number of steps she took grew. Soon she no longer needed to be helped along by both hands, but could be supported by one alone, and later Nina learnt to walk holding on just to a single finger of the teacher. Then she was given a child’s chair to hold on to, which was gradually moved from one part of the room to another. At first she held on to it with two hands but later with only one.
This instruction in walking became an integral part of Nina’s schedule. In the morning, holding on to the hand of the teacher Nina covered the distance from her bedroom to the bathroom and back again, was then taken to the playroom, where she was taught to move independently, holding onto the sides of the play-pen, in which she was placed. She was not carried out for her walks outdoors but led outside. Soon she was able to take between ten and twelve steps without holding onto either a chair or a teacher’s hand. At the same time as this child was being taught to walk, attempts were also made to train her in skills of self-care. At first during the processes of dressing, undressing, washing, using the toilet or eating, Nina was not merely passive but resisted all efforts to teach her independent habits, pulling her hands away from her teachers and turning her face away from them. With Nina everything had to be carried out extremely slowly and calmly, because abrupt movements frightened the little girl. In the morning she was lifted out of bed carefully, with gentle movements. She was washed with warm water which did not seem to frighten her, but produced positive emotions. At the pleasant touch of that water Nina not only stopped pulling her hands away but actually held them under the tap. The teacher, holding the child’s hands in her own, would carry out the necessary movements, rubbing the palms of the little girl’s hands against each other, lifting them up to her face and moving them across and round it. Soon signs of active participation were to be observed: when Nina felt the teacher lifting her hands to her face, she then actively joined in subsequent movements of the washing procedure and drying with a towel.
Nina was then taught to eat solid food; gradually she learnt to bite off pieces of solid food and chew them. Then she was taught to use a spoon: she did not hold it herself at first, so the teacher would hold her hand on the spoon and thus raise the spoon to Nina’s mouth with her own hand. In this way Nina learnt eventually to hold a spoon in her own hand and began to try and lift it up to her mouth. More often than not the spoon did not land in her mouth, but as soon as the spoon touched her face Nina would accurately move it over to her mouth and then drop in the food properly. Gradually she learnt also to bite off pieces of bread (initially this had been crumbled into her soup for her).
In dressing as well Nina began to be more active; she would lift up her foot as a stocking was pulled on or raise her hands as her dress was put on, etc.
As can be seen from the above account, important physical needs such as those for food and movement had not taken root in Nina’s behaviour at the outset or had been suppressed after they had taken root in infancy before she fell ill. Any need for communication with other people was also completely absent. The need for food had been stamped out by an abnormal feeding procedure, the need for activity had been satisfied in stereotyped movements of her trunk to and fro pendulum-fashion, and the need for communication with others had not developed or had been destroyed by incorrect handling of the child consisting of abrupt contacts and movements beyond the child’s understanding as its everyday requirements were attended to.
These examples from work undertaken by Nina H.’s teachers illustrate the gradual way in which such a child’s activity can be “revived” and developed at the early stage of its training programme.
Now let us turn to other examples concerned with the fostering of somewhat more complex habits of human behaviour.
Rita L. came from her own home to our school for the deaf-blind at the age of two years and eight months. Her diagnosis read: “congenital deafness and congenital cataract in both eyes.” The small girl had some residual vision left, insofar as she was still sensitive to light and darkness. No hearing at all was present though, and she had no speech skills whatever. At home Rita had not been taught any self-care skills at all. She was carried around by her mother almost all the time: she was able to walk but only when holding on to an adult’s hand and over an even surface, she was unable to go up or down steps, even when holding on to an adult’s hand. At our school she initially was quite lost when left alone: she would cry and as soon as she felt an adult come up to her and touch her she would stretch out her hands “asking” to be picked up. She was not accustomed to any kind of regular timetable whatever. No pattern of day or night existed for her. It was a struggle to put her to bed in the evening, she kept getting up and crying, while in the day-time she was often limp and sleepy. She could not use a spoon and used to eat with her fingers. She could drink from a cup if the cup was held to her lips by an adult, but she could not manage a cup by herself. At home she had been held on an adult’s lap while being fed and she was unable to sit independently on a small chair at a table during meals. If she was not held back from doing so she would stand up and sweep everything off the table on to the floor. She had not been taught to use a pot. She did not use a single gesture for purposes of communication. The only way she used to demand attention was by shouting out and this she used to do regularly.
When she was being dressed, she would sit there passively without taking part in the procedure and sometimes putting up resistance. Rita did not know how to imitate in any way the adults and children around her: she could not apprehend what other people were doing. She did not know how to play, and toys did not interest her. Either she pushed them away, moved them from one place to another or used them to knock against other things. She treated all toys in exactly the same way.
All these skills now had to be taught her.
The first thing which Rita had to be taught at the home for the deaf-blind was to get used to a regular time-table. At first she resisted this new arrangement of her life. She was reluctant to lie down for her afternoon nap, she would stand up, cry and throw her pillow or blanket off the bed. The teacher would take Rita’s hands in her own and lead her over to the beds of the other children, to show her that they had undressed and lain down to sleep, then she would place the little girl’s hands together in the gesture that meant “sleep.” Of course, Rita did not understand that sign at first, but it was repeated without fail at the appointed times, before the little girl was put to bed or when she was shown any other sleeping child. If Rita did not wake up early enough in the morning, she was woken with a light touch; she was also fed, dressed, taken for walks and put to bed at strictly appointed times. At home her family had been unable to teach her habits of tidiness, she had often been put on the pot when her pants were already wet and kept there for a long time. That had not only been a futile activity, but even harmful for the child. It had developed in Rita a deep-seated revulsion for the potting procedure. In the special home she was put on the pot at strictly appointed times and for short periods. Special care was taken to see that the pot was not cold. Soon she stopped resisting the procedure.
In the very first day that Rita spent at the children’s home it was also discovered that she had a deep-seated aversion to washing her hands as indeed to washing in general. She was frightened of water, would turn away, scream and struggle, when she was taken into the washroom. It was clear that washing had been carried out forcibly at home. Warm water and a slow pace for the washing procedure and encouragement of independent movements during it soon made washing her hands and body a pleasant event for the child.
Rita took four months to grow accustomed to the new ordering of her day. By then she would go calmly into the wash-room and stretch out her hands under the running water from the tap. She had learnt the basic movements required for washing – she could rub her palms together, carry her soap and towel to the wash-room unaided and then back again from the bathroom to her dormitory. She had not yet learnt to dry her face and hands with a towel properly, but it was clear that she would soon master those skills as well.
As soon as her teachers began dressing and undressing Rita slowly, encouraging even the slightest traces of independent movements, the little girl’s active role in this procedure began to increase from day to day. She learnt to raise her arms when a blouse or cardigan were being taken off, and to raise her leg when a stocking was being put on. Her teacher, after taking Rita’s hands into her own, used to teach her to do this, giving her a chance to manifest independence at any stage as they went along. First of all Rita learnt to take off her shoes, after her teacher had first undone the laces, and then to take off her stockings once the suspenders had been unfastened. Then she learnt to undo the buttons on her cardigan or dress. Four months after she came to the home she was taking off her dress, shoes, pants and stockings (these last she could not yet unfasten admittedly) as she got ready for bed. Initially she had just thrown on the floor the garments she took off. Now she attempted to hang them over the back of a chair. She had learnt more complex skills as well, those involved in putting on dress, cardigan, pants, shoes (although she could not yet do up or undo the laces). When it was time to go out for walks she would also attempt to put on her coat and hat.
Rita was also taught to go up and downstairs on her own. At first she could only move up or down stairs while holding onto a teacher’s hand, but later she learnt to go upstairs holding on to the banisters. Going downstairs proved more difficult but by the fourth month of training she had mastered that skill as well. Admittedly, she had not yet the courage to go downstairs without holding onto the banisters, but that she gradually mastered as well, just as she had learnt to go up without holding on.
Rita was also deliberately taught to follow what adults and children around her were doing. Gradually the range of actions which Rita “observed,” at first together with her teacher, and later on her own merely supervised by the teacher, widened. Rita learnt to find her way about her room, then in the corridor; later she learnt to find her way to the wash-room, to the dining room and how to go outside into the garden to play.
Gradually a need to imitate those around her took root. It was essential that she be taught to play. Her teacher would lead Rita up to the other children and show her how they were playing: how they were building and taking apart a sorting pyramid, a matryoshka doll, or laying out bricks. The teacher would pick up a doll and show Rita parts of the doll’s body in association with parts of a human body, and in the same way she was pointed out the link between the doll’s clothes and her own. After learning to dress and undress herself Rita then learnt to dress and undress her doll. She learnt to take apart and build up a sorting pyramid, and also a matryoshka doll. She was not yet able to play in a group. Sitting next to the other children she would try above all to take their toys away from them. With a little help from a teacher she was soon able to sort out toys of different geometrical shapes one from another and put them into separate boxes, for example small cubes and balls.
After Rita had learnt to imitate others she learnt to do morning exercises, and to take part in the children’s action games.
From the very beginning of Rita’s instruction her teacher had made a point of showing the little girl with her hands the manual sign which denoted the action they were about to perform, before they embarked on it. Before Rita had her stockings put on, for instance, her hand was drawn up her leg from her foot to her knee and only then would the stocking be put on. At first these gestures were not apprehended in any way by the little girl, and the real signal to Rita that she was going to get dressed was the teacher beginning to pull the stocking over her foot, after which the stocking would be pulled on, initially by the teacher, then the teacher and the little girl together and later by Rita on her own.
Gradually Rita began to understand simple gestures, but in her contact with others she did not herself make use of them at first. After she had grasped the gesture meaning wash, for instance, she would take her soap and towel and set off to the wash-room, once the gesture was made by the teacher.
Instruction in the first habits of independent eating were recorded on film and then carefully analysed. A micro-analysis, so to speak, of the training in what at first glance appears a simple skill reveals a fairly complex pattern underlying the emergence and development of this activity on the child’s part, as can be seen from the extracts of this analysis below.
In the training of Rita to use a spoon to feed herself it is clear what a complex instrument a spoon really is. The little girl could not grasp why she needed this awkward thing that had to be held in a special way – a particularly difficult undertaking – and from which everything kept falling or spilling out and which was so difficult to steer into the mouth. At first Rita deliberately pushed the spoon away and would only take food out of her plate with her fingers.
Yet the teacher kept on putting the spoon into the child’s hand and making sure it stayed there. Holding in her own the child’s hand which had the spoon in it the teacher scooped up food and lifted it to the little girl’s mouth. This joint action, in which the child did not as yet play an active part, ensured that food landed in Rita’s mouth in larger amounts than had been the case when she used to eat with her fingers and Rita soon stopped resisting. Indeed, soon afterwards, when the little girl had to eat a runny soup, she would take hold of the spoon and wait for the teacher to lift her hand with the spoon in it and begin to feed her. After teaching Rita to grasp food with her lips from the spoon lifted to her mouth, the teacher began to play a less active part in the proceedings. After scooping food up with the spoon and lifting it to the child’s mouth, she would let go of the spoon, giving Rita a chance to keep hold of the spoon on her own. However, the little girl would let go of the spoon as well, and the food spilt out. Then the teacher merely used a lighter grip, then no more than support for the spoon-holding hand, finally the lightest of touches before letting go altogether. Gradually Rita learnt to keep hold of the spoon with food in it near her mouth until the food had landed safely in her mouth.
Initially Rita would only hold the spoonful of food near her mouth if it was actually touching her lips. Gradually the participation in the eating process on the part of the teacher grew smaller and smaller and eventually all she was doing was scoop the soup into the spoon, while the little girl herself lifted the spoon to her mouth and sucked the soup in.
Scooping food up with a spoon proved a much harder operation than learning how to wield a spoon when bringing food to the mouth. First of all, the actual scooping movement was fairly complex (involving a twist of the wrist); secondly, there was no direct link between that movement and actually manoeuvring food into the mouth (the psychological link between scooping and eating is far more remote than, for instance, that between lifting the hand to the mouth and then placing the food in the mouth).
On every “convenient” occasion the child tried to substitute another action for the scooping, one that was simpler and more straightforward for her. Since her left hand had always been fairly active in the feeding process (Rita was always groping around with it in the plate to see what was in there), as soon as she discovered that the consistency of the food was such that she could pick it up in her fingers, she would pick up food in her left hand and lift it to her mouth. Meanwhile her right hand with the spoon in it would remain quite still or more aimlessly without in no way furthering the eating process, i.e., the little girl was using her left hand in a purposeful way, while carrying out incomprehensible manipulations with her right on the teacher’s insistence. In this way Rita was carrying out two parallel processes one of which had a goal while the other remained for her no more than an incomprehensible movement performed out at the behest of the teacher.
Subsequently, to connect the two processes the little girl, while holding the spoon in her right hand, was allowed to put food from the plate into the spoon with her left hand and then lift it to her mouth helping it along with the left hand. In this way a certain relationship between the movements of the two hands was established, movements which differed in their closeness to the natural act of eating.
At first Rita used to let go of her spoon as soon as she had steered its contents into her mouth. Now that it no longer contained any food it had become an object with no purpose and the spoon was just dropped. She did the same with her cup: after sipping a little fruit-juice or milk from a cup, Rita would let go of it. Only after chewing and swallowing some food would she start looking for a new mouthful. Eventually Rita learnt to put down her cup on the table and to put her spoon down next to her plate. It was only through deliberately supporting the child’s hand and gradually loosening that hold, that her teacher persuaded her to keep hold of her spoon, and not abandon it until she finished her first mouthful, in order then to scoop up and lift to her mouth the next one.
Later, and just as gradually, the little girl was taught to understand other rules of behaviour at table. Let us illustrate it with another example. Usually three pupils would be sitting at table at once, each of them eating at an individual speed, adapted to his own particular skills. Sometimes a pupil had to wait until a slower cater had finished his meal. Rita could not understand at all why she had to go on sitting at table, once she had finished eating. She would move her chair back, get up and try to leave the table. She was led over to the chairs on which the other children were sitting, and shown that they were still eating; she was sat down next to them, so that by touching her fellow-pupils with her hand she could follow their progress and as soon as they had finished the children would all leave the room together.
Rita’s “waiting” skill was developed in the following stages: at first, after finishing her meal the little girl used to get up from her chair and leave the table; then she would remain in her chair, held back by her teacher’s hands; next she learnt to wait for her friends to finish their meal, keeping track of their progress with her hand; finally she learnt to wait quietly for a signal from her teacher permitting her to get up and leave the dining room.
Lena G. was moved from her home to the school for the deaf-blind at the age of two. Her diagnosis was the same as Rita’s: “congenital deafness and congenital cataract in both eyes.” While the little girl was completely deaf, she still had some residual vision but how much it was impossible to ascertain. She could not speak at all and did not use gestures. At home she had been carried around by adults almost all the time. Before she was put to bed she would be rocked to sleep in an adult’s arms. She was fed from a spoon and was able to walk well holding on to an adult’s hand. She had not been taught any skills of self-care and did not use the pot. She had not learnt to play at all. If Lena was handed any toy she did not show any interest in it whatsoever. The only thing she could do with toys was to take them out of a box one by one, if sat down on the carpet next to such a box.
The first task embarked upon by Lena’s teachers was to get her used to a regular time-table. This did not prove as difficult an undertaking as it had been in the case of Rita L. Lena did not confuse day and night. What proved more difficult was getting Lena used to no longer being carried around by an adult all the time. For a long time she was unable to reconcile herself to the fact that adults were not constantly picking her up: she protested noisily, cried, slumped down onto the floor, beating her feet and fists against it. On these occasions the child would be left on her own and she would then soon quieten down. Teaching Lena to do without being carried around was made still more difficult by the fact that her system of body temperature control appeared to have been disrupted. She found it quite impossible to get warm on her own, especially at the beginning of the day. After getting up in the morning, still muffled up in her blanket she would “demand” to be picked up at once. It was clear that the little girl was cold, although the room was warm and the other children did not feel cold. At first it proved necessary to pick up Lena wrapped in a blanket and help her get warm by moving her legs and arms about, before finally removing the blanket and embarking on dressing her. Soon Lena only needed to move around a little in her bed with the help of her teacher in order to get warm in the mornings. In the course of the day she would often make requests to be picked up and make a fuss. Before long, however, by dint of experience she came to understand that being held on the lap of a motionless adult was less interesting than walking across the floor with that adult and becoming acquainted with the various objects in the room. Of course, the teacher deliberately made it uninteresting for the child when she was sitting on her lap.
A good deal of perseverance and patience was required on the part of the teachers to train Lena to go to sleep in her bed, without being rocked to sleep in someone’s arms first. At first the little girl refused outright to lie down in the bed and was unable to go to sleep without being rocked in someone’s arms first. She would cry and would sit for hours on end in the bed protesting and not going to sleep. The teachers at this stage were driven to picking her up and rocking her to sleep. This went on for ten days, but soon it emerged that Lena did not necessarily have to be rocked right to sleep, it was sufficient just to calm her down with a short rock and then lay her down in the bed, where she would then go to sleep. Later this rocking was cut down more and more until it eventually was little more than a symbolic gesture: the teacher would pick up the little girl, rock her to and fro a few times, and then put her down in the bed. In this way the rocking was gradually cut out and was reduced to a mere signal conveying to the child that the time for sleeping had come. It should not of course be assumed that the task of putting Lena to bed always proceeded smoothly. Over a long period the little girl would remember from time to time that she had in the past only gone to sleep in the arms of an adult and then she would begin to make a fuss and refuse to go to sleep in her bed. Later games with dolls made it easier to establish her habit of going to sleep in her bed. When showing Lena how to play with dolls her teacher would show Lena that a doll needed to be put to bed in a toy cot and that it did not need to be rocked for its eyes shut automatically, etc. Before Lena went to sleep, her doll would be tucked up next to her; Lena’s hands would be guided by those of the teacher to tuck up the doll, stroke it and “calm it down.” It took two and a half months to teach Lena to go to sleep calmly on her own in her bed.
