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A deaf blind mentally handicapped child in a regular school career – does it make sense? A case study

Focus: School years

Topic: MDVI

Gertrude Jaritz-Tschinkel

Special Teacher

Sonderpädagogisches Zentrum für sehbehinderte und blinde Kinder


Leonhardstraße 130

A-8010 Graz

0043 (0) 316 57 55 24


Inclusion is an important theme in our area. Parents and students have a right to choose local schools. However, special schools provide their service. The integration of a deaf-blind mentally handicapped boy is an extreme example: His development, his support and his acceptance by teachers and class-mates have been investigated by me, his peripatetic teacher for visually impaired children.

Necessary background information

Our school system:

Special classes for deaf-blind children only in Vienna


Central Special

Schools for

Visually Impaired,

Physically Handicapped

Hearing Impaired


Provision of Service for

Children in local schools



Local special schools for learning Impaired

and Mentally Handicapped Children


Local schools

In some classes are children with special needs with a few hours additional support by a special teacher


Local Schools with integration classes

(2 teachers in the class)

Ø     sometimes additional support if the child is visually impaired or hearing impaired

Ø     and with a care-persons


Special service for visually impaired children has been provided by the centre for visually impaired children the Odilien-Institut by peripatetic teachers since 1983. (More information in the lecture of Agnes Nimmrichter)

Since 1993 Austria has the special legislation which gives parents and the students the right for inclusion.

My role: After a few years teaching in a special class and early intervention I had to support Georg because he belonged to my geographical area I had to cover. I knew about the boy already from the early interventioners. The special teacher of the class was very interested and eager to learn about the topic. I supported Georg, his teachers and his family for 7 years. I am not specially trained as a teacher for deaf-blind children. I had to collect knowledge which I received through literature, a visit in the institution of Jan van Dyke in the Netherlands and lectures of Hanne Pitroff, Würzburg and Michael Cyrus of Norway.

Special case

Georg, born 10.9.1985 in a little place in the western part of Styria.


Family Background

He was the second of three children. A tragic detail:  The older sister suffered from an organic impairment because of a dysfunction of the pancreas which was diagnosed at a relatively late stage. And the younger brother developed learning problems and thus needs special treatment as well.

The family had the help of a grandfather who lived in the same house.

The parents got divorced in the year 2000.

Georgs diagnosis

Cerebral palsy, central vision and hearing impairment, Makrocephalus,

Laryngitis, coloboma of the lips

Eversince the first grand epileptic fit had caused a lot of damage in the age of 3 and a half months he regularly had epileptic fits despite of his medication.

It was not clear which hearing conditions Georg had.

Early Intervention

He got homebound early intervention throughout all his pre school time.

Georgs school career:

Start of school: the nearest special school did not accept Georg at that time  because he was too seriously  handicapped. An elementary school with additional special classes for children with special needs 15 kilometres away had accepted the boy. His special teacher was Christian who really got involved with Georg and accompanied him during all his school career.

A stay of a few months in a special hospital retreated the development.

for deaf blind children would be best for their child.

Georg attended this class for three years.

Special treatment of our service:

Usually a visit of two hours per week was possible.

Emphasis during the first years: A long time of assessment of his vision was necessary. We worked with self prepared tools from “Vision for Doing” by Marianna Buultjens and Stuart Aitkens.

Georgs vision:  In extreme darkness he was able to react to light or even follow the light. But he was not able to integrate this vision into his normal environment.

Georgs hearing ability: together with a peripatetic teacher of the Centre for the Hearing Impaired we assessed his hearing. He did not react on heavy noises but has been reacting on very high tunes. A special doctor confirmed that the boy has a central hearing problem as well.

Special visual training: We constructed a dark room in the class in which we used the special slides of Wuerzburg and the programme Lilly and Gogo.

The class mates enjoyed and improved with the materials but it did not show an effect on Georg.

Our emphasis lay in ADL: Helping to improve his eating abilities. Helping to develop more self awareness and body image and a little bit of independence like helping to dress or to change nappies, wash his hands or walk short distances.

He was able to walk but had no motivation to do it.

To create a special environment in a part of the big classroom where he had support to stand, a little cupboard to sit in with different textures,

his favourite trampoline and his couch to sit and lay down.

As we found out that Georg got an understanding of objects, i.e. when he got a fork in his hand he brought it to the mouth, we started to work with objects of reference.

When he had changed to the regular class I had to use a lot of my time to enhance sensitive understanding of his class mates.

How is it to be blind?

How is it to be physically impaired?

He had a special care person (trained as a nurse for elder people to help them in their homes) during 3 hours a day who was there for eating sessions, toiletting and some time of play. We worked closely together and she worked on our common targets.

The 9 years old children accepted him. Some of them particularly enjoyed it to drive his wheelchair during break times in the yard.

In that class we started with the activities on the big boom. After some weeks of working with him in a separated environment he started to answer with beats.

