Awakening to Life. Alexander Meshcheryakov 1974

Deaf-blind Children


The names of certain deaf-blind persons, who achieved a high level of intellectual development – in particular Helen Keller in the United States and Olga Skorokhodova in the USSR – are widely known. In academic circles the names of their teachers – Anne Sullivan and Professor Ivan Sokolyansky – are also famous. Less well known is the fact that at the present time the teaching of children with severely impaired sight and hearing is no longer a question of isolated cases, but has been evolved as a commonly accepted aspect of practical methodology in the teaching world. The pioneer in instructing deaf-blind children in the Soviet Union was Professor Ivan Sokolyansky (1889-1960), who as early as 1923 brought together a group of children bereft of the powers of sight, hearing and speech in Kharkov. His long series of experiments in the instruction of the deaf-blind was carried forward at the Institute for Research into Physical and Mental Handicaps affiliated to the USSR Academy of Pedagogical Sciences.

This volume represents the first attempt to describe systematically the educational work carried out with the experimental group of deaf-blind pupils at the Institute for Research into Physical and Mental Handicaps between 1955 and 1970 and at the home for deaf-blind children in Zagorsk between 1963 and 1970. Until 1960 this work was carried out under the supervision of Professor Sokolyansky, the founder of the Soviet school of education for the deaf-blind.

Deaf-blindness as a subject for research is distinctive in that the absence of sight and hearing and the dumbness resulting from the latter, rob a child of the chance to communicate with people around him (unless he receives special instruction). This isolation precludes the deaf-blind child’s mental development. The instruction of such a child involves the unique task of deliberately shaping a whole human personality. In cases where the task before the researcher is the deliberate shaping of a phenomenon, conditions are provided for ascertaining the laws underlying the nature of the phenomenon in question and its patterns of development. This book aims at demonstrating, on experimental and theoretical data pertaining to the behaviour and mentality of the deaf-blind, certain factors and patterns underlying the emergence and development of human behaviour and the human mind as such.

There are of course certain features peculiar to the development of the deaf-blind child; however, this research was focussed primarily on establishing patterns of normal development.

The theoretical significance of results achieved in the rearing and instruction of deaf-blind children consists in the fact that these experimental data substantiate beyond doubt dialectical-materialist concepts of the social nature of the human mind.

This book investigates aspects of the early mental development of the child in the course of its training in practical day-to-day behaviour.

It is hoped that it will be of interest not merely for specialists working with handicapped children but also for a wider audience interested in the mental development of normal children.

The author was assisted in carrying out the research for this study and collecting the required material by the teachers at the Zagorsk home for deaf-blind children, and also by members of the Department for the Study and Instruction of Deaf-blind Children at the Institute for Research into Physical and Mental Handicaps affiliated to the USSR Academy of Pedagogical Sciences: senior research worker R.A. Mareyeva, and teachers G.V. Vasina, L.V. Pashentseva and A.Y. Akshonina.