During her first two months at the home no success was achieved in teaching Lena to use the pot independently. At first her toilet patterns were merely observed to establish what were the most expedient times for sitting her on the pot. After a month Lena was taught to get her pot out from under her bed. Two months later this action on her part become a signal to show that she needed to use the pot. By the fourth month Lena was able to get the pot out from under the bed by herself, take off her pants, sit down on the pot, get up again, pull up her pants, put the lid on the pot and push it back under the bed again.
The first step towards teaching Lena to find her way about was to familiarise her with the corner in which she slept. Since the little girl was put to bed in a cot and covered up with a blanket, the drop-side of the cot filled in with netting was raised and lowered at regular intervals, she was soon became acquainted with the bed and bed-clothes; she knew the pillow was soft and the metal head of the bed was hard. In practical terms she was familiar with her corner of the room almost from the outset of her stay at the home. Special activities were organised for the child to extend the knowledge while making practical use of the objects around her. The teacher would take the little girl’s hands in her own and then proceed to make the bed, to raise and lower the drop-side, lead the child along one side of the cot letting her gain an idea of its size through feeling it; Lena would also climb under the cot and with her teacher’s help familiarise herself with the bed-legs, the wheels at the bottom of the legs and then even move the bed. In this way she also investigated the space around her bed; the bedside locker, the rug by the bed, the place next to the bed where her slippers were laid out and the strictly defined place for the pot under the bed, etc. Lena was thus encouraged to familiarise herself with a new world in a consistent and systematic way. The little girl took part in this investigation willingly because everything that she acquainted herself with possessed some practical significance for her. Objects were investigated in the context of their practical functions and in association one with another. The towel, which the little girl used to pick up before going to the wash-room, was always hanging in the strictly appointed place; the pot was always in one and the same place and the outdoor clothes that had to be put on before a walk were also always in the same place. Gradually Lena was taught to find her way about in her room as a whole, not just the corner where her bed stood, then in the corridor, round the whole of her floor, eventually in the entire building, in the yard and garden immediately outside it. When the little girl was being taught to find her bearings in her room, strict emphasis was laid on making sure that every article had its carefully appointed place. After Lena had come to grips with the corner of the room where her bed, bedside locker and rug were, she was then “shown” the communal table at which the three children in her group had their meals, until she learnt to find her way, together with the others, as far as the dining room. Later she was “introduced” to the carpet in the middle of the room, the windows, the radiators. The teacher together with Lena inspected the wardrobe, the toy-cupboard, the cots used by the other children and the children themselves. When they made their way to the wash-room, Lena accustomed herself to that new territory and learnt to step calmly over the threshold between the wash-room and the corridor, which involved a slight drop onto the lower floor of the wash-room. When she went into the wash-room, the little girl’s hands, guided by the teacher, “inspected” the arrangement of the wall-hooks for towels and clothes, and the basins; she was shown that the basins were at different levels, lower down for the small children and higher up for the taller ones. Lena used to touch the basins and even sniff at them. Initially she used to be led by the hand into the wash-room and then the teacher would walk behind Lena, guiding her by no more than a light touch on the shoulder to make sure she did not go off course. After a week even this minimal guidance was no longer necessary for the little girl would find her way to the was room confidently on her own.
Before taking Lena for a walk in the winter months Lena’s teacher would always go with her up to one and the same little cupboard, specially set aside for Lena, “inspect” together with her the outdoor clothes and felt boots, pick them up with her and take them to the chair at which Lena used to get ready for her walk. On returning Lena and the teacher would take off the outdoor clothes in the cloakroom, put the felt boots back in the cupboard and hang the other outdoor clothes back in it as well. A month after she arrived at the home Lena knew perfectly well where her outdoor clothes were kept. As soon as she got inside the cloakroom she would walk up to her cupboard and after the teacher had helped her to take her coat, etc. off the hanger, Lena would then carry it over to her chair on her own.
In the first six months Lena spent at the home she learnt to find her way about her bedroom, the lesson room, the corridor, the toilet and part of the garden. At the end of the sixth month Lena could find the common room she shared with the other children in her group, the wash-room, the sick room, the bathroom and she was able to take herself outside. Lena was also taught to recognise teachers and other members of the staff. At the same time as Lena was being taught to find her way about the home, she also learnt to feed herself with a spoon independently, to use the pot, to undress and dress and to play.
After two weeks Lena was able to lift a spoon with the lightest of guiding touches from the teacher. By the end of the third month of table training Lena was able to pick up food with a spoon and lift it to her mouth. Admittedly she often slobbered food on the table, down her feeder or on her face, but it would make her angry and start her crying by this time, if someone tried to take her spoon and feed her as they had done when she first arrived.
From the very outset efforts were made to teach Lena to pick up a cup by herself and hold it as she drank. It emerged that a full cup was too heavy for her and so she started practising with first a third of a cup and later half. Very rapidly indeed – in the matter of a few days – Lena had learnt to hold the cup firmly and put it down again on the table with care; soon she had learnt to pick it up from the table as well.
Three months later Lena could take her place at the table on her own as well; she could also pick up her spoon, eat with it, draw her plate nearer towards her and move it away, hold bread correctly in her left hand, pick up and put down her cup. During the fourth month of her table training Lena’s teacher started training her to use a napkin on her own. At first the teacher used to wipe the child’s face with a napkin herself. Then she began to hold the child’s hands on the napkin as she did so. Lena learnt very quickly to pick up the napkin from the table, but for a long time she could not manage to wipe her face with it, all she did was to put it up against her face. Lena only learnt to use a napkin correctly and completely independently after she had been at the home for six months.
Training Lena to dress and undress herself was one of the most important tasks in teaching this particular child. Initially Lena resisted the teacher’s efforts when the latter tried to take Lena’s hands in her own and teach her to take off and put on stockings, pants and frock. However, by the third or fourth day the resistance petered out, and Lena began trying actively to help the teacher, when she was dressing or undressing her. Lena was put down on a chair (initially a high one, so that the teacher did not need to bend down too much) and the teacher holding Lena’s hands in her own would feel over with her a particular garment, encouraging any trace of active participation on Lena’s part, and then put it on. At first, of course, it was the teacher who did most of the work, although the little girl tried to help, without as yet achieving any real results. This process was made more difficult by the fact that Lena’s hands were very weak, and she simply did not have the strength to pull on tights, for instance. Yet as the dressing and undressing process was repeated many times in the framework of the day-to-day timetable, the child’s hands began to grow stronger, she performed the necessary movements more efficiently and so her part in first undressing and later dressing herself gradually became more and more active. Lena was helped to “examine” other children, who, sitting on their own on their little chairs, were dressing themselves. She was also shown that these children were not being carried, but walked around on their own two feet. Lena, too, was then taught to sit on a little chair, to pick up her clothes on her own and begin to dress. The little girl learnt the first skills involved in taking off and putting on various garments unusually quickly. Two weeks after this training was begun Lena was able not only to take off, but to put on her pants by herself. At the same time she was making attempts (albeit clumsy, and unsuccessful ones) to take off her frock, cardigan, night dress and slippers. As soon as the teacher began any action involved in the dressing process, such as taking off a cardigan, for instance, Lena would try and take over herself. The beginning of the activity on the teacher’s part served as a signal for Lena to carry it forward. Of course, the child did all these things clumsily at first and the teacher often had to help her. It was vital at this stage to afford assistance in strict “doses” and at all costs avoid discouraging Lena’s own initiative. On several occasions when it so happened that the teacher intervened too obtrusively to correct a mistake, for example, when Lena began putting her dress on back to front, Lena started screaming and then refused categorically to continue her efforts to dress herself. On one occasion, when Lena despite long efforts had not succeeded in untangling her dress which had got caught up in itself, the teacher took the dress out of Lena’s hands and began to put it on: at this Lena pushed the dress away, fell crying to the floor and then refused for a long time to pick up her dress at all. It was in this way that Lena protested when an adult intervened too much. However, the opposite situation could arise as well, although it was rare: all of a sudden Lena would refuse to dress herself on her own, and hold out her clothes in the direction of her teacher indicating that she wanted someone to dress her instead. On one such occasion it emerged that on the day before Lena’s teacher, while hurrying to get her ready for a walk, had not waited for Lena to dress herself independently but had dressed her quickly herself and then taken the children outside for their walk.
Another thing which it took some time to teach Lena to do was to hang the garments she took off over the back of a chair. At first when she had taken her stockings or dress off she would just throw them down, but then she was taught to hand to the teacher any garment she took off. Lena was shown by means of her hands that the teacher hanged each garment over the back of the chair. After a few days Lena stopped throwing her clothes to the floor: when she had taken each garment off she would stretch out her hand with it, expecting the teacher to take it. After that stage had been reached, it was not difficult to teach Lena to hang her clothes over the back of her chair. When Lena, undressing, held out a garment in the direction of her teacher, the latter would steer her hand towards the back of Lena’s chair, and together the two of them would hang it over the back of the chair. Soon Lena tried to do this on her own. For a long time she only managed to put her garments in an untidy heap on the back of the chair without smoothing them out. Smoothing out the clothes proved a difficult task for the little girl and it took her several months to master this complex skill.
A mere twenty days after her training began Lena had grasped well where her clothes, slippers and stockings were kept. By that time she did not need to be shown where to fetch the garments from, she could find them all quickly on her own. Four months after her arrival Lena could find her little chair by herself, put on and take off her vest, pants, dress, cardigan, stockings and slippers. The one task involved in dressing which she had not yet completely grasped was the correct order for putting on and taking off the various garments.
A particularly formidable undertaking for Lena was fastening and unfastening buttons. Although in the course of four months she learnt to dress and undress by herself, she was still unable to fasten and even unfasten buttons. She began to take it for granted that the teacher always had to do that. When preparing to get undressed Lena would walk up to her teacher, take her by the hand and guide the teacher’s hand to her buttons; then again after she had dressed herself she would walk up to an adult expecting that she would do up her buttons for her. She did not even attempt to unfasten or fasten buttons, as if she regarded that as something outside her scope. A chance happening during the eighth month at the home led to Lena’s mastering the art of unfastening buttons at last. One day against Lena’s wishes her teacher quickly put on her cardigan for her. Lena grew angry at this slighting of her independence and pulled at the bottom of her cardigan in an effort to take it off and as a result the buttons came undone. She noticed this and forgetting her grudge, took an interest in what had happened. When the teacher did the buttons up again, Lena again, but more slowly this time, pulled at the bottom of her cardigan and one by one she succeeded in unfastening all the buttons. She repeated this process several times. The teacher then placed Lena’s hands on the buttons and herself pulled the cardigan open, so that Lena could feel how the buttons were coming out of the button-holes. After that chance incident, which the teacher made good use of, Lena started trying to unbutton all her garments by pulling apart their fastened edges. When this did not produce the required result the teacher would guide Lena’s fingers to help her push a button through its hole. In this way Lena gradually came to master this skill too. It proved far more difficult to master the art of fastening buttons. Yet for this the all-important breakthrough had already come, because the incident described above had provided the teacher with an opportunity for attracting the little girl’s attention to the manipulation of buttons in general. From that moment on Lena began to think of buttons as her “responsibility.” Whereas before she had made no attempt to fasten buttons when dressing herself, had been quite content to walk around unbuttoned and had refused to try and fasten them even with the teacher’s help, leaving the whole job completely to the teacher, now she began to make an effort to fasten them herself. At this stage through careful rationing of assistance it was possible gradually to foster this new skill, which really does involve subtle and complex movements. Six weeks after work towards this new objective began, Lena had mastered the skill. She was so fascinated by the process of fastening buttons, that if she discovered someone else had an unbuttoned coat, dress or dressing gown, she would start trying to fasten it for them. Another factor that had helped her to master the skill of fastening and unfastening buttons fairly quickly was the fact that at the same time she was being taught to play. As noted earlier, Lena had not played at home at all and did not understand what toys were for. Special work was undertaken with Lena, as with the other children, to make clear the correlation between toy objects and real ones: comparisons were made between toy pots and pans and real ones, between toy furniture and the real furniture in the children’s room, between the parts of dolls’ bodies and the parts of Lena’s body and those of other people, and so on and so forth. When playing with her doll Lena was taught to unfasten and fasten the buttons on her doll’s clothes. To this end the button-holes in the doll’s clothes were made wider than really necessary so that the buttons would go through them easily.
Work in teaching Lena to play proceeded parallel to that designed to foster the skills of self-care. At first Lena did not want to take part in any games. It was the teacher who “played” with the doll, while Lena merely “observed” what was going on. The little girl was shown by means of touch how clothes were being made for the doll: stockings, pants, a dress and cardigan. Of course, constant efforts were made to involve Lena in dressing and undressing the doll, but she rejected any such attempts, restricting her involvement to feeling the doll and what the teacher was doing with it. In actual fact, though, she was already deriving pleasure from the game. She could sit for a long time next to the teacher “observing” her actions. Lena’s first attempt at active participation in play came to the fore during procedures aimed at correlating toy objects and real objects. The teacher was showing Lena the doll’s cardigan and then moved Lena’s hands towards her own cardigan; then she did the same with the doll’s and Lena’s hat. Lena grasped the connection between the two; when her hands were put up against one of her own garments and then moved over to the doll, she would point correctly to the same garment on the doll, whether it be stockings, cardigan or pants, etc. If her attention was drawn to one of the doll’s garments, then she would point correctly to the same article of clothing on herself. This was Lena’s first manifestation of active involvement in play.
A special play corner was set up in the children’s room and toy furniture was set out on the carpet there: a doll’s bed, toy crockery, toy household articles and doll’s clothes. If Lena found any doll’s garment in some other part of the room, such as a doll’s cardigan for example, she would take it over to the toy corner, pick up the doll and bring it over to the teacher, so that the latter might put the cardigan on the doll. Gradually Lena started taking a more active part in games – she was given the doll to hold while a teacher dressed or undressed it. On another occasion Lena held the doll’s slippers while the teacher was putting stockings on the doll’s feet. Soon Lena stopped resisting, when the teacher used her hands to assist in putting on the doll’s stockings, slippers or hat. It was important that Lena should be drawn into this “collaboration” with the teacher gradually and with definite motivation; in other words Lena had to feel that her help was necessary. In this way Lena was gradually drawn into joint games with her teacher, but it took her a long time to learn to play on her own. Not before a year passed after she began to receive instruction was Lena able to sit on her own in the play-corner and play with her doll. By then she had mastered many of the self-care skills and her first gestures had taken shape. Play helped to promote the emergence and consolidation of these gestures, while the use of gestures made play more varied and interesting.
It should be pointed out by way of conclusion that Lena G. was not taught a selection of unconnected skills of self-care, but a whole pattern of behaviour in which actions followed on one from the other in a carefully linked progression.
The objects which the little girl used in her practical activities were all kept in strictly defined places, thus providing a stable object environment. The child’s actions within this situation, particularly as she learnt to master the objects concerned, were performed in a fixed order and sequence. The child’s towel always hung at the head of her bed in one and the same place, her soapdish with soap in it was always kept in the drawer of her bedside locker; every morning, before each meal, and before she went to bed, Lena would go, with the help of her teacher, over to her bedside locker, open the top drawer in it, take out her soapdish, move over to the head of her bed, pick up the towel and then set out for the door (the doors in the home were all of the sliding variety, as found in train compartments) and then walk along the corridor to the wash-room. There she would hang up her towel on a hook, go over to the basin, turn on the cold tap, and then the hot one, try the temperature of the water coming out of the mixer tap, then soap her hands rubbing the palms together, and then the backs of her hands; then Lena would wash her face moving her hands not only up and down her face lengthways, but also round and round as well – something that required far more skill – after which she would pick up her towel, dry her hands and face with it, go back to her room, hang up her towel in its special place and put back the soap.
In this activity one movement followed on from another, and the end of each action provided the signal for the next one to begin. All these actions taken together constituted an integrated, uninterrupted stream of human behaviour. In this way all Lena’s behavioural skills, the progress achieved in orientation, play and self-care developed not separately from each other but as parts of an indivisible whole. As a result, the images of objects which took shape in the child’s mind, as she came to master them and their functions in order to satisfy her needs, did not constitute a haphazard selection of separate disconnected images but made up a connected system of images linked together in an integrated “vision” of the external world.
After Lena had spent a year at the home medical examinations revealed that she could benefit from an operation on her right eye, after which she did begin to see slightly better with it. Using her improved sight Lena now found her way about the home and garden more easily, and she was also able to take a more active part in the children’s action games. She was now able to apprehend gestures directed at her not merely by means of touch but also visually as well. After this she continued to make good progress.
This section treats certain propositions of the theory of the development of the human mind, in their connection with the first steps to be undertaken in teaching a child.
