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Dolphin therapy as a part of the emotional development of children

 with a visual impairment

Focus Area: Early Intervention

Topic: Living Skills

Nasibulova Elena

The Head of Parents of the V.I  Rehabilitation Center “Mother and I”

Souznyi prospect 24-4

Moscow 111396


Tel: (095) 301-24-07.  Fax: (095) 241-89-27

E-mail: nasibulova@mtu-net.ru

    “ I want to open the  whole world to my  child …but how can I do it ? ”

Tell me, please, when should I start to teach my blind child to listen the rustle of falling leaves, to catch rain drops by her lips, to touch the bark fingers and  distinguish the trees? When  should I give her a small warm puppy with a smell of milk, takes her hand in my own and to show her what is love, kindness, caress. At what age the blind child should feel the sense of violent wind, the sense of speed  and the sense of loneliness? 

“ We open the eyes and day begins. But your morning is different – at first you hear my voice, then you feel me touching you… then I take you in my arms and carry to the window. You cheeks are catching the sunbeam, your little fingers are touching  the sunlight…afterwards I’ll bring to you yellow watercolor and we shall draw the sun…”- That was some years ago. 

The sense of warmth, a tree outside the window, your fingers dirty with yellow paint. I remembered all this watching the dolphin during the performance in the dolphinarium . It was “painting” a picture. The brush was dipped into paint beforehand. The dolphin clutching  the brush between the teeth awkwardly “draws” it is picture, then the color is changed and in a few moments the ”painting”  is over. This “picture” books like the pictures of our children.

I closed my eyes and thought that millions of people had never touched dolphins. One thought had struck  me: holding the elastic flipper, diving together with a dolphin  my girl will receive quite another idea about this world. Exactly the dolphin will widen the boarders of her perception, will show her the depth of it’s elements – the water. I was shaken by this thought. My child will be able “to see” the life of this beautiful, graceful, high intellectual and sociable animal in it’s own element!

A new side of perception – the life under the water – will be available to her.

In a week I brought the first child with visual impairment to Utrish dolphinarium . After a month six children took part in dolphin therapy. Three months late I was standing my self on the platform as an instructor. This way a year and a half ago our project “Dolphin therapy for visual impaired children.” had begun .We put many tasks before our self , but the main aim was to wide the borders of perception of visually impaired children, to strength the emotional and sensual experience of their contact with dolphins. Exactly at that time the idea of dolphin therapy as a part of emotional education of VI children came into existence.

“You know, mummy, when I am on the dolphin I feel him by my tummy. He is so elastic and salty, he wants to play with me!

   Mummy, he pushed me with his tail! Purposely! May I kiss him?

   Look, mummy, he himself touches me!”

Helen Butova, the collaborator of the  Utrish  dolphinatium  helped me to work with VI children. She was a pediatrician by education and during three years she had been working with disabled children and dolphins.

 At first we put simple tasks:

 We had lessons once a week during half an hour. Usually there were 4 dolphins and 2 white whales in the swimming pool. The dolphins jumped onto the platform, they allowed children to examine them. First we compared the body of dolphin with the body of a child :”Touch his right flipper, I can’t catch, what is his form? Where are dolphin’s eyes, where are yours? etc “ Lying on the platform we tried to touch the dolphin in the water, to stroke, to scratch him.

We couldn’t learn to play ball with dolphins at once: our children were unable to see where the ball was flying. We orientate the VI children on sound. Staying on the platform and holding kiddy by hands I let the VI child down until he/she stood on the back of dolphin or white whale. We began imitating their voices, we distinguished voices dolphin and white whale. As soon as dolphin jumped from the water onto the platform our children were the first who stretched their hands for him.

In May 2001 a group of 6 VI children ( 3-6 years ) was taken off to St. Petersburg to contact the dolphins swimming with them. We spent their 10 days. The plan of our lessons in St.-Petersburg was like this : 15 min. we worked on the platform then 15 min. we spent in the water.  During first part of the lessons( on the platform) we made more detailed inspection of the dolphin:

- measuring the length of the animal by child’s steps or sometimes the child lied next to the dolphin to see who was bigger.         

