Deafblind Awareness Week 2015 and our Play campaign

An orange balloon with a face painted on itThis year Deafblind Awareness Week took place from from Monday 22 June to Sunday 28 June.

The main theme for Deafblind Awareness Week was Play, with the launch of our new campaign and report The Case for Play in which we call for an inquiry into play, and the barriers to play faced by deafblind children.

Play is a vital part of child development, and we want to work with child development professionals, academics, families and sector colleagues to bring greater focus to an issue that is of such importance to the children we support.

The Case for Play report uses powerful stories of personal experience to highlight the importance of a greater understanding of the issue. The report will be available from 22 June, and at that time we’ll share more about how you can be involved.

Ernie’s story

Ernie painting with yellow and green paint, with his hand

Ernie is a three-year-old boy that Sense supports. Ernie is deafblind and also has Down’s syndrome. Play is vital to Ernie, just as it is to every child, and his story has really inspired us.

As well as having blurred sight and only a little hearing, Ernie has low muscle tone all over his body. Of course that affects big movements like learning to walk, but it also makes it more difficult for Ernie to communicate. When we first met Ernie, and his twin brother Ted, Ted was chatting away, while Ernie would point at everything and make sounds, trying to be understood. Ernie found it hard to shape his mouth into words, and when he began learning to sign, he didn’t have enough strength or co-ordination.

We believed we could help Ernie co-ordinate – through messy play.

Ernie putting one hand on top of the other to make the sign for 'raisins'Ernie became a regular weekly visitor to a pre-school group at the Sense Family Centre, where he could receive one-to-one support from a specialist, who got Ernie pushing his fingers into modelling clay, finger painting and decorating balloons – like the activity we’re promoting this Deafblind Awareness Week. It was colourful mayhem! During each activity Ernie was strengthening the muscles he’ll need to sign. With every splosh and splat of paint his hands became stronger.

As you can see from the pictures, Ernie’s signing is getting better and better. Ernie will always find speaking clearly difficult, but as his mum Helen explains, he never has to feel left out or frustrated. With the help of Sense support, he is able to express himself and be understood. Messy play really is shown to be of huge importance to deafblind children.

Messy play – your chance!

We’re joining in the theme of Play by making balloon faces, just like Ernie does, and we’d love to see your efforts. Use, paint, string, glitter, whatever you have to hand – here’s one to inspire you! Why not photograph yourself with your creation and share it with other Sense supporters using #playalong.


First published: Wednesday 10 June 2015
Updated: Wednesday 8 June 2016