It is often the case that young deaf-blind children living at home with their families develop a firm habit of being constantly carried around by adults. Even an ordinary child with normal sight and hearing will grow quickly used to being carried around while still a baby, and then finds it inordinately difficult to grow out of the habit. This is seen as an unfortunate habit for the child, and many suggestions and exhortations have been written to the effect that parents should help their child get rid of this harmful habit. Yet the actual urge to be carried by an adult is in itself not really such a bad habit, but rather, as far as the child is concerned, a useful one. During his first days, weeks and months a child is lying down almost all the time, and for most of that time he is lying in one and the same position – on his back. This constant lying in the same position means that the hair on the back of a baby’s head is rubbed away and sometimes his skull is even somewhat deformed. In addition children are often still wrapped round in nappies from the neck down and in the past people went as far as to use special swaddling clothes. This constant lying is only interrupted when a child is picked up to be fed. It is precisely thus that a baby comes to value the benefit to be derived from a change in his position. We only have to compare a child lying almost motionless in his cot, who sees nothing but one and the same part of the ceiling above him, and, when he is lucky, a few toys hanging motionless before him, with a child in the arms of an adult, whose gaze is confronted with an enormous constantly changing world of objects, colours and movements. Picking up a child and holding it in different positions, transferring him from one arm to another, or even rocking him in an adult’s arms or in his pram are all useful procedures for the child, rather than harmful ones. Very early on a child comes to “appreciate” this and soon begins to demand such handling all the time. This extreme, however, becomes burdensome for adults, but we should not assume that what is a burden to adults is harmful for the child. If he lies all the time on his back a normal baby does not learn even to raise its head until the age of seven months. Yet if a child is lifted up frequently and turned over on to its stomach, he can learn to raise his head by the age of two months. By three months such a child will be able confidently to hold its head up straight and turn it from side to side while held by an adult, which extends a child’s “horizon” no end.
Yet all this applies only to a child who has not yet learnt to move about, who not only has not yet learnt to walk but cannot even crawl, i.e. a child of up to six or seven months. As soon as a child learns to move about independently, long periods in the arms of an adult begin to hamper the emergence of his independence. Once he has learnt to walk by himself, he only needs to be picked up on occasions when he grows tired, while out for a walk for instance, and has nowhere to sit down and rest.
Deaf-blind children usually come to specialised institutions at an age when they are physically capable of walking. If such a child has been molly-coddled too much at home and is used to being carried around by adults all the time, it is essential to uproot this habit as quickly as possible and teach him to move about independently. If a child is constantly being carried for long periods, when he either knows how to walk or is capable of learning, this can seriously hold him back from learning to walk on his own and thus from developing his orientative skills.
To develop these skills a deaf-blind child is first familiarised in the course of his practical activities with the objects situated in the immediate vicinity of the place where he sleeps, and from there his “territory” is gradually extended.
When such a child is being taught to find his way about a room shared with other children, it is essential that pieces of furniture should always stand in one and the same place. Only in an unchanging setting is it possible for a deaf-blind child to learn to move about freely. After bumping into a chair once or twice, that is not in its proper place, the child will begin to fear such encounters and will be loath to move about freely. The range of his free movement may then be reduced to a tiny space around his bed.
The stability of the deaf-blind child’s tangible environment is essential if lie is to develop proper skills in spatial orientation. It helps him to create an integral picture made up of images of the objects around him, a picture which reflects the external world. As his orientative skills develop, the strict permanence of the positioning of the objects in question is not only no longer necessary for his further development, but is even to be deprecated, insofar as the child in his everyday life will encounter changing environments. Therefore once a deaf-blind child’s orientative skills have been properly developed in a strictly permanent environment, he must then be taught to find his way about in changing external conditions, in other words the siting of familiar objects in his miniature world must gradually be changed. In this way are sown the seeds of searching behaviour in a constantly changing environment.
When working on the formation of new skills in deaf-blind children it often becomes necessary first of all to root out well established habits. A child may be used to being fed always by adults, for instance, and objects when efforts are made to teach him to eat independently. It is very difficult to uproot a firmly entrenched habit. A child resists such innovation with every weapon at his disposal. It would, of course, be easier to feed the child as before, lifting the spoon to his mouth every time, but if that were the approach he would never master the new skill. The same applies to putting on clothes or shoes.
Fostering skills of self-care in the early stages is extremely hard work. Sometimes it requires a great deal of time and considerable effort before progress is achieved in mastering even the most elementary actions. New skills only take root gradually. The first stage in teaching a child to acquire independence consists in weakening the degree of his resistance. It is vital at this juncture that efforts should not be relaxed but rather that work. should continue day by day to overcome the child’s resistance and encourage his active behaviour in every way possible. It is trying work, even physically. However, it is out of the question that work on skill formation be interrupted, that a teacher give way to a child’s resistance and let him revert to former habits: if attempts are resumed later to teach the child the necessary skill, after an adult has once given in, then the child will resist all the more. When working on skill formation, it is necessary to pay attention even to the amount of physical effort required, for example, to lift a spoonful of food to the mouth of the child.
The main difficulty lies in the fact that the emergent active movement on the part of the child is far from perfect, and cannot achieve the necessary goal; on its own it would not produce any results, while in order to be consolidated it has to be reinforced with an achievement, a result.
The emergent activity on the part of the child can easily flicker and die the moment an adult begins to perform the necessary action for the child. The activity also disappears if it is not reinforced by the production of a result, which is often the case in the early stages, when prompt help from an adult is not forthcoming.
When a new skill is first taking shape, it is particularly important to note and take account of the slightest manifestation of active behaviour on the part of the child. Help from an adult must be administered in strictly controlled doses: there must not be too much of it, which would make the child renounce its new-found independence, but it must be sufficient to ensure the necessary result. Each skill involves movements of varying difficulty. For instance, it is much more difficult for a child to scoop up soup out of his plate with a spoon, than to raise the spoon to his mouth. It is easier for the child to pass the palms of his hands up and down over his face when washing than to take them round it. It is easier for a child to thread in the laces, than to tie them in bows. The teacher should analyse each skill dividing it into its component movements and then build up his teaching programme in such a way as to leave his charge scope for independence in those movements which he has already mastered and to help him with other movements which he still finds difficult, and then finally carry out for the child those movements which he cannot manage at all.
As soon as a skill has been mastered well enough for the child to be able to achieve results (raising a spoon to his mouth and eating from it, or putting on a stocking) he begins to enjoy practising it: then the newly formed skill quickly takes root and is perfected.
Usually children who have mastered the skills of self-care enjoy doing everything they know how to by themselves. Yet sometimes particularly when a child has been sheltered at home too much and for too long and had everything done for him, he suddenly starts to protest: he might, for example, refuse to dress himself and hold out his clothes to his teacher demanding that she dress him. In such cases it is essential to analyse whether or not there has been some mistake made by the teacher. Often it turns out that in a particular case the teacher did not ration her help to the child strictly enough. A child might, for example, have begun to put on a shirt when an adult started to help thus interrupting the child’s independent action, which interference in turn made the child refuse outright to dress himself. In such cases more often than not a child might make a fuss, throw its clothes around, lie down on the floor and start to scream in protest. Yet children sometimes refuse to dress independently without any apparent reason. This usually happens, as noted earlier, in those cases when a child has been sheltered too much at home. In such cases a child refuses to do what he has already mastered, as if to check, so to speak, whether or not it might be possible to revert to the former order of things, when he had been waited on completely by adults. In such cases the teacher’s perseverance is a vital factor. What is quite indispensable, of course, is full agreement between a child’s various teachers on a unified range of demands to be made on him. Speed, in dressing as in other skills, comes as movements are perfected and become automatic, and it should only be promoted gradually by a constant raising of demands made on the child, but without outstripping his potential too far.
A child acquires skills in stages. At the beginning of self-care training an adult must needs carry out all actions. At this stage, to all intents and purposes, there is no joint action yet the actions all are being carried out by the adult alone. At the next stage there emerges the first activity on the part of the child, who carries out certain operations involved – those that are within its grasp. So far the action is divided up into two unequal parts. The child’s share is small and his activity minimal, but the important thing is that there is activity on his part and it can be extended. The adult, restraining his own activity, encourages that of the child, and organises joint action in such a way as to have the child’s share continuously increasing. For the child increasing his own active role is an essential condition for reaching the goal intrinsic to that particular action. The teaching skill in these circumstances lies in making sure that the task set in each case should not be too difficult for the child, nor too easy, and that the level of difficulty increase with each successive task. When called upon to perform a task that is too difficult for him a child refuses to carry it out, and if he is given too easy a task then he is not learning anything new.
In the ontogenesis of a deaf-blind child the first activity which emerges is that directed towards the satisfaction of his primary physical needs. The most important of these needs, whose satisfaction affords opportunities for moulding behaviour, are those for feeding, self-defence and excretion. In this context the need for feeding includes that for water as well: the need for self-defence embraces the need to maintain proper heat regulation, in other words to guard against over-cooling or over-heating, the avoidance of situations engendering pain or discomfort of any sort.
There is yet another need which a child manifests from the very moment of its birth – the need for movement. From the very first day of life a child starts moving its arms and legs. All subsequent motoric forms, apart from these innate movements and motor reflexes linked with sucking at the breast, are taught the child by adults around him. If this teaching does not take place as a result of lack of contact, in the unfavourable situation of the deaf-blind child, then, as has already been noted, he may satisfy that need in monotonously repeated movements that are not linked with any objects outside himself.
A spontaneous need for movement cannot of itself give rise to any object-linked human behaviour. The emergence of human behaviour and mental processes in a deaf-blind child from the outset of his development consists in the assimilation of human experience, concentrated, firstly, in the objects required for the satisfaction of his physical needs, secondly, in the instruments or tools necessary for the satisfaction of these needs, and, thirdly, in the modes of action linked with these instruments or tools. The child’s assimilation and subsequent appropriation of social experience proceeds in his direct communication with an adult in the course of which the latter instructs the former in practical activity directed towards the satisfaction of the child’s needs.
In the course of this instruction the child’s physical wants now directed towards a humanised object (food, clothes, pot, bed, house, etc.) and necessitating human methods for achieving their satisfaction (the use of a spoon, the donning of clothes and shoes, the use of a pot, living in a house, walking on two legs, etc.) develop into human needs. The satisfaction of the child’s elementary wants that ensues as joint activity of adult and child, in which the adult plays a leading part, gradually develops into independent activity of the child. The methods for carrying out such activity, the operations involved as they are gradually perfected, give rise to new needs – secondary needs.
The independent satisfaction of his need for food and his need to protect his body from any harmful outside influence requires also that the child engage in cognitive activity, as a result of which images both of the objects of his needs (such as various types of food) and of the means and methods of their satisfaction (such as a spoon and the action carried out with it) take shape. Without investigating the objects of his needs and the means for their satisfaction the child will simply not be able to engage in independent satisfaction of those needs: in such cases he would only be capable of passively accepting an adult’s care.
Initially this cognitive activity is carried out within the context of activity for the satisfaction of physical needs and constitutes one of the operations involved in that activity (the handling of a spoon during a meal). As the range of means used in this cognitive activity is perfected, it starts to extend beyond the utilitarian requirements of the activity in the pursuit of which it first emerged, and gives rise to an independent superstructural need for discovery or learning. This new need provides the basis for the formation of new types of activity, which in their turn extend the behavioural patterns of the child beyond the satisfaction of his elementary wants.
It is in a basically similar way that the child’s imitative and motor needs evolve. At this stage of development a child is capable of apprehending, for example, an elementary learning task (e.g., assembling and taking apart a sorting pyramid or a matryoshka doll), the achievement of which does not feed him or warm him. The sensorimotor training involved in the performance of this task will be most important for his cognitive activity in school later.
The emergence of the cognitive, motoric, and imitative activities, which are relatively independent of the satisfaction of primary needs, and the development of independent secondary needs make it possible to teach children to play, a type of activity extremely important for their development.
Self-care is the first activity which a child masters, and it is the first type of work within his capacity. Further development of this activity is also brought about by instruction of the child by an adult: skills of self-care are then extended to embrace a group, when, for example, one child helps another get dressed, when he tidies up a classroom not only for himself but for all his classmates as well (carrying out the duties of class monitor, for instance). It is in these shared activities that the first division of labour takes place, when, for example, one child brings along water and a cloth and another uses the cloth to dust with and waters indoor plants. The next chapter treats in more detail the fostering and development of these forms of activity in somewhat older children.
Some children, when they first came to the school for the deaf-blind, already possessed elementary skills of self-care. The parents of the majority of these had already been in contact with staff members of the department for the instruction of deaf-blind children at the Institute for Research into Physical and Mental Handicaps. They had been given regular advice on methods of caring for their children. Some of them used to come to the Institute for consultations, during which they were given practical demonstrations in instructing deaf-blind children. Parents described their attempts to teach their children to read, write and speak or communicate by means of finger spelling. However, as a rule, attempts to teach children the dactylic alphabet or Braille script did not produce any results, and parents used to write in or come in for advice on how to teach their children to speak, read and write. It was explained to them that the first step in teaching a deaf-blind child was to start by developing the skills of self-care. If a child has learnt, after getting up in the morning, to do his exercises, make his bed, wash and brush his teeth on his own and use the lavatory, to feed himself – first with assistance and later independently – to dress and undress, tidy up, put away his clothes and shoes, and help his mother in the house, then he will be able at a later stage to learn language, he will be able to read, write and master the information transmitted to him at school. The majority of parents understood the importance of this initial stage of instruction, and as far as their ability and time allowed they taught their children these basic skills of self-care. There were others, however, who considered that it was not worthwhile spending time on teaching the child to look after himself. They could feed, dress and undress the child, while what they really wanted was to teach him to read, write and speak, skills which they regarded as essential to the teaching process.
The most important educational objective for children, already possessing basic skills of self-care is to develop their means of communication, first and foremost to develop active sign language. The first task in this connection which we confronted was organisation of their behaviour. Before they had come to the home for the deaf-blind the children had been living in conditions that varied enormously from one case to another. Usually they had had no fixed timetable and there had been no ordering of their lives or behaviour. They had slept and eaten whenever they chose. The parents and other adults around these children had satisfied their slightest whim. The children were not used to having a nap in the day-time: some of them had not liked sleeping at night and had slept in the day-time instead. Some of the children also had strange eating habits: many had never been given soup, others had always been given sweet dishes, and still others had lived on a milk-based diet.
At the home for deaf-blind children a special time-table was worked out, the strict observance of which we held to be an important factor in the upbringing of a deaf-blind child. The behavioural patterns and likewise the mental processes of these children lacked any kind of order. It took time and effort to teach these children to follow this time-table; in this work we proceeded from the principle that strict observance of a regular time-table and “external” discipline would eventually become a habit and then a child would submit to order and discipline, not only on an “external” plane (in its behaviour) but also from “within” (on the mental plane). An “external” ordering would give rise to an “inner” ordering.
An important part of the work with these children was the perfecting of the skills in self-care they already possessed and the development of new ones that were More complex. This will now be illustrated on concrete cases.
Volodya T. had no powers of sight, hearing or speech at all when he joined the group of deaf-blind children receiving instruction at the Institute for Research into Physical and Mental Handicaps at the age of seven. For two years before Volodya joined the group we had been corresponding with Volodya’s father, urgently recommending that the child be taught the basic skills of self-care and supplying practical pointers as to how this task be approached. When the child came to us, he possessed basic but very important skills enabling him in some respects to look after himself: he could dress and undress himself virtually unaided, eat and wash by himself and he was also toilet-trained.
After losing his sight and the last vestiges of hearing at the age of 3 years and 8 months, the boy virtually stopped walking by himself, according to his father – all he would do was stand in some very awkward fashion on his heels. Gradually Volodya’s father taught him to walk normally, leading him by the hands. The first few days after he had been discharged from hospital, the boy had not let anyone undress him, as if he was frightened that his clothes might disappear. When attempts were made to do so, Volodya resisted them, cried, lay down on the floor, kicked and tried to bite. In an effort to calm the child and show him that nothing out of the ordinary was being done to him, the father took the child’s hands in his own and took his own clothes off. After that he was able to undress Volodya; at first he did so himself but without encountering resistance on Volodya’s part. The father repeated this practice in all actions which he sought to teach his son: Volodya was shown how his father ate, dressed and washed himself, etc. Soon the father no longer needed to hold Volodya’s hands in his own. It was enough to guide the boy’s hands to “look over” what the father was doing and then the boy would continue to investigate the father’s actions on his own.
In this way the child’s capacity for imitating his father was developed, a capacity which provided an important method for fostering Volodya’s behavioural patterns and skills of self-care. If the father wished to teach the child something, he would do it himself, allowing the boy to “observe” his actions, and then the father would help Volodya to do the same. Initially Volodya refused to be separated from his clothes: he would put them all under his pillow and go to sleep with his hand tucked under the pillow on top of them. Gradually he began to reconcile himself to having his clothes put on the chair at his bedside. However, he still went to sleep with one hand touching his clothes.
In order to occupy the child’s time, his father taught Volodya to sort out various screws, nails and bolts, etc. in his tool-box. He taught the boy to thread bolts and metal rings on to a piece of wire. The child would sit at home on the floor and make enormous garlands of metal objects that he threaded onto these wires. Tiny articles that he took a liking to he used to collect in his cap – things such as paperclips, acorns, drawing pins, small screws and other metal articles. The cap which he only took off in order to put some such thing into it, made his own special treasure-house for all this “wealth.” With incredible deftness the boy was able to put the cap back on his head in such a way that none of the numerous things inside it fell out. Not even at night would he take off his cap and he used to go to bed in it. It took a long time first to teach the boy to put the cap under his pillow and later to teach him to do without it altogether and use a special drawer at the bottom of his locker for his “treasures” instead.
When Volodya joined the group of deaf-blind pupils at the Institute, he used to confuse day and night at first. At night he did not want to go to sleep and if his teacher succeeded in getting him into bed, he would be getting up every other moment looking for his clothes and trying to put them on. Restrained in these attempts, he would pull the blanket onto the floor and throw clothes and bedclothes in all directions. It was difficult for one person to control the wild little boy. His tantrums sometimes used to last until four o’clock in the morning. Volodya would start one of his tantrums every time he was forbidden to do something. We had to lock the door to make sure that the child did not run out into the cold corridor in his nightclothes. As soon as he discovered that the door was locked he would begin to hit out, scratch, kick and scream. The more firmly he was forbidden to do something the more furiously he tried to get his own way. The members of staff placed in charge of the boy were at the end of their tether. In the day-time it was impossible to embark on any work with him, because after a sleepless night he kept dozing off. He was prevented from sleeping in the day-time, and he refused steadfastly to sleep at night. The situation was complicated still further by his refusal to sleep alone. It was only with the greatest of difficulty that he was eventually prevailed upon to lie down in his own bed in the middle of the night, and at dawn he would be found in the bed of another pupil. In addition Volodya seemed to be frightened of sleeping on an actual bed. Many times during the night he would pull his bedclothes onto the floor and go to sleep there near the teacher’s bed.