-“greeting” the dolphin, touching  him by all parts of child’s body: fingers, elbows, belly,     back, nose, lips etc.

-“examining” by hands (often hand in hand) where the eyes and flippers were situated, how many teeth he had, etc.

-developing the ability to express his/ her feelings and emotions

-“spare time”- when the child could be occupied with dolphin in his/her own way

During second part of the lesson children were in the swimming pool together with dolphin. The VI child should be ready to contact the dolphin exactly in the water – that was our main scheme. “Look, the dolphin is smiling, he wants you to swim together. Touch him, his skin is so tender and elastic…Call him…” When our first baby  jumped from the  platform towards the dolphin maybe simply to beside him , we were happy.

After a year intensive work in Moscow , in April 2002  we left for St.-Petersburg again. This trip once more showed me that resources  possibilities of VI Children practically boundless…if you had a strong desire to help them.

 This is a fragment from my notes made in St.-Petersburg :

“The length of the wall in dolfinarium is about 25 met., it is made of glass therefore sunbeams pierce through the greenish water and the patches of sunlight are seen on the dark backs of the animals  . You  are sitting and listening to soft splashes of water. A small blind child… It seems to me that you are not here yet, you are plunged in your own thoughts. The dolphin comes slowly and gently knocks against your feet. My hands pass ahead of your , I caress the dolphin and you also reach for him.

 You are lying down your belly, your head almost touches the surface of the water, you are trying to hold the dolphin by your hands: ”Don’t go away, let’s play.” A moment later you sink into the water , you are almost lying on the dolphin’s back ,your imitation of his voice is so masterly that I am amazed. I can’t control myself , I change my voice and start the performance:’ I love you so…I want to tеll  you it is wonderful to be a dolphin.” I don’t know why I’ve done this, but you paused for a moment, then in a little bit changed voice you said: “ I  love you, too. .Now you will always talk to me?” And I began to tell you about green water at a depth and blue water at a bank, about freedom I loved, about water which  was as sweet as warm wind. I suggest you to dive and listen the dolphin’s conversation at a depth  .You slightly lower your head under the water and at once begin to rub your

eyes and touch and your lips- the water is very salty. You hold the flipper and sin under the water again. “ I hear ,I hear him speaking” and you already swim beside the dolphin. You press yourself to him and begin to tell me about upper flipper of you “ little dolphin”- it is inner side is hot and  out side is cool and it is true. You explain to us that your little friend is the best in the whole world and now you can swim, dive, and breathe just like he can. You even know his language.

Suddenly you ask:” Dolphin, may I enter to your family?” But the dolphin has got tired, he stands still and keeps silent. You say :”Helen, talk to me like a dolphin, you know how to do it, please” You have realized that it was a play and it is wonderful.

There were six boys and girls and everyone associated with dolphin with in his/her own way. And everyone became a “little dolphin” and wrote a short fairytale for the sea friend.. Every day everybody painted pictures for dolphins.

We sit down at the table opposite the window, a sheet of paper is in front of us, the water-colors stand beside. I name each color. We recall the colors of depth, sun, joy, rain…You yourself tell me what color you need. Your fingers are moving along the sheet of paper. We are drawing for our emotions.

We came to say good-bye to dolphins. Your eyes are full of tears, my little boy,  and they are real salty and bitter. You stand on the  platforms and show your pictures to dolphins. You are sad, your arms are trembling.

Dolphins opened a new world for you and we only tried our best to explain you that there were such feelings as love, tenderness, devotion, faith, separation, beauty and freedom. This world belongs to you , remember it ! “

Dedicated to my young pupils, who see only the light: Vanua, Dasha, Kirill, Nastya, Anya, Borya, Alisa, Danila and all the other…


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