The learning environment includes the people, places, objects and activities surrounding a child. Children who are deafblind get so little information from the environment that it is vital to make the information they do get as clear and as relevant as possible.
Those working with the child should follow the key approaches of building trust, being consistent, helping understanding, taking time, following the child and being supportive.
The physical environment should help the child to make the most of their residual senses. There are general principles to follow, although not all will apply to every child:
- Provide a good level of even light, including in toilets and changing areas. Avoid sudden changes between bright and dim light, or ensure the child has time to adjust
- Use contrasting (light and dark) colours to distinguish differences - for example, doors from walls
- Avoid glare from reflected light - use curtains or blinds at windows, and matt rather than shiny surfaces
- Avoid clutter - it distracts children from trying to look at other things, and may be dangerous for mobile children
- Patterns on clothes and busy wall displays can also be visually distracting
- Don't move furniture around without telling children - people moving around unnecessarily are highly distracting
- Avoid background noise as far as possible - it makes it more difficult for children to use residual hearing
- Deaden echoes with carpets and wallboard - be aware that hearing-aid wearers may suffer in noisy echoing spaces such as dining halls
- Position furniture to make clear routes around the room. Avoid large open spaces without landmarks
- Be aware of textures - on toys, to mark possessions and places, on walls and underfoot
- Be aware of smells and air currents which may help children recognise places and activities
- The environment can be adapted to provide clear mobility routes - both between settings and within frequently used rooms
- Big spaces are easy to get lost in. Arranging the furniture so that children can move from one solid object to another is often better
- Landmarks are key points along a route that tell a child where they are. Landmarks can be accessed through touch (a corner of a wall, or the draught from an always-open door), sight (a picture), hearing (a string of bells fixed to a door) or smell (the photocopier room)
- Landmarks need to be safe (radiators, for example, may be too hot to touch comfortably). They also need to be consistently available (for example, the kitchen may only smell of cooking at certain times)
- Surfaces that children will trail their hands along need to be checked for safety and comfort - no staples sticking out of notice boards, for example. Head-height obstacles, such as fire extinguishers, are particularly hazardous
Think about the information the child receives from the environment during particular activities. What information is irrelevant or distracting? Could it be removed or minimised? What information is relevant and helpful, and could its quality be improved?
It may help to explore the environment wearing earplugs and a blindfold, or goggles with sandpapered lenses. (Ask someone to watch you and keep you safe.)
Individual children may need specific adaptations - for example, some children will see some colours more easily than others. Visual and hearing assessment results should give this information and help with the planning of strategies to encourage sensory development.
First published: Tuesday 29 May 2012
Updated: Friday 23 January 2015