It took about five months to teach Volodya normal sleeping habits. A variety of methods were tried: he was allowed to sleep on the floor, the spring base of the bed was replaced by boards in the belief that the springs beneath him might make Volodya feel insecure, as if he was about to fall; his bed was moved right up to that of another pupil, so that from time to time he could reach out and touch the latter with his hand, to reassure himself that he was not alone. It took five months to teach him to go to sleep at the normal time with someone on duty at his bedside. Initially the teacher had to sit on his bed and sew or darn something. From time to time Volodya would check to see that she was still sewing. Later the little boy was prepared to accept that the teacher was no longer sitting actually on his bed but rather on a chair beside it, but still carrying on with her needlework. Gradually the chair was moved further away and eventually Volodya would make do with the sign message to the effect that he should go to sleep while the teacher would sew or write at the table. Sometimes he would get up, go and look for the teacher who was peacefully working at the table and then after having made sure that he had not been left alone he would go back and get into his bed.
In an equally gradual fashion Volodya was taught to adapt to other aspects of the time-table: he began to eat at the appointed times, to wash regularly in the morning and evening, and to have an afternoon nap. To tell the truth, we hardly dared to hope at first that Volodya could be disciplined and taught to abide by a set time-table, for his behaviour was so disorderly and he reacted so violently whenever forbidden to do something. We discovered that it was easier to avoid the boy’s tantrums than to calm him down if one had already got under way. We learned to distract him and turn his attention to another type of activity, as soon as we noticed even the faintest sign of an affective reaction that might lead up to a tantrum. Force was never used. Sometimes, without any apparent reason, Volodya refused to do something he had previously enjoyed doing. To continue insisting, or, worse still, attempt to make him do something by force could only produce fierce resentment and in the end nothing would be achieved. On such occasions we would leave him in peace and embark on the scheduled activity. Volodya was unable to remain alone for long and he would soon come up to “see” what the teacher was doing and, finding she was quietly getting on with the work that he had turned his back on, join in.
In Volodya, as noted earlier, the need to imitate had taken firm root. He was only ready to do what other people were doing. When on one occasion Volodya discovered a newspaper in the hands of an adult, he picked up another newspaper, sat down beside him and for over half an hour held it in front of his face, checking from time to time whether his adult neighbour was still holding the newspaper in front of him.
If Volodya discovered that the adult sitting next to him had crossed one leg over the other, he was sure to do the same. He would refuse to wear slippers in his room, if he discovered that the adults around him were wearing shoes. He would only put on mittens if the adult accompanying him on his walk was wearing mittens. If he discovered that an adult had one of the buttons on his jacket undone he would undo a button in the same position on his own jacket. When visitors from outside came and stroked him on the head or patted him on the shoulder he always tried to respond with the same gesture, if he could reach the head or shoulder of the visitor. It was essential to work very carefully with this boy, avoiding superfluous or abrupt gestures, for he copied everything.
Work to perfect the self-care skills Volodya already possessed and to establish new ones was based on this urge of his to imitate. His teacher would carry out the necessary action herself, letting the boy inspect her actions, after which he attempted to carry out the same action independently; if it proved difficult for him to manage it on his own at first, the teacher would assist him.
He had been able to put his clothes and shoes on before he had come to the Institute but he did it in a rather slapdash manner. He was not good at tucking his shirt into his trousers, for instance, and he often omitted to turn down his upstanding collar, or at other times he would put something on inside-out. The boy’s attention was directed to these oversights and the teacher, guiding the boy’s hands, would put right the mistakes he had made in dressing himself. The boy would check, if there was an opportunity to do so, how the equivalent piece of clothing was worn by the adult and then he willingly made the necessary adjustments.
The boy used to dress and undress when he “saw” that an adult was doing the same. When the teacher put on her coat, this was for Volodya the signal that it was time for him to put on his.
Initially we just could not make him tidy up the room, make his bed or put the bedspread over it. However, he enjoyed helping with joint activities for tidying up. He “observed” how the teacher or an elder deaf-blind girl was doing it, then he would help her and try to carry out the same actions. Gradually, as the teacher’s share in the common task was reduced, it was possible to teach the boy to engage independently in a number of operations involved in tidying-up. Volodya was taught to wash his face, hands, and feet independently, before he went to bed.
Several months after he had begun receiving instruction the boy’s evening toilet proceeded in the following way. The teacher together with Volodya would get the bed ready for the night: they took off and folded the bedspread and then hung it over the rail at the back of Volodya’s bed, then they unfolded his blanket and laid it out flat, put the pillow in the right position. Then Volodya on his own picked up a bowl, placed it near his small chair, picked up his towel used for drying hands and face from its set place and another one for his feet from another place, and his soap. By himself he then took off his clothes, except for his pants and vest, hung the garments he had taken off over the back of his chair, sat down on his chair near the bowl and held out his hands over it. The teacher would then pour warm water from a jug over the boy’s hands. Volodya then washed his hands with soap, washed his face and his feet and then dried himself. After he had put on his slippers and hung up his towels again, he carried off the bowl of water to pour it away and got into bed.
In the morning at a given sign from his teacher Volodya would go over to the basin and wash his hands and face. Initially he was taught to brush his teeth without using powder or paste, but later he would do so using one of the two.
Volodya learnt quickly to lay the table, when it was time to get ready for meals, and then to clear the table after meals. Together with one of the girl-pupils he used to wash and dry the dishes: they used to take it in turns drying one day and washing the next.
Sometimes Volodya would refuse to wash or dry the dishes, then he would go up to the teacher and hand her the drying-up cloth or the sponge. At first we tried to make him complete the interrupted task. However, this resulted in frustration and one of his tantrums. If the teacher started quietly going about the task herself, then he would soon begin to help her.
In the fourth quarter of Volodya’s first year at the school, he was washing and wiping dishes well and quickly and without any objections: he would dust the furniture and the toy furniture, too, he also enjoyed using the vacuum cleaner and washing small articles of his own clothing, and that of the dolls. He was able to dress and undress tidily on his own, taking his clothes off or putting them on in one and the same order each time, and hanging his clothes on the back of a chair. By the end of the year he had learnt how to wash his galoshes, clean his shoes and brush his clothes. He could tell the difference between his clothes brush and shoe brush by their smell.
Towards the end of this first year Volodya was so well disciplined that it was possible to start on regular exercises to develop his sense of touch and more intricate movements. He was taught to model in plasticine, to punch dots with a Braille machine, and to sort out in piles cards bearing various patterns in Braille dots.
Yet it was not possible at that time to awake Volodya’s interest in moulding plasticine. He learnt how to break off a piece of plasticine, roll it into a ball, flatten it out or roll it into a sausage shape. However, he used to do this more to comply with the teacher’s bidding than out of his own interest. He preferred working with paper, making – step by step with the teacher – little boats, envelopes, “drinking cups,” or flags. The boy learnt to cut shapes out from paper following a line of punched dots.
Special exercises were also embarked upon to further Volodya’s motoric development. His day began with morning exercises. In the course of the day the child was drawn into various action games such as ball-games or hide-and-seek. Volodya was taught to jump, ride a tricycle and run. All these things he enjoyed doing, if he “saw” that his teacher was doing them too.
When Volodya joined the school he had been completely incapable of “inspecting” an object with his hands. He barely touched objects and quickly moved from one to another. His teachers taught Volodya to handle objects systematically; they showed him the functions of these objects, drawing his attention to their main features, and to the details of each specific object. At first he would take his hands away or remain floppy and passive, indifferent to what his teacher was showing him by placing his hands on the objects. To overcome this passivity the new objects were introduced to the boy in such a way as to demonstrate their functions in an integrated pattern of action. It might have been discovered, for example, that one of the buttons on the boy’s shirt was missing. The teacher together with her charge would feel over the place where the button should be, then go over to the bedside locker, find the box with sewing things, take out a needle and a reel of cotton, thread the needle, sew on the button, before the boy finally put on the shirt and did up the button. During this entire process all the objects required to carry it through would have been carefully felt over by the boy guided by the teacher. In such situations Volodya did not remain indifferent to what he was being shown. Gradually, as he was familiarised with objects and their functions linking on one from the other, Volodya learned to handle objects more carefully and systematically. When he was called upon to pick up the pieces of a broken toy chair, the boy was shown how to feel over the small fragments and fit together the tiny pins and grooves of the various pieces. The many days during which Volodya was instructed in how to assemble and take apart a wooden toy house consisting of several dozen parts constituted a whole “course” in tactile perception for Volodya. Gradually, in the context of various types of activity, the boy’s capacity for handling objects was fostered as was his curiosity to examine the objects around him.
Attempts were made to draw the boy’s attention to the machine tool, with which one of the elder girl-pupils was working. At first Volodya was not keen to examine what was for him a new object. When persistent attempts were made to make the boy examine how the older girl was working with the machine tool, Volodya became resentful. Each day it was shown to Volodya that the older girl always worked with the machine-tool at set times. The teacher led Volodya over to the girl at work, and each time Volodya showed more interest in her work, starting to “look over” parts of the machine-tool and the actions of the girl at work. At that time the girl was carrying out one of the operations involved in the manufacture of buckles. Soon Volodya was taught to help the girl, to hand her the components and then take from her and pack into a separate box the finished article. Later, in imitation of the girl, Volodya sat down at the machine-tool himself, and attempted to carry out the same operation on his own. At first the buckles Volodya made were not of an acceptable quality. Volodya had been imitating the outward pattern of the actions of this girl who worked very quickly. But her speed went hand in hand with precise movements, and it was only the speed that Volodya had succeeded in copying. Volodya needed to slow down his pace if he was to achieve precision, and this he was quite simply not prepared to do, insisting on imitating the quick movements of the elder girl.
Later this boy mastered all the behavioural skills, as well as work operations, sign speech and word language.
Now let us take a look at some other methods used in organising behaviour, perfecting self-care skills and building up certain work elements. We shall draw on experience of work with a group of three deaf-blind boys: Valya P., Fanil S., and Vitya K.
First let us see how their skills in self-care were developed and what conditions each of them had been living in prior to his arrival at the home for the deaf-blind, and follow this up by a description of the work conducted with these children to organise their behaviour, to perfect their self-care skills and develop habits of carrying out everyday household tasks within the children’s home.
Valya P. came to the home for the deaf-blind at the age of fourteen. He had been virtually deaf-blind from birth. For several years prior to his arrival at the home we had been carrying on a regular correspondence with the child’s mother, who at home, guided by our advice, had trained her child in the skills necessary for him to be able to look after himself. She had also taught him signs and elementary dactylic words. On two occasions the boy had been brought to the Institute, where his mother had been given advice.
From his earliest childhood, as soon as Valya had learnt to walk (at the age of two) he had been led around everywhere by his mother, while she held him by the hand or let him keep hold of her dress.
The child was the “witness” of all his mother’s household tasks. After receiving advice from the staff at the Institute the mother devoted as much time and energy as possible to training Valya in self-care skills: she taught him to eat, dress and undress on his own. She used to take the little boy around with her everywhere. She kept guiding Valya’s hands to perceive through touch what she herself was doing. In this way Valya was taught to handle objects, which his mother used in her housework and also to apprehend the movements she used.
At the age of eleven Valya was able to eat absolutely independently, to use fork, knife and spoon. He was able to cut bread with a knife. He used to wash himself with soap and began to use a toothbrush. He used to dress and undress himself and even tie up his shoelaces.
Valya used to cling to his mother’s dress, when she was making beds, when she was sweeping the floor, washing up or cooking. Valya’s mother was continually showing the child the actions she carried out with various objects. Gradually the boy started to imitate her. Sometimes this imitation was purely external, purely mechanical and devoid of meaning, but on other occasions it would have a purpose to it. He might take a newspaper, letter or postcard out of the letter box and then sit down on a chair and spend a long time “reading” it. One of his favourite occupations stemming from his urge to imitate those around him was “looking through” old letters and postcards. He used to keep them in special boxes: he classified them in a strict order according to size. He also often sat down at the table, took out his telephone, “listened” and made notes on pieces of paper. All this resulted from his frequent “observation” of his mother – a telephone-operator – at work. Valya often used to take down a book from the shelf and hold it in front of his eyes for between ten and fifteen minutes, imitating what he knew adults did. Valya’s mother used even to take him to the cinema and he enjoyed it and was prepared to sit still without a murmur of protest next to his mother for the duration of a film. Copying his mother he would stop in front of a mirror to straighten his hair, he “wrote” letters, “spoke” on the telephone and “cooked” at the stove.
This firmly established urge to imitate made it possible to develop in Valya a considerable number of useful habits and self-care skills. The boy used to dress himself carefully. If he discovered a hole in his socks or a button missing on his shirt he would fetch the box containing needles and thread, then go over to his mother to have his needle threaded and finally sew on the button or sew up the hole on his own. Admittedly, he might well sew a black button onto a white shirt or vice versa but that was no real tragedy. The child learnt reliably to distinguish between the right and wrong side of his garments. After “observing” how his mother made his bed, he began to help her, and later made his bed on his own while his mother made hers. Valya used to carry the floor mats out of the house, shake the dust out of them by the porch and then put them back. But he never mastered the art of sweeping. On the other hand, he enjoyed dusting chairs, the legs of the chests of drawers and the cupboard with a special duster. Although somewhat clumsily he did nevertheless learn to clean his own clothes: he would take a brush, his jacket and trousers and go out into the corridor (he knew that he was not allowed to clean clothes inside the bedroom). In preparation for dinner the boy used to help his mother lay the table, put out the bread and crockery. After the meal he washed and dried up the dishes and put them away. He knew exactly where each thing in the house was kept – in fact at times he even helped adults find things. He liked everything to be well-ordered. Spoons, forks, knives, plates he used to arrange and put away according to their size and shape. If he came across some object in the house that was not in its proper place he would not rest until it had been put back.
His mother recounted an incident when she had been out for a walk with Valya picking flowers in the fields. She put the flowers in a vase after returning home. The next day she found on the table a vase containing a “bouquet” of grass which Valya had gathered in an effort to imitate her action. After that Valya’s mother taught him how to distinguish between grass and flowers.
When the boy was about twelve years old his family moved to a new flat. The new flat needed some remaking and because of this workmen used to turn up, to caulk the walls and paint the floor-boards. Valya made a careful study of their work feeling over their tools and the results of their work. After the workmen had left Valya meticulously repeated all their work processes “repainting” all the floors with a small brush (that he dipped in water). Valya worked at this for a long time and with utter seriousness, just as the workmen had done.
Not far from the house Valya’s mother had laid out an allotment consisting of four small beds for the children to work in (by this time there was a second child in the family, a deaf and dumb girl with very weak sight who later also came to our special school). Here the children learnt to dig, to plant things and to inspect plants coming up. Valya enjoyed working in his allotment, in particular growing onions. He used to plant the onion bulbs, watch them shoot up, weed the beds. Things were more difficult with ordinary seeds, which put up shoots that were difficult to distinguish from weeds. On one occasion Valya’s mother showed him how to weed carrots and then walked away to get on with something in the house: when she came back the carrots had been almost entirely uprooted while another, tougher, weed remained in the vegetable bed in place of the carrots.
In his familiar surroundings at home Valya walked about freely without even stretching out his hand in front of him. In an unfamiliar flat he used to bump into the furniture and walk about with his hand stuck out slightly in front of him: in the same way, holding out his hand a little in front of him, he would walk round his house sometimes moving away from it on his own to a distance of up to thirty yards.
Fanil S. also came to the home for deaf-blind children at the age of fourteen. Prior to this he had been living at home with his mother and father and a large number of brothers and sisters. He had lost his sight and hearing at the age of twenty months as a result of meningitis.
Fanil’s main teachers had been his brothers and sisters. They had not made many allowances for his blindness and deafness. They had taken him everywhere with them and made him do whatever they were doing. In his early childhood Fanil had learnt to walk with a stick. His sisters, by helping their little brother, had taught him to dress and undress. His brothers, by playing with him and romping around, had even taught him to fight.
Fanil was aware that everyone around him was always busy doing something – the parents and the elder children would be working and the younger children playing. The children used to draw Fanil into their games but they were often harsh with him because he was unable to do what was required of him in the games. Indeed, he never really learnt to play at home, having developed a wariness towards play in general and players. (Later on this lack of well-established playing habits was to hold back the development of his imagination.)
Life was more peaceful for Fanil with older people – his elder brothers and sisters and parents: none of them teased him, they all used to show him what they were doing and let him feel the instrument or tool they were using so that he could understand its function. The boy loved to “observe” and imitate the work of his elders. He learnt how to wield a small hammer. Of course, it used sometimes to land on his thumb. However, no one ever made a big fuss about that, and so Fanil, too, learnt to take the inevitable pain in his stride.
Nobody taught the boy how to communicate with people around him. Each person simply showed him how work had to be done and the boy, too, learnt to work. This meant that Fanil had hardly learnt to make any signs. When he was summoned to go anywhere he was simply pulled along in the necessary direction: when he was made to do anything, his hands were simply guided by other people to show him what had to be done. Gradually the ordering of the boy’s life became established in such a way that he did not experience the need for any particular means of communication. In the morning he used to get up whenever he wanted to, got his food out for himself (he knew quite well where the various things were kept), had breakfast, and then went away to busy himself in his own little corner. Later he had his dinner with the rest of the family, realising by smell when dinner was put out on the table. He knew perfectly well where everything in the house was kept and always with unerring accuracy found the objects he required. The father had set aside a special little shed for the boy to use and Fanil, if he wanted to, could lock it up. It was there that the boy kept all his tools and the things that he made. The shed was not very big so that if Fanil stretched out both his arms he could touch both walls. Everything was easily accessible. Everything was laid out in order. Nobody was allowed to go into that little shed without Fanil himself. In fact, the other little children were not allowed in there at all. The shed became Fanil’s safe refuge. Its favourite tools and other possessions stopped disappearing without trace: the boy’s surroundings became more stable.
