Observing for an Overview of Needs
Let us assume a child has now been identified as deafblind. Now, we need to observe this child to determine NEEDS. In this process, we not only look at the child, but at the environment, and people that flow in and out of the child’s world. If we have already identified the child as being deafblind, some critical things to look at include:
- Noticing if a child picks up on incidental information and which sensory modality provides this information. This is very important since children who have combined vision and hearing losses miss a large portion of what we take for granted.
- Knowing a child's preferences - both likes and dislikes. We can then decide what to use as motivators and what to avoid. The more we know about this, the better we can plan. After all, each one of us have preferences and appreciate others for paying attention to this.
- Determining which sensory learning/exploration modality is the strongest. Be aware that it might still be sight or hearing, even if there are challenges to these senses. Some children who have significantly reduced vision and hearing may rely more on touch. Don’t forget to watch for reactions to smell, taste and proprioception/kinesthetics as well (e.g., the feeling one gets from muscles and joints when going up or down slopes, standing with one foot lower than the other, etc). A useful tool is the Learning Media Assessment. Chapter 2 of this publication focuses on the use of sensory channels.
Proprioception: the body's internal ability (via muscles, tendons, joints) to understand one’s position in space, to sense the relative position of parts of the body, and to body movements. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proprioception ; http://www.wisegeek.com/what-is-proprioception.htm )
Kinesiology or human kinetics is the science of human movement. When we think of this study, we also think of posture, dance, physical education, orientation and mobility, and other movement-related subjects.
Click for related information: Brain Gym
- Noticing how a child relates to other children (siblings, classmates), as well as to adults. This information can give us insight into the child’s social behaviors as well as his needs. Don't forget to notice his/her interaction with those not usually considered part of the IFSP/IEP team (the bus driver, janitor, secretary in the office, the teacher in grade 6 who always steps out of her classroom to say something to the child). Pay attention to sibling relationships. These are very important as siblings (like parents) will continue to be in a child’s life after the child leaves the school system. The same applies to grandparents, neighbors, significant persons at church or religious center or elsewhere.
- Documenting how the child communicates and at what level. Does the child use voice to communicate, or alternatives such as sign, body language and gesture, objects? Watch for both receptive (how others communicate with the child) as well as expressive (what the child says or does to communicate).
What Do You Actually Do?
Before you observe, check to make sure you have a notebook or note paper in addition to all the charts or documenting items that you need. Use a pencil so that you can erase if needed. Remember that you may not be able to capture everything with just one observation. So you might schedule more than one observation and divide your time according to what you want to observe. You can also use technology to document some things that you feel you need to look at a few times. So make sure you have your camera, video camera or flip video set up and available. Make sure you are ready to go! Avoid using distracting equipment, such as the flash on a camera, a timer, or a laptop that can easily be heard. You are there to observe, not distract.
- It is a good idea to have parents sign a consent form. This usually indicates respect for them and their child, and ensures you will have their collaboration later. Do this whether you carry out the observation at home, at school, or elsewhere that the child goes. This is still their child, no matter where he/she may be!
- Set the "ground rules" during observation and don't encourage comments or conversations while you are observing.
- Be as non-intrusive as you can possibly be so as not to disrupt what the child may be doing or communicating
- Avoid being too close or too far away; and do not get "in the child's face." However, be responsive to the child if he/she happens to ask questions.
- Look at a variety of situations, places, and interactions during different times of the day.
- Observation is especially important during what is generally regarded as "down time." This can include actual free time, free play, recess, lunch or snack time, traveling between classrooms, or on the bus. This is when you will catch those nuances in behavior that you may not see when others are interacting more formally with a child.
- Go ahead and write down anything you observe. If you prefer to document things on a laptop, set up charts or organizers which will make it easier to look at the information later. Remember, if you take old-fashioned notes, you will need to organize these notes later too. It is good to document what you see and hear (and smell, etc.), even if you don't think it is important at the time. Down the road, you may find out that it is important. Also, when you have time to debrief with parents and the child's team, you will probably find out the significance of these observations, especially if you haven't had enough observation time to figure things out for yourself.
