David Brown Listen to David Brown’s advice on how families can support their child’s self-determination skills and what professionals should do to help parents reinforce those skills.


Okay David, so thinking about families and educators really working with these children who are deaf-blind and may or may not have cognitive disabilities in trying to help them develop specific skills, what are some of the things that you would like to see families doing at home and some of the things that you might want to see teachers helping to support the family to do?

I like to think about the way a child is being understood by the family and the way that the family is interpreting the child’s behaviors. I think it’s an area that often gets very neglected, and because the children tend to have such complex needs and they’re often functioning at quite early developmental levels, and they’re often not terribly responsive as people, that no one has really thought in terms of, “Ah, this child is expressing a whole range of needs, or emotional states, or interests.”

And sometimes it helps just to ask a family to think about that area, to prompt them a little. And I often pick up on the fact that a parent has said to me about their child something like, “Oh, she’s a little tired this morning,” or “Oh, she really likes that,” or “Oh, I think she’s getting ready for her lunch.” How do you know those things? And parents often look rather confused because they almost didn’t even know they knew those things. And it’s a case of bringing up all that instinctive understanding that’s been built up ever since the child was born, bringing it into the conscious mind, and then verbalizing it so that we realize just how much there is there to work on and how much might be being responded to appropriately on an unconscious level. But if it’s on a conscious level, you’ve got a lot more room then to develop it, and foster it, and encourage it. Also if it comes onto that conscious level, you can start telling other people about it and sharing your insights with the wider world around the individual. And that’s a huge part of beginning the path toward self-determination. And it often, I think, is very neglected with this population.

People tend to have the lowest expectations of these kids. And they look in terms of the most basic kind of measurable, functional behaviors like can they reach for something, can they eye-point to it, but there’s far more included than that. And the child’s emotional heart—their needs, their wants, their interests—is really where it all should be focused.