The boy used to spend long hours sitting in the little shed and fashioning various articles of wood and metal, a skill he had learned from his elders. Fanil learnt to hammer in nails, even small ones; he could also use a saw, pliers and an axe. He used to make little toys for his baby brothers and sisters (little carts and benches) and other little articles for the house.
The boy also carried out other tasks about the house. He was taught to sort potatoes according to size. Since his sighted brothers and sisters had a whole host of other childish pursuits claiming their attention, this particular task they left almost entirely to him, only too happy to see he was getting on with it. He was also left by the other children to “keep an eye on” the babe-in-arms, whom he was required to rock carefully in its cradle. Fanil even learnt to tell by the vibrations of the ropes holding the cradle when the baby woke up and started turning in the cradle. When this happened, he would lift the child out.
There were times when there was a great deal to be done and all the other children had already scattered in various directions. Fanil’s mother would then get him to bring out potatoes and cabbage from the cellar, or to pick nettles and grass for the ducks and geese. The nettles would then have to be chopped and mixed with bran. The mother had little time for patching the numerous holes in the shirts and pants which the children brought along to her; matters were even worse with buttons – there were always some missing. Each child had to see to his things himself. Fanil learnt to sew on patches and buttons. Fanil’s quick-thinking brothers used to put their own torn clothes on Fanil’s pile. Fanil, of course, noticed that he was mending other people’s clothes but carried out all the repairs thoroughly and meticulously.
This was how it came about, according to Fanil’s father, that the boy was never without work. It never occurred to anyone that it was Fanil’s salvation to be always kept busy.
Vitya K. was aged ten when he came to the home for the deaf-blind. He was completely blind, deaf and dumb, yet his parents had succeeded in teaching him to eat, dress, wash and use the toilet independently. He had learned these skills by copying adults. When he was taught more complex skills of self-care, this urge to imitate adults, already well established, was deliberately exploited.
The parents of this boy had been rather too hasty in their efforts to teach this boy, without consolidating properly the skills and behavioural patterns already established. Vitya himself, who was clearly lacking in stability, would quickly switch his attention from one thing to another, never prepared to stop for long at any one thing. When being taught behavioural skills, he often grasped only external details without understanding the heart of the matter. His imitations also hinged to a large extent on the external aspect of what he was trying to imitate. He would “read” books, flipping through pages and holding the book out in front of him; he used to pronounce the sounds “bee-bee,” pretending to “talk” and making simultaneous movements with his fingers as if for the alphabet. Whenever he encountered a new person he would teach him to “read” and “write,” just as his parents had done for him. The parents’ attempts to teach Vitya to speak using either the finger alphabet or oral words had failed and had been premature. As a result the small boy had, before his arrival, only mastered external forms of behaviour.
Observance of a regular time-table is an extremely important factor in the care of a child from the day he is born. The first organ which gives a baby time signals is his stomach. As little as two or three weeks after birth, incorrect, disorganised feeding patterns can turn a baby into the family’s despot. It becomes necessary to re-train him and arrange his day according to a strict time-table. Subsequent disruptions in a child’s time-table can upset his established pattern of behaviour and the picture of his day-to-day activities that was gradually taking shape in his mind. And if the observance of a time-table is important for any child, with a deaf-blind child the establishment and strictest possible observance of a time-table (particularly in the initial stages of development) is vitally essential. Ordinary children can see that it is light in the day-time and dark at night, in the day-time they hear and see the actions of adults: all these factors provide them signals for apprehending time. For children the main time signals are their direct practical actions that proceed in a definite sequence.
The rearing of deaf-blind children, both very young ones, still unable to look after themselves, and those who came to us with the necessary self-care skills, began with initiating them in a regular time-table. Time-tables are a vital factor in developing a child’s sense of time. Thanks to them time ceases to be no more than a monotonous flow, in which certain events and actions performed by the child himself and by those around him occur in chaotic turmoil.
Deaf-blind children who came to us for tuition, differed one from another not only in their level of development and in the quantity and quality of behavioural skills they had acquired, but also in the temporal aspect of their behaviour: some of them excessively slow and sluggish, while others were excessively quick and lively. This was a result not only of the children’s type of higher nervous activity, but also of the nature of the illness they had been through, which had, in almost every case, been a most serious one, resulting, as it had, in the loss of sight and hearing. Time flowed by in very different ways for the various children. The following paragraphs treat of the practical steps taken to give the deaf-blind children described in the preceding section a sense of time.
Vitya K. was a lively boy who used to do everything quickly. He ate quickly and grew indignant when he had to wait for his friends to finish their meals: he also dressed quickly and rather carelessly. He was always hurrying and wore himself out in no time. He found it difficult to keep going until the afternoon nap and often tried to lie down before the other children. On the other hand, he always got up after the nap before everybody else. He dressed quickly and then hurried to the toilet and was ready for tea while the rest of the children were still dressing. For him time flowed much too slowly, and he constantly got ahead of it.
Valya P., on the other hand, was too slow in his actions. He ate and dressed slowly. He was always behind the other children and thus annoying them. He was never able to complete actions in the allotted time and he could not keep up with the common time-table. With regard to this “speed factor,” Fanil S. came precisely halfway between his two fellow-pupils. fie did not do things as fast as Vitya did (but then he carried out the day’s tasks in a more thorough fashion), nor was he as slow as Valya. The boys were obliged to adapt to each other’s time patterns. Vitya learnt to hold himself back and wait, while Valya learnt to do things more quickly. In this way the time-table taught the boys to modify, the speed of their behaviour.
The time-table teaches deaf-blind children not merely to measure time and form an idea of it in their minds but also to denote measures of time. Being already familiar, thanks to the time-table, with the sequence of their actions and the events of the day, the children are able not merely to conceive how much time will pass before some future event that is of interest to them, but also to transmit this idea to another person. For instance, they used to convey the concept of the time that would elapse before their next walk by depicting the sequence of actions which would be carried out before this particular event they were waiting for: they knew that first they would be working at the table, then resting in their beds, then having tea before eventually going outside. This depiction of a sequence of actions, used to denote time does not remain fixed. As the system of signs to convey ideas becomes more developed so this depiction undergoes certain modifications. First, it is abbreviated, becoming less detailed, then the range of forthcoming actions depicted is restricted to the most significant ones, or perhaps the ones which are only possible during the denoted interval and which are not repeated. For example, the idea of a walk will gradually come to be conveyed by no more than a depiction of the actual act of making steps.
It goes without saying that when children are being taught to live according to a set time-table it is essential that events should follow one upon the other in a strictly established order. Only then can these children come to know properly, what events to expect when. When children had not yet been taught language involving words, the teacher conveyed to them through signs what they would be doing in the course of the day. If any change was necessitated in the ordering of their day, this would be “discussed” by means of signs in advance. The children grew used to their time-table and learnt easily what to expect at each time of day. Later they learnt to count days that had passed and to denote them with a sign for a night’s sleep (by placing their two palms under their inclined check). The number of times this sign was repeated indicated the number of nights. If it was necessary to convey to them that three days remained before their forthcoming outing to the wood, the children would be shown by means of the above sign that they would be going to the wood after three nights’ sleep (by a sequence of three identical gestures). Once the children had developed this concrete sense of time thanks to their regular time-table it was not difficult to build up on this foundation their knowledge of time units and ability to count them with the help of wrist-watches. The children who had already learnt work skills and were being paid for their work used to purchase watches with raised numbers and lids that opened up in a special shop for the blind. First of all they were taught to observe the position of the hands at their various meal-times and at bed-time and then they were taught to grasp an abstract measure of time such as an hour. It proved expedient to start them off with watches that only had one hand to show the hours. Once they had properly grasped this unit of time the quarter hours then followed and then minutes (at which stage the minute hand was added). Later with the help of a special calendar, the appropriate leaf of which was turned over at the end of each day, the children learnt to denote days, weeks, months and years.
Seasonal changes in the weather provide natural pointers to the time of year: as they dress according to the demands of the weather, deaf-blind children notice the sequence of the seasons. Other important pointers to the time of year are public holidays and the children’s own birthdays. Public holidays are celebrated for these children in such a way as to ensure they bring enjoyment to each child. Of course, the meaning of these red-letter days is at first beyond the children’s understanding. They come to appreciate it later, when they have mastered words and can be told about the meaning behind each public holiday. However, it is very important that by that time the children should have gathered enough personal experience of participation in the festivities, so that there will be certain memories associated with them. Accounts of the meaning behind a public holiday, will then be superimposed on a foundation of practical experience. At the end of these boys’ first year at the home the following incident occurred. On their return from a walk one day the boys noticed excitement among the children. Something was going on. They then proceeded to “inspect” the banner, the pupils lined up next to it and making the pioneers’ salute and so on. It was a special Young Pioneers’ parade (pupils brought to us from a school for the deaf after suffering severe deterioration in their sight were celebrating Young Pioneers’ Day). Fanil and Vitya after quickly taking note of all the preparations for this celebration and obtaining the necessary permission, went away to wash and change and soon reappeared in their best clothes, smartly turned out and with well combed hair, complete with clean handkerchiefs in their breast pockets. They were allowed to feel over the paraphernalia connected with the Pioneers’ celebration and they were allowed to witness the attendant ceremonies. They investigated the banner, the bugle, the drum, the Pioneers’ ties, etc. The important thing about this incident was that the boys themselves had taken the initiative: they had noticed preparations for a celebration and of their own accord had gone to change. This showed that at a level accessible to them the concept of a celebration had already taken shape and that they looked upon a public holiday as something special, a happy day, during which they needed to be turned out especially smartly in their best clothes and behave with solemn dignity. Later, as these children came to take an increasingly active part in such celebrations, and were then told about them first in signs and later in words, their idea of what a holiday meant was consolidated and became broader and more profound. Their subsequent grasp of the calendar enabled them to appreciate when one or another holiday would fall. After they had come to grasp the language of words and consequently the significance of the holidays, their celebration became one of the methods for conveying to the pupils knowledge of the history of their country, an understanding of certain aspects of social relations and for fostering their sense of patriotism.
In conclusion let it be said in this connection that even actions shared between an adult and a deaf-blind child give the latter the chance to find his bearings in time to some extent. The child comes to form a concept of the action that is to take place imminently. As the child becomes more independent, so the future he can envisage extends. Each action performed constitutes a signal for the one that follows, which, prior to its execution, already existed in the child’s mind.
Time-tabling, together with essential stability in the world of objects forming the child’s immediate environment, constitute one of the most important means for giving a deaf-blind child immediate knowledge of the ordering of the external world. He comes to grasp the stable pattern of day and night, the ordered pattern of events in time and their duration. An invaluable tool for time analysis is the pattern of events in the child’s day-to-day existence (sleep, waking, eating, dressing, undressing, walks, washing, etc.). If no strict time-table is observed it is impossible for a deaf-blind child to find its bearings in time. For him a time-table lends time human significance.
A fixed and repeated sequence of actions carried out by the child during the day makes it possible for him to envisage the day as an integrated whole: he knows not only what has been, but can envisage also what will be. A well-ordered day makes it possible for a deaf-blind child to denote stretches of time by indicating the events which are due to take place during a given period. Direct participation in the events of the day, week, month and year helps the child to understand and transmit to others these periods of time – at first by depicting the events themselves and later through signs indicating units of time.
First steps to promote spatial orientation in deaf-blind children and to help apprehend objects are made when they are instructed in the skills of self-care and their behavioural patterns evolve in the process of satisfaction of their primary needs. The mere fact that a child is sleeping in a bed, covered by a blanket and has his head on a pillow means that he has encountered all these objects in practice. Practical experience has taught him that the metal head of his bed is hard, that the pillow is soft and that the blanket is warm. When he uses his pot and learns to get it out from under his bed, when he stands on his bedside rug, searches out and puts on his slippers, a child is coming to terms with the space around his bed. Gradually, the sphere of his practical activities extends from the bedside corner to embrace the whole room and later takes in the corridor, the whole floor, the building and the yard outside. At the same time as this range grows, so also does his ability to orient himself in space.
It was pointed out earlier that for a deaf-blind child it is quite essential that his environment should be a stable, unchanging one. In order to find his way about in his room, in the building he lives in, in the garden outside he must have precise knowledge of the arrangement of all the objects to be found in the place concerned and must be able to recognise them quickly and unerringly. Thus the first step for his instruction in orientation is to acquaint him with the objects around him or on his route. The child’s hands should be guided to make a thorough investigation of these objects. The children can learn to recognise them after touching them with their feet or a stick. In the child’s mind there grows up a whole system of signals indicating a particular object. He can tell how near he is to the gate, for instance, by changes in the surface of the path that leads there: he can tell that he is approaching the wall or porch of his home because of a slight upwards slope in the asphalt path just before the wall is reached. At the moment we are working on and soon hope to start using a special signalling system which will enable a deaf-blind child to ascertain where he is and choose the direction in which he needs to go. It will include, first and foremost, special asphalt paths raised a fraction in the centre and sloping away at the sides. As he walks down such a path the child will know which side of the path he is walking along thanks to the barely perceptible slope. Where one path crosses another the surface will be slightly different, and the deaf-blind child will be able to feel this with his feet with no difficulty. In addition, it has proved expedient to use a system of radio beacons. Special bleeps are already being used in the home: the network consists of a central control panel, a number of check points set up in various parts of the main building and garden and small receivers which certain of the pupils carry around in their pockets. Attached to each receiver is a vibrator in the form of a special bracelet worn around the child’s wrist. When the bracelet is felt to vibrate the pupil goes over to the nearest check point and using Braille code can engage in conversation with whoever has summoned him from the central control. In the future other radio beacons are to be set up, which will show the child the direction he needs to take, wherever he might happen to be in the home or its grounds. The signals involved will also be transmitted via vibration. It has been noted that scent signals also help deaf-blind children to find their way around and plans are underway for setting up a network of scent signals as well.
Unfortunately, instruments which are now being devised in various parts of the world in an effort to make it easier for blind people to find their way around (various types of mechanical and electronic devices which signal via either sounds or vibrations to warn of obstacles in the path of the mobile blind man) are not achieving their goal. Far from helping a blind person find his way around outdoors, they actually make this more difficult for him since they distract his attention from the job in hand. While many blind people make their way along city streets with a mere stick, none of them would dare go out in the street relying on an ultrasonic device. So far no one has devised anything superior to the stick to enable a blind man to find his way about. This does not of course mean that work to devise instruments to help the sightless should be dropped. These instruments are already useful in a scientific context: they facilitate calculation of the heights of buildings, of tree shapes and make it easier to plot the line of the horizon. When we are trying to devise ways of signalling to the blind that obstacles lie in their path, it is essential to bear in mind the distinctive psychological features of blind people. A man robbed of his sight finds his way about mainly by means of sound analysis; his hearing is strained to the utmost, and to add to its load the analysis of sound signals emitted by the instrument merely hinders him in finding his way about. The deaf-blind person analyses his surroundings with recourse to the following: his face that is exposed to the movement of air, any powerful vibrations in the air, and changes in temperature, his feet which are especially sensitive to vibrations in the soil, his hands which with the help of a stick can warn of objects on the path ahead and imminent unevenness in that path, while finally, smells provide signals for specific objects and settings.
A deaf-blind child, however, must be deliberately taught to analyse the objects that make up the world around him, in the ways listed above. This instruction begins in particular with the establishment of images for the objects which make up the child’s immediate environment, and it is only later that an optimal signalling system will be devised.
Many of the deaf-blind children who came to our home, were unable, on arrival, to take a step unaided not just in the garden but in the room as well. Left on their own, without an adult, deaf-blind children felt isolated in a terrible sea of uncertainty and began to cry. For this reason it is important right from the start to fill the void around such children with objects that create a stable familiar world for them. Out in the yard the children were systematically and thoroughly familiarised with all the objects they might encounter there: the buildings, trees, little paths, fences, etc. They were taught to use a stick to help them find their way about. Vitya K., when he found himself alone out in the yard, began to shout loudly and kept throwing down his stick. However, in the company of his teacher he gradually learnt to feel out the path in front of him with his stick and became familiar with the arrangement of the objects along the path. Soon all the teacher needed to do was to walk along behind Vitya, reassuring him with no more than a light touch on the shoulder, while Vitya would be walking in front finding his way with the help of a stick. Having the teacher near him gave the boy confidence and soon, knowing that the adult was nearby and could come to his rescue whenever necessary, Vitya began to walk around the yard independently – at first with a stick and later even without one. Indeed, he soon embarked most eagerly on the task of teaching his less mobile class-mate Valya P. to walk about the yard independently using a stick. An important stimulus for these children, as they learnt to find their way about, were special games during which they pushed various prams in front of them. The children learnt from experience that if they came across an obstacle the first thing to knock into it would be the pram, not they themselves. Riding tricycles was also a useful activity this respect.
Let us now take a more detailed look at questions of signalling as it affects the deaf-blind child’s perception.
In psychology and psychophysiology the receptor concept of perception was for a long time predominant. In psychological papers the following interpretation of sensations and perception was elaborated: if some isolated quality such as colour, roughness or warmth makes an impact on a human sense organ, then the reflection of this quality in the mind is a sensation; if a whole complex of such qualities makes an impact, then this is perception. This view of the phenomenon reduces the role of the perceiving subject to that of a passive observer. His real activity in the process of perception was ignored in the analysis. It was held that he perceives, but does not act.
