Thursday, February 15, 2007

Can You Feel Me Now?

Since birth, Ashley has been significantly hearing impaired. Audiologists have consistently gotten readings that indicate she has a profound loss in her right ear – that means she doesn’t hear anything at all in that ear – and a severe to profound loss in her left ear. In the left ear, she can pick up a few sounds but definitely not any of the ‘soft’ sounds like ‘S’, ‘SH’, ‘TH’, ‘CH’, etc. Because this significant loss has been present since birth, Ashley has had an extremely difficult time learning to speak. In fact, I wouldn’t really call the few sounds and words that she does utter SPEECH. But, that doesn’t in any way diminish my desire to hear her speak a few words, and that list is topped by ‘MaMa’. So, I did some research and uncovered a method of teaching a person who is deafblind to speak. That method is called TADOMA.

TADOMA, as described by Wikipedia, is a method of communication used by people who are deafblind, in which the person places his thumb on the speaker's lips and his fingers along the jawline. The middle three fingers often fall along the speaker's cheeks with the pinky finger picking up the vibrations of the speaker's throat. It is sometimes referred to as 'tactile lipreading', as the person who is deafblind feels the movement of the lips, as well as vibrations of the vocal cords,

The theory is that the person who is deafblind will be able to feel the vibrations, the positions of the lips, the air expelled, and other such physical cues, and from that might be able to learn to speak. The Tadoma method was invented by American teacher Sophie Alcorn and developed at the Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts. It is named after the first two children to whom it was taught: Winthrop "Tad" Chapman and Oma Simpson.

And although I have been using the Tadoma method with Ashley for several years now, we have met with very limited success. Like any skill that is being taught to a child with deafblindness, consistency and repetition is key. I use the method at home with Ashley as does her aide. We also had a speech therapist at Children’s Hospital for a couple of years who would use Tadoma. Unfortunately though, in one of the environments in which Ashley spends a huge amount of time – school – Tadoma was not embraced by the staff. I have heard many reasons for that over the years, but they all seem to come down to the fact that most of the school staff did not like having someone else’s fingers and hands on their face. Maybe one of these school years we will find a teacher or therapist who is willing to try Tadoma, but until then, I refuse to give up on using the method at home. Just in the last few months, I have heard ‘words’ that sound very, very much like ‘OMA’ (MaMa), ‘AHMEE’ (Amy – Ashley’s aide) and ‘ILUH’ (I Love You). That makes all the times I have had sticky, mac-and-cheese fingers on my face so worth it!

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