Most families would have difficulties communicating with a child with visual or hearing impairments, but for the families of children who are deafblind, this comes with its own unique challenges.
Alice Nabbanja of Sense International tells us how the programme supported 14-year-old Hellen and her family from Masindi, Uganda, by helping them communicate with each other, and teaching them to rear pigs so they can support themselves financially.
Hellen has a supportive and loving family, yet when Alice met them they were unable to communicate with her. “There was a distance between them. Hellen could not express herself; and no-one can express themselves to her,” says Alice. “She wanted to be near them, but due to her unique behaviours, everyone feared she might hurt them. Likewise, she doesn’t know when she is safe around someone.”
Alice taught the family how to communicate with Hellen without using speech or visuals. She explains that first she showed the family how to establish their presence in a non-threatening way, on entering a room.
“They saw how I sat with Hellen and like magic, in a few minutes she was very comfortable with me. She knew I was a guest, a stranger, but not a dangerous one.
“We sat quietly, which gave Hellen time to come and find us. She touched, and felt everyone, and smelled us up close to differentiate between us. She could feel who were the men, and when she decided which of us she wanted to befriend, she came and sat close to us. The family observed and learned.”
Establishing a routine is also an important tool in helping deafblind children do tasks independently. To help with this, Alice provided a ‘calendar box’ which contains everyday essential objects, such as a toothbrush, a cup, a comb, and getting Hellen to touch these helps her to understand what to expect next.