Recently a different view of perception has gained wide popularity: it is presented as a complex interaction between the perceiving subject and the object of perception. The process of perception has come to be regarded as active investigation of an object aimed at establishing an image of the object that will provide a guide to action.
In many writings on the subject of perception that have been published over the last decade active operations on the part of the perceiver have been singled out and analysed separately: these include the discovery of the object, the singling out in it of informative features, comparison, relegation to a specific category, the proposition and verification of various hypotheses.
These and other investigations have widened our idea of the actual nature of the perception process, and made more feasible its modelling and development of automatic learning devices.
Yet there are still many questions connected with the problem of perception that remain unsolved. In psychological literature at the present time there is not even any generally accepted definition for the concept “perception.” Certain investigators have refused outright to provide any kind of definition for perception. F. H. George for example writes that it is very difficult to phrase a precise definition of the concept “perception” and at the same time he suggests that “to perceive” means something more than “to sense” and something less than “to know” ( 13, p. 388). Later on in his exposition of this subject he reduces perception to processes of recognition: “Perception is assumed to be essentially the same as the process of recognition which is simply the classification of objects, events, etc.” (13, p. 475).
Many other authors, in contradiction to George’s views, see the central issue here to be the initial formation of a new image, and not recognition at all. Recognition, as they see it, is another problem altogether and needs to be approached as something quite separate from perception. In practice, however, each actual perception incorporates both elements: both the correlation of what has been perceived with previous experience and the supplementing of that experience with new elements. In the processes of perception there exist complex dialectical relations between the old (former experience) and the new (the formation of the image of a new object). The image of the new object is always to some extent moulded by the influence of previous experience that makes itself felt in the form of psychological disposition, while at the same time the image of the new object (or new elements in the image of the object as formerly perceived) supplement, enrich and modify the images existing in previous experience; given sufficient novelty they will even restructure that previous experience, rearranging its elements in accordance with new data. The influence of past experience, accumulated in the numerous images of objects of the environment, upon actual perception finds expression, for example, in the signalling pattern of perception.
The idea of the signalling pattern of perception put forward by Ivan Pavlov, was later elaborated in numerous studies by Soviet psychologists.
The problem of perception as applied to a deaf-blind child has a relevance not only to methods for helping him to perceive objects despite his lost sight and hearing, but also to the psychology of perception in general, for the perception processes of deaf-blind children are slowed down, the separate stages of those processes are more distinct and lend themselves to observation more easily than ordinarily.
The first elements of orientative-investigatory activity in deaf-blind children appear in the process of satisfaction of their primary needs for food, sleep and excretion. When engaged in such forms of activity as feeding, dressing and undressing the child cannot but acquaint himself with a large number of objects essential for carrying out these activities. He forms images of objects such as spoons, forks, plates, various garments and shoes. The images of these objects are quite essential for a child in order for him to eat, dress and undress independently. These images help him to orient himself. Without them success in these basic activities would be impossible for the child.
However, this is not yet independent orientation, and the images do not take shape in the process of purposeful familiarisation with this or that object, but while the child is carrying out practical forms of activity that ensue during meals, dressing and undressing, etc.
Orientative-investigatory activity which emerges as a component of these day-to-day routines becomes ever further detached from these routines, until it is no longer strictly subordinate to practical needs but develops increasing independence giving rise to an independent (secondary and “superstructural” perhaps, but nevertheless independent) need for knowledge of the objects in the surrounding world.
This orientative-investigatory need may in itself stimulate various types of activity directed towards cognitive goals. Naturally, even at later stages of a child’s development no final break does or indeed should occur between orientative-investigatory and practical activities. The final selection and consolidation of emergent images takes place within the framework of concrete practical activity that is of some “benefit” to the human body, although by this stage such “benefit” must be understood in a much wider sense and not confined merely to eating, sleeping and excretion.
When a teacher acquaints a deaf-blind pupil with some new object, he endeavours to channel the child’s orientative-investigatory activity so that he may form an integrated image of the object, complete with all the properties and designations inherent in the given situation. The existence of such an image in the child’s mind is indeed an essential condition for his correct orientation in concrete forms of practical activity. However, the life of a deaf-blind child is not an uninterrupted series of encounters with more and more new objects. On the contrary, his everyday life (like that of any other human being) takes place within an environment consisting of more or less familiar objects, which either in their specific form of the moment or in certain variants have been encountered by him in the past. When a child perceives one and the same (or slightly modified) object on a subsequent occasion he will not feel it over as thoroughly as he did the first time, it will suffice for him to inspect merely some part of the object, some detail, for the whole integrated image to be reestablished. Actual perception that takes place in the life and learning activities of a child does not involve the formation of a new image of the object each time, but rather the actualisation of the image which already springs to mind when a mere part of the object is perceived. At the same time the existing image of an object can be supplemented by new elements, that had not been perceived or noticed earlier or which had perhaps been forgotten.
When objects are being perceived not for the first time orientative-investigatory activity follows a special pattern. Specific elements are isolated which do not necessarily play an essential part in the actual formation of the object’s image, but perform a special signalling function; they actualise the traces of the orientative-investigatory activity which had taken place when the object was first perceived. Thus the perception process acquires the nature of a signal: what is actually perceived serves as a signal for images formed previously. The signalling pattern of perception indeed lies at the very basis of human perception, which consists in the actualisation of images of objects that were formed in the past.
Various stimuli encountered by the child in the course of his orientative-investigatory activity can fulfil the role of signal. A deaf-blind child will easily distinguish a locker from all other objects in the room through leaning back against the corner of a locker or perhaps touching its door with his hand. In the two cases the nature of the actual stimuli is different, yet both serve to actualise one and the same image. Obviously, one image can and indeed usually is signalled not by one but by a whole series of diverse signals.
These signals may either differ little one from another, or may bear little resemblance to one another. As a child develops so the range of signals extends, departing further and further from the initial orientative-investigatory activity.
The main and almost only way in which a deaf-blind child can form images of objects is by means of tactile and motor analysis. Almost the whole of a deaf-blind person’s image world is formed through the activity of his hands. Other analysers, in particular over a distance (through vibrations or smell), play hardly any part in the formation of object images. However, when a child acquaints himself with an object by touch, distance stimuli also have a part to play, becoming linked with the image of one or another object. For this reason awareness of smell and vibration can play a significant part in the signalling of images formed as a result of tactile or motor analysers, extending as they do a deaf-blind person’s orientative opportunities. It is thanks precisely to the deaf-blind child’s capacity for distance analysis that the world is not empty for him, when he is not directly engaged in feeling over things around him, but at each moment filled with objects that he has discovered earlier and that are now being signalled to him through these distance receptors.
One and the same object can thus successfully be signalled by various stimuli, the impact of each of them serving to actualise the object image previously formed. This means that the image does not depend on the nature of the signal: there is room for a certain variability of stimuli, which, despite differences in conditions of perception, constitute signals for one and the same object.
This variability of signalisation is also a most important factor with regard to the image. Thanks to this variability of signalisation, which in all cases actualises one and the same image, there is a constant core to man’s perception of the objects in the world around him. If our perception were not independent of the constantly changing signal reception, then the deaf-blind child would be unable to perceive the world around him as something constant and tangible. The scope of this variability of signals depends upon the nature of cognition of a particular object, upon its significance in the child’s life and upon the diversity of its uses. The broader the functions of an object and the more diverse its practical significance, the greater the variability for the signalisation of its image. This means that the degree of constancy in the perception of various objects varies. The constancy is greater in the perception of everyday objects frequently in use and less with objects that are rarely used.
Independent of the nature of the signalling stimulus, the image also possesses relative independence of the mode of the reception via which it was formed. We all know that after feeling over a simple object with his eyes closed, a person can then draw that object; after visual perception of an object, he can also reproduce it on paper. In both cases the image of the object is relatively independent of the mode of reception. Similar independence is also found in deaf-blind children. After feeling over an object with his right or left hand, or with his lips and tongue (which possess a higher degree of tactile sensitivity) or with his foot, a deaf-blind child can model the object equally successfully. It follows therefore that in this case as well, the nature of the image is independent of the mode of cognitive reception. Of course, this independence does not in any way testify to any extra-receptory nature of the image; it can be explained by the relationships that have grown up between the various modes of reception. In a person possessing various modes of reception, one of these modes plays a leading role in the formation of images. In the case of a sighted adult it is visual reception that is held to be the dominant mode. After receiving tactile or motoric stimuli, man’s brain transposes these into the equivalent of visual reception. This means that even when a sighted man perceives an object via touch it is still a visual image that forms in his mind. The world of objects is great, and the world of images is equally great: depending upon the various conditions and requirements of practical activity, some images are retained as traces of one mode of reception and others as traces of another. It is not isolated instances that we are concerned with here, but a general trend in the relationship between various analysers in forming images of objects from the external world.
In the case of the deaf-blind the dominant receptor organ is the hand. Tactile and motoric reception when an object is felt over by foot or mouth is “recoded” into tactile-motoric reception via the hand. This transposition of perception into the dominant mode of reception lies, it would seem, at the basis of the image’s independence of the mode of reception.
However, this independence is only relative. It is well known that when a blind person who has never seen before suddenly gains sight after an operation, he is quite unable to find his bearings in the world around him relying on visual reception. He cannot recognise visually a single one of the objects familiar to him by touch. Such a person needs to acquaint himself with objects all over again.
Children who lost their sight and hearing at an early age are liable to lose the wealth of immediate images that they had accumulated hitherto, to lose their power of speech, and their ability to walk, etc. They are unable to correlate the stimuli they receive after losing sight and hearing with the visual images they had before. These images that are not being reinforced and actualised by reception are liable to fade away, never to be brought to life again.
In the practical work of rearing and teaching such children it is essential to start out from the possibility that all visual images possessed previously have been lost and new ones need to be established on the basis of a different dominant mode of reception. This principle makes clear Sokolyansky’s seemingly paradoxical idea to the effect that deaf-blindness from early infancy is to be preferred to deaf-blindness that sets in at a later stage.
When deaf-blindness strikes later (but before a child has learnt to read and write) it becomes necessary to overcome the residue of the previous modes of reception, which are now no longer useful and which are obstructing new forms of orientation when a child is taught to rely on a new mode of reception.
All this indicates how relative is independence of the image of the mode of reception. Loss of the dominant mode of reception at an early age can lead to a fading-away of images: in these cases new stimuli do not actualise images established earlier, they do not provide signals for them. As we have seen, the variability of signals for an image is not infinite, it also depends on the dominant mode of reception. Consequently, the nature of an image, far from being indifferent to the mode of its formation, depends directly on the nature of the dominant reception. When the dominant mode of reception is lost, then there ensues a radical change in the nature of the individual’s orientative-investigatory activity of which the image is a product.
Newly created images possess only one thing in common with the previous ones, which they have supplanted. This is their correspondence to the objects they reflect. However, this correspondence is achieved in the two cases through quite different nerve mechanisms, and through quite different systems of temporal associations. In children who have lost sight and hearing images are formed on the new basis of tactile and motoric system of nerve connections, and a new system of signals for these images is established.
All this goes to demonstrate that the problem of signalling is not merely a most important factor to be considered in teaching deaf-blind children orientation skills, but is also an essential link in the shaping of perception of objects by a deaf-blind child. The teacher’s fundamental task is to help a deaf-blind child to establish a system of perception of those stimuli (both natural ones and those artificially created to this end) which will constitute signals for objects from the external environment known and understood earlier.
The mastering of even the most basic self-care skills serves to render a deaf-blind more human. It is quite wrong to assume, as in the past, that the most important objective to aspire after when fostering human characteristics in the deaf-blind is the acquisition of speech. While some teachers did succeed in “teaching” or rather “training” (circus-style) their pupils to utter certain isolated phrases, these deaf-blind pupils still remained severely mentally retarded, quite helpless to lead their own lives and essentially bereft of human consciousness.
The situation is quite different with deaf-blind children who have mastered self-care skills and habits of day-to-day behaviour. For them the environment is not empty and devoid of objects, but filled with things that have meaning, which they are able to use correctly, and which are correctly reflected in their consciousness. The behaviour of these children is purposeful and sensible. Despite their complete lack of any speech, their behaviour is that of a normal human character, as are their mental and emotional reactions.
However, the development of these initial self-care skills and the basic elements of human behaviour constitutes only the first step in the humanisation of a deaf-blind child. In their subsequent development, as means of communication are established first through signs and later through word-speech, it is necessary to perfect these early skills, extend them to a considerable degree and correlate them in integrated systems constituting a general behavioural pattern.
Deaf-blind children who came to our home and who had been taught some skills of self-care would put them into practice in a slapdash, careless and awkward way. Many of the children for instance had ugly eating habits: they would stuff large pieces of food into their mouths, and swallow without chewing properly. In such cases the teacher sitting next to the child would show him how he ought to eat, using himself as a model: he would bite off small pieces of food (letting the child feel the size) and then chew them carefully, while the child, holding his hand against the teacher’s cheek and neck, would be aware of his chewing movements. After this demonstration and instruction, if the child was not eating properly, it sufficed for the teacher to touch his chin for him to remember what he had been taught and start trying to eat properly. Of course, the old habit of eating in a greedy and unattractive way would only be surmounted gradually, and the child would have to be shown many times how to eat properly and be reminded of this each time he forgot. At home our charge had for the most part only been taught to use a spoon for eating with; their parents had been afraid to give them knives and forks. It did not prove unduly difficult to teach them to use these other eating implements as well. Pupils were taught to spread butter on their bread. Fanil S., once he had learnt to do this, used to check with his fingers if the whole of his bread was covered with butter. When it was made clear to him that he should not touch the butter with his fingers, he started feeling the bread over with his lips. Eventually, however, he learnt to spread the butter and inspect the spreading with his knife. Hardly any of the children had been taught at home to put away the dishes after a meal, indeed, they did not even know how to lay a table. During their turns as monitor the children learnt to do this as well putting on the table the necessary number of plates, spoons, forks, etc.
Few of the children had had the habit of regularly brushing their teeth, washing their feet before going to bed, turning down their bed for the night or making their bed after getting up in the morning. Hardly any of them were used to thanking adults and their fellow-pupils for any assistance given them, for food, to greeting people or saying good-bye.
Promotion of these skills and habits essential to polite behaviour is an extremely hard and time-consuming process. These habits sometimes only become established after one and the same actions have been repeated many times. Some children had not been brought up to differentiate between their own and other people’s belongings. They had not acquired a sense of property. They might well put on the first garment they happened to come across, take a coat out of someone else’s locker or hang their own coat up in a wrong locker. It is as important to teach these children that their personal possessions are something that belongs to them, as it is later to hold in check any exaggerated sense of property. Fanil S. joined us with just such an extreme sense of property. He loved to play with building toys, and gradually the parts of almost all the building sets in the home found their way to Fanil’s desk. Eventually he, too, was taught to share what he had with his friends.
It was not easy to teach these children to take thought for the morrow. Like little Rita L. who, after gulping in food from her spoon, considered the spoon was now unnecessary and threw it down, so older children, after playing with sledges, tricycles and prams in the yard, would throw them down never thinking that they might be needed another time. It took a lot of demonstrations and examples to develop in them an ability to foresee the near future.
Work to perfect self-care skills was carried out in Fanil’s group, as indeed in the others, in accordance with a firmly established routine. The children’s day was arranged as follows: in the morning the teacher would come in and “tell” each little boy in turn, that he should get up. They would get up, make their beds, go to the lavatory, then do their morning exercises in the gym room, or outside in warm weather. After their exercises they would take off their vests and in just pants make their way to the bathroom with their wash things. There they would wash down to the waist, brush their teeth, dry themselves with towels and then return to their dormitory, clear away the soap, tooth powder and brush into their bedside lockers, hang up their towels, put on their school uniform and eventually make their way to the dining room for breakfast. One of the boys (dining-room monitor that day) would serve out the food and after the meal take the plates and cutlery away to be washed, and then, at a given signal, the pupils would get up from the table and go to classrooms for their lessons. At a sign from their teacher the pupils would collect together the equipment they needed for their lessons, and after the lessons they would clear up everything; then came a walk in the fresh air. And so it went on throughout the day: the end of one task provided a signal for the next one to get under way.
The occasional deviations from an iron routine that were required by life itself, ensured that the pupils’ newly fostered skills were flexible, and that their behaviour was not excessively stereotyped. Admittedly, we were sometimes required to provide special motivation for the transfer of some action or other developed in connection with one form of activity to the context of another. Fanil, for instance, after learning to wash his hands before meals, refused to wash them before classes. He gave a consistent and from his point of view logical explanation that he was not going to eat and therefore there was no need for him to wash his hands at that particular moment. Signs were used to make clear to him that during the lessons he would touch the face and hands of the teacher with his own hands and it would not he nice for her if his hands were dirty. This explanation appeared to satisfy the boy and before lessons (initially with a reminder and later without) he always used to wash his hands.
As work was carried on to perfect these children’s skills in self-care and develop their behavioural habits, their needs developed and new ones emerged.
One of the boys came to us dirty and with inordinately long nails: at home he had not let his family wash him properly or cut his nails and he did not feel any need to keep his body clean. At first it was difficult to wash this child, cut his finger- or toe-nails, and brush his teeth. Not only did he not take any active part in these tasks but resisted when others were working to make him look “respectable.” However, there is no doubt that he did experience pleasure when he was eventually washed and dressed in clean clothes: this could be seen from the expression on his face. Gradually he was taught the habit of cleanliness. In the space of a few months he had become one of the cleanest and tidiest of all our pupils. He had come to feel the need to keep himself clean all the time. Every day he used to have a strip-wash, brush his teeth with the utmost care and washed his feet and socks without reminders. On one occasion the following incident was noticed: on the way back from the bathroom after washing his feet, he tripped over the carpet in a way that made one of his slippers came off and so the foot that he had just washed touched the carpet, at which the boy went back to the bathroom, washed his foot again and only then put back the slipper. He had become very fastidious with regard to dirt, although earlier dirt had just been something he did not notice.