Transition to secondary school

The class was overloaded with 7 children with special needs ( some of them experiencing behavioural problems). Because of unlucky circumstances it had not been possible to inform the staff of the secondary school properly. The teachers developed a lot of resistance after a grand fit of Georg during the teaching lessons. The classmates seemed to have more sense of how to react to an epileptic fit and calmed down some of the teachers.

Then it was possible to sit together and discuss the issues. But especially those teachers who did not attend the discussion and even did not teach in that class stirred up the opinion against Georg’s presence in the class.

How can you teach to a deaf blind boy mathematics, German or Geography? It was not easy to understand that social integration was the point.

Instead to sit and read and write and listen this pupil was rocking, making sounds, playing with his toys and having his lunchtime.

But even this boy improved steadily although in minimal steps.

Report (Förderprotokoll)

In a list we collected all activities and targets and made notes about George’s improvements for each other.

The list contained:

Social awareness and communication

Body awareness

Understanding of the environment




Motor skills

Communication activities like work on the Big Boom, drumming, switch training

Understanding of Signs

Cooperation in getting on the bus etc

The list was an important tool to monitor Georgs school days. It was important to show it to the other secondary teachers that even Georg was learning and what exactly was his programme.

As Georg was able to retain his familiar persons Christian, his care person, me and the class mates - this situation did not bother him. In my observations I could not find any signs for that. Sitting in the circle he sometimes started to make contact to his neighbours by touching them.

Christian invented some games to include Georg in the teaching programme; he attended some of the classes but the majority of the time had his own programme. And Georg could attend all school activities like summer or winter sport courses, class trips etc.

We improved the work with objects of reference (tactile objects for following situations and localisations) the motor development (walking short distances, walking steps) and his communication skills. To come into a dialogue with him was only possible on the big boom and one to one situations. The goal to teach him gaining an understanding of cause and effect by working with switches was not clearly met.

Acceptance by the teachers

At the end of the first school year the conflict among the staff was affecting everybody. It was possible to organise a moderated discussion led by a teacher from the centre of inclusion. A lot of bad moods where discussed. But the understanding between the groups won. The new school year started with a new school manager and an acceptance of Georg and his special crew.

Communication passport

As Georg had fulfilled his school duty o f nine years he had to leave the school in the third form.

In the last year our target was to prepare Georg for the transition to a day care centre for young people with MDVI.

One thing we prepared for that institution and for his surrounding was the communication passport:

The content:

That’s me: my family, my class and my teachers

How to make contact with me (objects of reference for persons)

How to touch my when I have to get up? Sit down, walk

What I do when I want to get up.

How to finish activities

My favourite activities

My daily living skills

My objects of reference

(Example and photos)

Social life in the class

This class was not easy to handle for the teachers because of the large number of children wit h special needs, some of them showing behavioural problems. Of course especially for them it was not easy to accept a boy like Georg. It belonged to their duties to help him. This was easy in the first class but got increasingly difficult with age and puberty. The presence of Georg was the topic in some social lessons. Some of his classmates disliked the noises or the saliva of Georg when they touched him or when he touched things.

During the last month we made a questionnaire for the classmates.

We wanted to find out the degree of acceptance and related feelings. It was done anonymously. 23 questionnaires (all) were returned.

What is your opinion about Georg?


7                                                                      14                                                        3

Some liked to play with him or to drive his wheelchair.

Some found that they did not have too much contact, but considered him alright


The noise disturbed them. But it got better with the time


He is disturbing sometimes


Would you rather not have him in your class?


7 said no and

It was good to get to know him

It was good that I learned how to deal with him


9 said yes

and one said yes, very much



Its not nice that we could only make tracks in the flat area because of his wheelchair.

He has the same right to go to school.


We have to take care of him.

We wouldn’t have some problems without him.

Because he was so loud and I can’t concentrate that well.

I didn’t like him earlier.


Can you find advantages in this mixture of pupils?


Positive  11

Yes because we learn how to deal with handicapped persons

Therefore we have games in the class

We will have advantages when we are working

It’s good to collect experience with persons with handicapped

Everybody could become handicapped and it’s good when people know what to do


Negative 6

No, I think we had disadvantages.

I am not against people with handicaps, but they are disturbing.

No, because this pupil can do nothing else but sit and eat and a few other things


Do you think it’s good when pupils like Georg


attend a local school with inclusion?

12 yes


Attend a special school in the main town?

12 yes


Can you remember a special adventure with Georg?

5 children mentioned adventures with him they had during the school sport week (skiing and swimming?

Two events had been special:

We saw a big waterfall. Georg could stand there with the help of his teacher. He was perceiving the situation. And I found it very calming.

Or another one wrote

I was sleeping in the same bunkbed. He was rocking like a boat, therefor I could sleep very well.

Three children mentioned their bad feelings when they saw him having an epileptic fit.

In our reflection of all the persons working with him, his mother and the head teacher, we concluded that on the whole it was a good experience.

And what is most important: Georg had seemed to like it and he had improved.

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