Examples of seemingly unimportant documentation
Example 1: Susie is being wheeled down the hallway and a sixth-grade peer, Samantha, stops to pat the back of Susie"s right hand and say, "Hello."
(Document this very brief interaction)
Observation lesson one: The patting of the back of the right hand turns out to be "Hello", a touch cue in Susie's communication. Each person who knows this cue uses it during the rest of the day. When someone who doesn"t know this tries to shake her hand instead, Susie snatches her hand away.
Observation lesson two: A "Hello" in the hallway between friends is totally appropriate and should be encouraged. It could become a part of post-observation "round table" conversations.
Observation lesson three: Samantha"s other two friends saw what Samantha did and possibly learned (incidentally) what to do to approach Susie. They also learned not to be afraid of Susie!
Example 2: Tina, the classroom aide, is helping Tim create a piece of artwork. He has Cerebral-Palsy and is deafblind. She offers him her hand to "help" him get to the right spot on the paper. But he raises his arm until his hand is near his shoulder - going in the opposite direction to the artwork. Tina is not upset by this. She waits patiently.
(Document that Tim raises his arm and hand; and that Tina WAITS)
Observation lesson one: Tina obviously knows something you do not. Your instinct would be to think that Tim is protesting and does not want to do the artwork, when in fact he does (Resist instructing Tina!!)
Observation lesson two: The next step in the process "reveals all." Tim needs to raise his hand in order to bring it back down to the level - and to the exact spot on the piece of paper where he has to glue something on.
Observation lesson three: Tim"s eyes follow his hand going down, so he is trying to coordinate his poor vision with his hand-movements.
Useful Tools to Use in Observation
The two publications below (one new, and one older) are both really useful because they contain suggestions and ideas of what to observe, checklists and charts to document observations, and examples. Child-guided strategies has DVDs that document what the authors say. For face-to-face training sessions, information and forms will be derived from these publications:
Nelson, C., Van Dijk, J, Oster, T. & McDonnell, A. (2009). Child-guided strategies: The Van Dijk Approach to Assessment. American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. Current cost is $45.00
Klein, M.D., Chen, D., & Haney, M. (2000). Promoting learning through active interaction: A guide to early communication with young children who have multiple disabilities. Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. (PLAI Curriculum) $30.78 and less on Amazon.com.
Aitken et al (2000) have a useful section in their book (pp 18-19) on methods used for observation. They list a number of options including a diary (day-to-day anecdotal records), detailed "total observation" (documents everything in detail), documentation of a specific behavior (e.g. toileting, mobility in unfamiliar surroundings). They also briefly talk about video recording. The advantages they list are:
- It allows the person to watch the sequence as many times as needed.
- It includes others that are interacting with the child.
- It provides a record that can be compared to future videos to determine changes or lack of progress over time.
They caution that videos can be misleading if a clip is watched and interpreted out of context, especially if you were not the person recording it. They also caution that the behavior you are viewing on the video clip may not be "typical" for this specific child who may need to be observed again in real time.
Aitken, S, Buultjens, M., Clark, C., Eyre, J.T., & Pease, L. (2000). Teaching children who are deafblind: Contact, communication and learning, David Fulton Publishers, London. (Pp. 12-19 is on "Observing the Child")
Klein, M.D., Chen, D., & Haney, M. (2000). Promoting learning through active interaction: A guide to early communication with young children who have multiple disabilities. Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. (PLAI Curriculum) www.brookespublishing.com
Koenig, A.J, & Holbrook, M.C. (1995) (2nd edition). Learning media assessment: A resource guide for teachers of students with visual impairments. Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired. www.tsbvi.org
Nelson, C., Van Dijk, J, Oster, T. & McDonnell, A. (2009). Child-guided strategies: The Van Dijk Approach to Assessment. American Printing House for the Blind, Inc. www.aph.org
SensationalBrain.com for information on sensory diet.