As the skills in self-care were perfected, the children’s independence grew from strength to strength.
The children learnt to pick out their own particular belongings in the communal locker. Fanil used smell as a guide, while Valya and Vitya went by the name-tapes inside them. After taking off their outdoor clothes the children did not hang them up in the locker without making sure they were clean first. A few months after coming to the home the children did not need to be reminded that they had to wash their hands before meals, wash thoroughly on getting up and at bed-time and to wash their feet as well in the evening. On bath-days the boys would go off and fetch clean bed linen without being told and then proceed to make their beds with it. The monitor would then take away the dirty sheets to the laundry room. Pupils also learned to cut their nails, make sure their shoes and clothes were clean, keep their work corners tidy, and could now iron their trousers, vests, pants, handkerchiefs and socks. Shirts proved too much for them, however, for as they ironed one part, another would get crumpled.
The pupils were shown how they should tidy up their rooms. They were taught to work together as a team for this task – at first together with adults and later on their own. They would dust the table, the lockers, the bedheads and the windows. They were taught to look after the flowers in their rooms, watering them and dusting the leaves with a damp cloth. It became a habit with them to tidy away their toys, and keep in order the locker with equipment for their learning tasks. They were taught to do all these things through direct experience; the teacher would take the child’s hands in her own and use them to carry out the necessary actions or teach the child to imitate her by guiding the hands of the child to inspect what she was doing. When a child was being taught via imitation, special need was paid to see that the child grasped not merely the external features of the action but also its result. Children used to imitate not only each other and their teachers but also adults, encounters with whom were not part of their regular learning programme. One summer, for instance, new asphalt was being laid in the yard. The children made a detailed inspection of all the equipment and materials brought along and found a little patch at the side of the yard which they then proceeded to “surface”; they fenced it off with boards, sprinkled sand over it and then rolled it with a round stick.
In the early spring (this time as part of their learning programme) the pupils prepared planting boxes, filled them with earth and planted onions which they would then water regularly and “observe” the shoots coming up and growing. Out in the garden they were taught to tend plants, sweep paths and tidy away rubbish. As they carried out all these various tasks, the children acquired a more profound knowledge of the objects around them and their functions.
As they were being taught behavioural skills, particularly those connected with work to keep the communal household running, one of the most effective motivational factors was assessment of their work by fellow-pupils. One little girl was very slapdash in the way she carried out her monitorial tasks in the classroom. Several times she was made to tidy up the classroom thoroughly with her teacher.
With the teacher’s supervision the girl carried out this task well and efficiently, which meant that she had learnt how to do this. However, when she thought she was not being watched she would carry out the same tasks very negligently. (On the whole, such cases are most rare. On the contrary, deaf-blind pupils are often characterised by excessive zeal in their performance of monitorial duties. Conflict sometimes arose when someone wanted to be monitor ahead of his or her turn. But this little girl, before she came to us, had heed brought up in extremely unfavourable conditions.) In addition to class monitors there was another monitor responsible for each floor as a whole. These monitors were chosen on a rota basis from among the pupils in the senior classes. One of their duties was to check and assess the work carried out by the class monitors. The little girl who had not carried out her monitorial duties in the classroom properly was summoned by one of the floor monitors to be reprimanded. In fact, an article on her negligence was included in the regular school news bulletin that the children compiled and hung up in the home. Eventually, the little girl learnt to carry out her monitorial duties conscientiously.
As they learn skills of self-care and the habits of human behaviour and as their orientation improves, deaf-blind children form images of the objects around them. The images of these objects gradually fall into place in specific systems, each one centred round an integrated practical activity. Once a child has been taught to keep to a regular time-table and trained in self-care skills and orientation in time and space, then it is possible to organise cognitive activities on a thematic basis. Learning now becomes an independent activity. Objects under investigation and their images in the context of this activity are integrated into different systems. Topics such as: “Dining room,” “Crockery,” “Food,” “Clothes,” “Footwear,” “Winter,” etc. are studied according to this principle.
Here again it proved expedient to arrange cognitive activities so that objects were encountered in the context of their function and designation in the course of practical activities carried out with them by the pupils. Practical actions followed one upon another in such a way that together they constituted an integrated pattern of activity. When pupils were studying the topic “Vegetables,” for instance, they took part in bringing in the harvest from the school vegetable garden, then carried the vegetables into the kitchen, where they washed, peeled and chopped them, before eventually putting them into the saucepan and observing how borshch was cooked or preparing a salad, both of which dishes the), subsequently ate. In this way the objects the children familiarised themselves with were brought together within an integrated pattern of shared activity and at the same time the images of these objects which were taking shape in the children’s minds did so not in a haphazard disjointed way but also as components of an integrated system.
A significant factor in the mental development of deaf-blind children is labour possessing social significance, aimed not merely at looking after himself but useful for his fellow-pupils in the home as well. It is in the context of such labour that the child’s first awareness of communal work involving the division of its constituent operations evolves: I am looking after not merely myself but others as well, and they in their turn will do things for me. Such work is often carried out by a group and this group work promotes children’s ability to coordinate their activity with a common task. Individual work is then assessed with regard to its significance for the shared task. In this way the first seeds of a child’s awareness of himself as a member of a group are sown.
Fanil S. who knew how to use a hammer and nails used to make boxes not only for himself but for the whole group as well. The boys used to keep the equipment and aids they needed for their lessons in these boxes. Vitya K. and Valya P. learnt to help him in this work. They used to repair broken furniture not only for themselves, but for others as well.
In the sewing room and carpentry workshop the children also learnt to repair and make things not only for themselves but also for other pupils. In the sewing room the children learnt to darn stockings, sew on buttons and iron. Vitya, an over-exuberant, fidgety boy found it difficult to master these skills. Valya, for his part, had difficulties in mastering these skills on account of his coordination problems. Fanil, though, learnt to carry out all these tasks with no particular difficulties. He began to master a hand sewing-machine. He learnt to wind thread on to the bobbin and place it into the bobbin-case. Soon he was able to hem handkerchiefs. Six months after he came to the home Fanil started learning his way around the carpentry shop. Some of the relevant work skills he had learnt while still at home. He found no particular difficulty in learning how to plane planks and saw wood using either a hacksaw or regular saw. During the first month of his woodwork lessons Fanil made a feeding-tray for birds, a seed-box, and repaired a table and a chair. He learnt how to use sandpaper to polish finished articles, although that was something he had not been familiar with previously.
By the end of his first year at our school Vitya also started work in the carpentry shop. He learnt to assemble simple wooden articles, such as rakes, from their components. He learnt to use a saw: using a shape to saw round he learnt how to saw circles of plywood that were used for the bases of baskets.
Deaf-blind pupils were also taught to participate in various types of group work. They used to tidy up the garden, clear the snow in winter, break up the ice in the yard, dig over the allotment in spring, water the flower beds, and tend the animals which were kept in special outhouses at the back of the school.
The types of work carried out by the pupils varied considerably: some were easy and others were more difficult. Some tasks the pupils enjoyed carrying out and others were less popular: certain tasks they were reluctant to carry out at all. This gave rise to a certain amount of conflict as can be seen from the more detailed account of the participation in common tasks of the group consisting of the pupils Vitya K., Volodya T. and Tolya Ch. The pupils Vitya K. and Volodya T. were mentioned earlier. Tolya Ch. joined their group in the home at a somewhat later date.
Vitya, Volodya and Tolya adopted very different attitudes to the various types of work. Vitya, a very lively boy, a real “Jack-in-the-box” always rushing everywhere, loved work that involved swift movements. He was really happy brandishing a spade or a small crow-bar and breaking up ice, then sweeping up the pieces in a heap and carting them away in a wheelbarrow almost at a run. Volodya showed great interest in the animals, and enjoyed gathering grass to feed to the rabbits; then he would rest his hand on their backs for long periods to feel how they ate. Tolya, a more phlegmatic and slow-moving boy, only enjoyed those types of manual labour which he could carry out sitting in one and the same place. What he disliked most of all was tending the animals. Once, when it was his turn to look after the rabbits, he refused to feed them altogether.
By this time the boys should have learnt how to subordinate their wishes to fair requirements of the community. This necessity had been pressed on them through being placed in specially created situations, in which they had to carry out a particular task and renounce a more enjoyable occupation. More often than not the children comply as soon as it is successfully conveyed to them that duties have to be carried out, come what may. If a pupil refuses to carry out some necessary task he meets with censure on the part of his group. On this occasion Tolya chose to ignore his fellow-pupils when they explained to him that it was his turn to feed the rabbits. Nor was he willing to carry out this work at the insistence of his teacher and pointed to Volodya to indicate that he could just as well feed the rabbits. The boy thus persisted in his refusal to carry out the task entrusted to him, trying instead to have the duty transferred to another member of his group. No progress was made even when he was shown that the rabbits would be hungry, and indeed might die if not fed. Nothing would move him at this stage and it was then decided to leave Tolya alone. For a whole hour he sat on his own while the other children were working, and each of the other two boys walked up to him from time to time to convey his disapproval.
This enforced inactivity and isolation at a time when his fellow-pupils were working and their disapproval had such a strong effect on Tolya that after that incident he never again refused to carry out any tasks when his turn came round.
This group of boys got through a considerable amount of work in preparation for the May Day holiday. After a conversation about the May Day holiday with their teacher, it was decided that it would be a good idea for them all, with her guidance, to spring-clean and smarten up their classroom. The walls and door had to be washed, the windows cleaned, the equipment for lessons, desks, tables and chairs all had to be dusted, the lockers put in order and the floors polished. The task was a considerable one. It was explained to the children that one person on his own would be unable to carry out this work; for instance, that one person would not be able to move a locker out from the wall in order that the wall behind might be washed, the back of the locker dusted and the floor swept and polished. It was essential that they all work together, and then the task would be completed more quickly and more easily. The pupils appreciated this and together with their teacher they divided out the various operations involved and worked with great enthusiasm, first at one task then at another. The teacher helped them, providing guidance and suggestions as to how they might go about their work. After the work was finished the children “inspected” the results of their labours, asking other pupils from rooms further down the corridor to come and admire what they had accomplished. They were proud of how clean and well-ordered their classroom had become.
It is on the basis of this and other types of practical work that the children came to know the satisfaction to be gleaned from shared work and accomplishment and to understand the need to carry out various duties as they worked towards shared goals. They perceived the meaning of the division of labour and also the overall results of work consisting of a number of constituent tasks.
When they reach the age of sixteen those deaf-blind pupils who have acquired the necessary physical and mental ability are first introduced to a specific trade. In a children’s home work connected with a trade (just as earlier types of work, such as self-care, running the communal household, manual labour or practical lessons in the workshops) also serves educational ends. Usually, when work in a special school is being analysed, attention is paid to its significance in polishing speech, developing motor skills, perception and memory, stimulating imagination and promoting thought processes. All this is true, but there is much more to it. One might even say that this view of the significance of work omits its most important function for the development of the pupil. Teaching a child work skills and involving him in practical useful work is the only way to develop a fully-rounded personality. It is precisely in the context of work that man’s awareness of himself within the system of human relationships takes shape, and it is through work that man acquires the ability to assess himself via the attitudes shown to him by others. Again it is in work that man’s vital, essentially human characteristics take shape. While from a historical point of view man can be said to have created himself, to have made of himself a man as he created forms of labour, when it comes to the process of ontogenetic development, every person, as it were, creates himself anew each time, as he masters forms of labour activity. It is also important that through labour and his personal participation in labour man reaches a correct understanding of social relations and then, through the prism of those relations, arrives at a more profound and correct understanding of the world of things rendered human by labour.
Certain mental attainments which have been latent in the young child as he gradually learnt to keep to a strictly defined time-table, such as the planning of his own activity and of its results, achieve a qualitatively new stage of development in labour, which would be impossible without a preliminary understanding of the specific results of the labour activity in question.
Experience in teaching work skills to deaf-blind children has shown that they can master successfully not only work methods involving tools of manual labour (such as a hammer, screw-driver, pliers, fret-saw, pincers and plane) but also those requiring various types of mechanical equipment fitted with special protective devices making them safe for the sightless. Pupils completely lacking even residual hearing or sight learnt how to use independently a circular saw equipped with a simple safety device designed by their instructor. Pupils with residual sight (0.03) carried out good work on a drilling lathe; they could even change drills for holes of varying diameters. Deaf-blind children without any sight or hearing learnt to work independently with sewing-machines, and to make sheets or simple garments such as nightdresses, pants, swimming trunks. Girls with residual sight (0.03) were taught by their needlework teacher to cut out material and make outer garments.
The school at Zagorsk got in touch with the local trade-school factory run by the All-Russia Association for the Blind which let us have special equipment and raw materials for the production of safety-pins. Almost all pupils of sixteen and over are enrolled as workers at this factory, after receiving special instruction at the home for working with all types of machine-tools used for making safety-pins, and receive wages. Their participation in productive labour is of tremendous importance to these pupils: it enables them to overcome their sense of inferiority, helplessness and futility. The pupils then know that like everyone else they are taking part in social labour. The money they earn they spend on watches, typewriters with both ordinary and raised letters, which they used at home during the holidays, and garments that have taken their fancy. Some pupils help their family by meeting their railway fare when they undertake long journeys home for the holidays.
Fanil S., for instance, mastered all the operations involved in the production of safety-pins and started working on a systematic basis by the beginning of his fourth year in school. The finished pins were weighed and sent to the factory. Twice a month Fanil used to go with his teacher to the factory to be given his wages. On receiving these, the two of them would go shopping and buy something that Fanil needed or that had simply taken his fancy. The money that was left over Fanil then deposited in his savings bank account. Fanil knew that he was being paid money for his work and he also grasped what money was for. The fact that he was earning money was a source of pride to him. In the middle of his fourth year at the school his father arrived to take his son home for the winter holidays. Prior to that Fanil’s father had not seen the boy for over a year because he had been ill. When he saw his son after this long period of separation, he was thunderstruck by the change that had taken place in him, right from the first moment of their meeting when Fanil greeted him with the words: “Hallo, Papa” (by then he had been taught to pronounce individual words and simple sentences).
After sharing out with the other boys in his group the sweets and other presents that his father had brought, Fanil then took his father by the hand and led him upstairs. Without hurrying and making sure that his father was watching, Fanil then proceeded to show him all the operations involved in his work with all three machine-tools. Fanil made a present to his father of the pin that he had made in his presence and fastened it to his jacket. After making sure that his father had understood everything, Fanil then led him downstairs again to the room which he shared with Vitya and Valya. After pulling back the sleeve of his jacket Fanil then lifted to his father’s face his wrist complete with watch, pressed the button which raised the lid of the watch and then with careful movements of his index finger felt the hands and conveyed to his father with gestures what time it was. With other signs he made it clear to his father that he himself was working and being paid wages and had with these been able to buy the watch. He then took some fur gloves out of his bedside locker and then conveyed to his father that he had bought them himself. Then Fanil set off with his father, his teacher and two other pupils (for them it was another object lesson) to the savings bank where he took out a hundred roubles. Fanil counted the money himself and then handed it to his father with the words: “Railway fare.” At this his father was overcome with emotion and wept. When they returned to the home, Fanil packed his suitcase, placing in it first of all Braille paper, his writing things, a Braille pencil, a reading book with raised letters and then took his leave of everyone in turn: he said “Good-bye, I’m going home” in words to his teacher and via finger-spelling to his fellow-pupils. When already out in the yard Fanil remembered there was something he had not packed and he went back to his room: it turned out that he had forgotten to take his tooth-brush, tooth-powder and soap, which he then put in his case. Vitya and Valya went with him to the station (this for them, too, was also an object lesson) where they saw him off. While at home during the holidays Fanil was also busy – he helped his parents with the household chores, but also found time to read, write up his diary and write letters to his teachers.
The pupils enrolled as employees of the pin factory used to work at the lathes for an average of two hours a day (not counting Sundays). Work sessions in the needle-work room and carpentry shop occupied between two and five hours of their weekly learning programme, depending upon current educational objectives and the pupils’ physical capacities. Learning through work, mastering certain manual skills, and the skills for working with mechanical devices and various tools was organised in such a way that the end product of work sessions were objects of practical value. This can be illustrated by a list of tasks carried out by various pupils in work sessions during one of the terms of the school year.
Tolya Ch. and Alik K. made two toy chairs for the toddlers group. With the help of their instructor they repaired a child’s chair, made a feeding-tray for birds and a box to take a library card-index and started preparing materials for a specially adapted version of table billiards. While working on these articles, the children had learnt to operate a vertical electric drill and to saw planks into thin strips of wood using an electrical circular saw (equipped of course with a safety device).
Mikhail N. had completed a toy house for the toddlers that could be taken to pieces and put together again. He, too, had learnt how to operate a vertical drilling tool.
Misha F. had learnt how to saw objects out of plywood. Using models to saw round he made hen, dog and cock shapes that would serve as learning aids for the younger children.
Vladislav T., Vladlen R, and Sasha Ch. put together a set of shelves for the school store-room, made a work-table for the pupils engaged in manufacturing pins, and learnt to saw planks into thin strips of wood using a circular saw, to mark off and hollow out holes in a bar of wood and to use a drill.
Alexei B. and Seryozha B. repaired a chair, bedside locker and coat cupboard for the younger children, learning in the process how to use a screw-driver and gimlet.
Vasya U. made a swing for the younger children with the help of his instructor. He learnt to plane down wood, but he did not succeed during that term in learning how to cut out shapes from plywood using a saw.
Yura L. and Sergei S. made a model of a large rocket (about six feet high) complete with portholes and seats inside for the cosmonauts, etc.
Special excursions were organised for the children to woodworking shops so that they could learn how adult craftsmen worked with wood and what they were making.
In the carpentry shop the children made teaching aids under the supervision of their instructor. These included a play-shop and a model town complete with streets and a square, vehicles and people. Using a saw, other pupils made plywood shapes of many animals and everyday articles needed in the household or the classroom, and they also made many three-dimensional figures. Vasya U., Alexander S., and Boris G., worked for six months on a relief map of the Soviet Union. Sergei S. and Yura L. made Saulova’s teaching machine, introducing certain improvements in the design.
In the sewing room the girls used to work for between two and eight hours a week, depending upon their educational programme, age and health. The girls used to make articles of underwear and garments for themselves, pupils from other groups and dolls. The following list serves to illustrate the nature of the work carried out during needlework lessons by girls possessing skills of various levels during a six-month period.
Tanya S., Inna A., Yana K., Zana S. learnt to sew seams by hand and after mastering this operation they started making underclothes for dolls: pants, vests, dresses and aprons. In the space of twenty-two hours of lesson-time Tanya managed to make a dress, and an apron for a doll, while Inna during the same period made a vest and pants for a doll, and Zana a blouse. Yana’s optician had stipulated that she should not use her residual sight during needlework lessons and so she was being taught to sew relying on her sense of touch. For the time being she was only joining together straight pieces of material with hand-sewn seams.
Galya R. and Mara L. were working together and in the course of six months made a blouse and jacket for one of the younger children and a pair of long pants. Olya Sh. made a suspender belt and five pairs of pants. Lida A. learnt to make pants and blouses. She was able to make pants completely on her own but required demonstrations from her instructor when it came to making blouses.
Natasha K. learnt during this period to cut out and sew a summer pinafore dress and a blouse to go with it. These two articles and a swimsuit she completed in 58 hours of lesson-time. Valya B. learnt how to cut out and sew summer dresses for little girls from the toddlers group and long pants for the boys. She made two excellent dresses and three pairs of pants in the space of 45 hours of lesson-time. Nadya K. learnt to cut out and sew a summer blouse and a dress made of silk. It took her 45 hours of lesson-time to complete the two articles. Tamara B. was only able to cut out garments with the help of her teacher, but she learnt to make night dresses of complicated design and dresses too.
Julia V. and Natalia Sh. were given professional training in needlework. In the course of six months they learnt to cut out and make up woollen dresses for the younger girls, children’s aprons, children’s sun hats and night dresses. Because the need arose for curtains to hang in front of shelves and at the windows, and long pants for the boys, the initial plan for the term was somewhat modified. Julia V. made seven children’s dresses, nine curtains and three pairs of long pants in the space of 87 hours of lesson-time. Natalia Sh. made ten pairs of pants and a swimsuit in the space of 66 hours of lesson-time.
When a deaf-blind child takes part in a process involving the division of labour and specialises in the execution of some one operation (one pupil at his machine-tool bends the pin, a second makes the pin head, while a third joins the head and the main part of the pin together), he can no longer associate his one isolated work operation with the overall result of the work process. To overcome this contradiction between the increasingly specialised work operation and the final product of the collective labour the pupil is encouraged to study the whole series of operations involved in the production process. The deaf-blind pupil is taught to master, one by one, all the component work operations and thus comes to understand the role of each operation in the overall production process. This reduces the labour productivity somewhat, but at the same time it safeguards against work degenerating into a monotonously, repetitive, hardly comprehensible and mechanical activity.
For educational purposes it is expedient to change from time to time the types of work that deaf-blind pupils are engaged in. Many pupils reach such a high level of mental development, that they. are capable of learning almost any type of work operation carried out at the local factory of the All-Russia Association of the Blind.
When a deaf-blind pupil is being taught to carry out increasingly “adult” types of work, there arises a contradiction between the nature of his activity, and its relationship to his needs. While work activity at the stage when the child is acquiring skills in self-care is bound up with the satisfaction of his elementary needs, once children start participating in work pertaining to the communal household, this link is no longer so obvious. Further, when a pupil is involved in division of labour, the link between his concrete activity and his physical needs becomes more and more indirect and eventually, comes to be represented with such measure of work as money. An understanding of money as a measure of work and an awareness of the connection between work and the possibility of satisfying needs with the help of money is an essential condition for the practical cognition of existing social relations.
The increasing gulf between work on the one hand and physical needs on the other is overcome as the pupil masters increasingly advanced forms of labour and he develops needs of a higher order (social needs apprehended by the individual). These needs form a superstructure over physical ones and come to prevail over the latter. It is thus that man’s need to work for the benefit of society takes shape.
In the instruction of blind and deaf children of preschool age considerable importance is attached to moulding and exercises with various bricks, sorting pyramids and other such objects made of wood and plastic. Deaf children with the help of drawings, and blind children with reference to models or simply according to the dictates of free choice learn to put together various structures from wood and plastic parts. It is rightly held that exercises of this type promote a child’s sensorimotor development. However, the problem of sensorimotor development is far less straightforward than it might appear at first glance.
At the beginning of this century, the Italian teacher Maria Montessori elaborated a whole system of methods to promote sensorimotor development in mentally retarded children. Later the principles underlying this system were applied to the development of normal children as well. From the very first she based her ideas on the incorrect proposition to the effect that a child’s development takes place spontaneously and is not something that adults should interfere in by foisting upon a child their skills, abilities and principles. In her opinion, children should teach themselves. According to her theories, a child’s development consists in the development of his sense organs, and his activity. She evolved a whole system of aids for promoting children’s sensorimotor development. A major weakness of this system is that a child is offered artificially devised aids instead of acquainting himself with the objects of the real outside world and gaining life experience (37, 63, 64).
The Montessori system, erroneous in its essential principles and rightly rejected by Soviet psychologists, is in particularly glaring conflict with the theory and practice of the rearing and instruction of deaf-blind children, which, more than the theory and practice of the instruction of any other group of children, shows that there is no spontaneous child development independent of the influence of other people, but that on the contrary all child development consists in the assimilation of human experience in which adults play a decisive part. It would be futile and useless with deaf-blind children to start out by offering them a set of Montessori aids: they would have no meaning for them.
Human mentality emerges and develops in a deaf-blind child as he masters skills of self-care and patterns of human behaviour (that possess vital practical significance for him), during which activity the child discovers the objects in his immediate environment and comes to appreciate their functions.
The development of a child’s sense organs and of his movements proceeds in the context of this practical activity. It is only at specific, more advanced stages of his development that it becomes possible and necessary to embark on special exercises designed to develop a deaf-blind child’s movements and his residual senses. This possibility arises when, in addition to the child’s activities with a practical objective, orientative and investigatory activities take shape, together with corresponding learning needs. When organising a child’s sensorimotor training, it is important to remember that a child’s primary and dominant activity is that of a practical nature, while his sensori-motor training must be subordinated to the objectives of his basic, fundamental activity. Such forms of activity as modelling and building exercises, which by their very nature are designed to promote a child’s sensorimotor development, can and must be organised in such a way that they promote the child’s discovery and knowledge of objects and help him to form generalised images which reflect the phenomena of real life correctly and in depth. For this reason we attach great importance to modelling work in the teaching of the deaf-blind. In our study of deaf-blind children and work to educate them modelling activities can have important implications at a variety of levels. Not only do modelling exercises develop intricate movements of a deaf-blind child’s hands and fingers, which are so important for him, because for him his hands are an organ of discovery, perception and communication all rolled into one, but modelling is also tremendously important in developing the child’s cognitive activity and in providing an outlet through which he can express his thoughts and feelings.
Children at our home for the deaf-blind begin instruction in modelling as soon as they are capable of embarking on the task. Naturally, until a child’s elementary self-care skills have taken root, until the first signs of curiosity with regard to his environment have appeared and he has been taught to imitate adults, he will resist attempts to teach him modelling. But as his orientative and investigatory skills develop within the framework of his day-to-day practical activity and begin to constitute independent activity, and once a child has been taught to imitate the actions of adults, then it is possible to teach him modelling.
Instruction in modelling starts out from copying the objects surrounding the child and familiar to him from his own experience. At first the child’s hands merely “observe” the teacher’s, as the latter goes about modelling a familiar object. Later the teacher guiding the child’s hands will model the same object from plasticine that has been prepared and made pliable in advance. The pupil is made aware of the correlation between the modelled object and the real object to which it corresponds. The child needs to understand that the modelled object is a copy of the real one. To this end it is expedient to start by modelling small household objects such as cups, spoons, saucers, doll’s furniture (provided the child has by then been taught how to play). Gradually the child himself will master the art of kneading plasticine (first small pieces), rolling it out, pulling it into strips, pressing it down flat, etc. Modelling objects from plasticine usually appeals to the child insofar as the finished products of the activity are reduced copies of real objects. Children compare the modelled figure with the real object and derive genuine pleasure from this. Lessons in modelling begin with the “Inspection” of some elementary object, which the child later models. Usually in the early stages the child’s inspection of an object is superficial, and as soon as he recognises the object he stops feeling it over. Yet when he actually begins to model the object, then it emerges at once that his knowledge of it is inadequate. The need then arises for the child to “inspect” the object again. This discovery in itself makes it essential for the child to familiarise himself with the object more carefully and systematically, and the more detailed inspection facilitates the crystallisation of an image that corresponds more closely to the actual object.
At one of the next stages in modelling lessons the child is set the task of modelling an object which he perceived on an earlier occasion but does not have in front of him. At first the gaps in time between the perception of an object and the task of modelling it were short. A child would “inspect” a cupboard in one room, for instance, and then on arriving in another be asked to model the cupboard. Later the interval would be extended: the child would model things he had perceived the day before, and later even things which he had “seen” while at home for the holidays.
Modelling relying on memory revealed the nature of the child’s conceptions and sometimes provided an opportunity for correcting inaccurate conceptions. One of the pupils, for instance, while modelling trees, gave them all a “chopped-off” look, not knowing from her own experience that tree-trunks become smaller in diameter nearer the top until at the very top they resemble nothing so much as a tiny twig. The teacher made amendments to the little girl’s model, thus giving her a more accurate conception of a tree. Another pupil, when modelling a lamp-post, robbed it of all proportion, making it short and fat, for he had not “observed” a post in its full height. After his model had been modified as necessary he gained a more correct image of the object he was attempting to depict.
Modelling serves not only to add precision to the immediate images of objects, but also give rise to elements of designation.
When modelling this or that object, in particular when doing so from memory, a child will not make an exact copy of a specific concrete thing but will omit certain details and emphasise others. This means that he will not be producing an exact copy of a unique object but a generalised image. This generalised representation of objects in modelling is extremely important for the advance of a child’s cognitive activity because, together with the use of signs for speaking, it prepares the child to understand the function of designation.
Modelling, which provides expression for the child’s thoughts and emotions, constitutes, together with the child’s gestures, his own particular language, through which the deaf-blind child can tell us in vivid and detailed terms about himself and his vision of the external world. Sometimes modelling was also used to achieve understanding between pupil and teacher. There were occasions when a teacher could not understand what a pupil was asking him and it was suggested to the pupil that he should model the object he had in mind and in this way it became clear what he was “talking” about. Modelled objects can be grouped together more easily than real ones in the course of practical activity. It would then be easier to bring together not merely cabbage and saucepan in which the cabbage is cooked but also cabbage and carrots, and saucepans and plates. At this stage the pupils did not as yet have at their command generalising words for the designation of these objects but the mere association and bringing them together provided the essential precondition for the subsequent mastering of generalising words.
At a later stage generalisation and stylisation in modelling paved the way for its gradual elevation to an art form. Pupils who had manifested their wish to work at their modelling on a more serious, profound level were now taught to perceive and model what they had perceived, to attempt to express a general idea through their modelling of a concrete image.
Pupils were also taught to work with construction kits. They learnt to assemble tables, chairs and machines from their various components. This work served to develop their movements and sensitivity of touch. Copying objects around them as they constructed such items helped them to understand the object world, and, like modelling, represented a definite step on the path to designating these objects.
The models the children constructed were not exact copies of real objects, they were simpler, more rudimentary. It was not one specific table that the children would construct but a “table in general” without any of the details of any concrete table. All these were important steps preparing the way for grasping such systems of designation as signs and words.
All deaf-blind children who come to our home have some motoric impairments or deficiencies.
These impairments may be the result of damage to the nervous system (they might be classified as primary deficiencies), such as partial paralysis, paresis, hyperkinesia. To this group can also be added excessive motoric liveliness or inhibition.
As a result of earlier affection of the internal ear some of the deaf-blind children have lost in part their sense of balance, with subsequent impairment of their walking and other locomotory functions. Other problems connected with movement cannot be attributed to organic injury. These are secondary and result from the way of life peculiar to the deaf-blind child. If such a child is not specially taught various movements, he is not himself in a position to master them, since he is denied the opportunity of perceiving them in the first place. None of the deaf-blind children who came to us, for example, knew how to run, jump, or throw a ball properly, to name but some of the physical skills they lacked.
Serious inhibition with regard to movement found in deaf-blind children results from their fear of knocking into objects or other people.
Since they are denied the chance to watch or listen to gestures or facial expressions in people they interact with, deaf-blind children are not in a position to develop expressive movement.
Locomotory defects in deaf-blind children can he corrected, to a certain degree, through their instruction in the skills of self-care and in patterns of everyday behaviour, in the execution of household and learning tasks, and, finally, in the skills of a trade. However, this is not enough when it is the question of motoric deficiency.
As pointed out earlier, work with paper or modelling in plasticine are most important for the development of finger movements (61, pp. 34-38).
In order to develop the children’s mastery of movement, activities involving special aids are used: they are taught to assemble and take apart towers consisting of various wooden discs. They are taught to roll balls along, push along little carts, toy cars or dolls’ prams, they are taught to ride on tricycles. P.T. lessons are provided for all pupils.
Apart from their regular morning exercises the children are taught special exercises at P.T. lessons. These lessons are held in the gym. The levels of motoric development reached by the children vary considerably, and for this reason exercises are selected for them on an individual basis. Some are instituted for general use, however: the pupils are taught how to walk correctly following a straight line; they are taught to step over obstacles (such as a beam, a cube, or a rope stretched taut above the floor), and to walk along in a group one behind the other holding on to one and the same rope. They are discouraged from holding their head down all the time and taught to walk without shuffling their feet.
Part of each P.T. lesson was set aside for an action game, when children would be taught to pass a ball from hand to hand, to roll balls along the floor, and to throw a ball at a target, etc.
In order to overcome constraint in these children’s movements and to promote more naturalness, it proved vital to take into account the specific features of their situation which go unnoticed in ordinary life. Let us examine them in more detail.
Naturalness of movement depends on a number of factors. It is noticeable how the structure of certain movements varies in sighted people, on the one hand, and deaf-blind ones, on the other. For instance, let us consider the situation when a sighted person sitting at a table has to stand up from his chair and walk over to someone who enters the room. From among the various aspects of this movement let us consider the correlation between movements of head and trunk. A person who can see and hear first turns his head in the relevant direction and then gets up and moves over in that direction. On the way to his goal he may have to avoid certain objects that might stand in his path and usually it is the movements of his head in this situation that lead the way and provide the signal for movements of his trunk. The head “leads” the trunk in its wake. In other instances the head of the person walking might be held in such a way that the face is turned towards the goal all the time and then the movements of the head can be seen to execute the dominant function in the overall structure of the movement.
In a deaf-blind person, on the other hand, the correlation between movements of the head and trunk are quite different. Head and trunk are turned simultaneously, which creates an impression of awkwardness. Such movements are to be found in sighted people only when they have stiff necks.
In order to achieve naturalness and coordination in movements of head and trunk special exercises are essential for the deaf-blind. Nor is a natural-looking gait something that evolves spontaneously in their case. When a deaf-blind person takes his first steps in an unfamiliar setting he stretches out his hands in front of him and takes small steps; he holds his legs wide apart and his trunk swings from side to side making his walk resemble a waddle. If a deaf-blind person is led around a fairly spacious room or area, in which all objects remain strictly in the same place, several times and following one and the same route, then his walk becomes more rapid, he stops stretching out his hands in front of him and his strides lengthen. Special demonstrations also help him to stop swaying his body to and fro as he walks.
Work to correct a waddling gait and to render certain types of movement more natural can be effected in two ways: first, it is essential to ensure that the arrangement of the child’s immediate environment remain uniform, each object having a strictly fixed place and the space available for the movements involved be relatively generous, and, secondly, special instruction needs to be provided.
A person’s exterior is given an additional dimension through his facial expressions and gestures. The apparent naturalness of changing facial expressions and expressive movements of face and body have evolved and taken root throughout the course of human history. A person’s facial expressions and the way he holds his body serve to convey attentiveness, joy, anger and so on and so forth.
A normal child, through his imitation of people around him, assimilates all this expressive aspect of behaviour imperceptibly for them and himself. Indeed, these expressions and gestures constitute a whole language of their own. Facial expressions in the deaf-blind, and even the blind, are often empty by comparison and do not always correspond to the actual situation and an individual’s mood and feelings. When joy is experienced, all that may be manifest is a vague twisting of the face; at moments of displeasure a lopsided smile may cross such a face. To promote adequate expressiveness in body-gesture and facial movements in the deaf-blind, special instruction involving special methods is required.
By feeling over the face of his teacher or any other adult he might encounter and “observing” how the latter smiles, or frowns (in such a way as appears to correlate with the current situation as interpreted by the child) he learns to smile, laugh, frown, etc. in a natural way. Similar methods need to be used when working to promote expressive hand movements or body stance in these children when they are sitting or standing.