My Own Evolution

by Dr. Jan van Dijk on Nov 30, 2001
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Dr. van Dijk discusses the evolution of his scientific and practical work.

Reprint permission, courtesy of Dr. Jan van Dijk, 2001

I. Education situation

After the rubella epidemics in Europe in the early sixties the question was raised how to educate and manage multi-sensory impaired children. The available literature on deafblind education was not very useful for solving the problems of the 'new' population of deafblind children. Since so many of the students functioned at the early sensory-motor levels [Piaget] educational methods often emphasized simple motor skills such as bead stringing, pegs in holes, jigsaw puzzles etc. In that time educational theorists and practitioners were not aware of the unpredictable line of development of these youngsters. It was assumed that when simple skills [e.g. using a sign] was acquired in one situation the child would use his ability in another situation. In order to facilitate generalization, in our work we have emphasized a functional learning environment. This was centered around the natural events of the days: bathing, dressing, eating, etc. All educators involved, teachers, teacher-aids, house mothers participated in these activities. 'Sharing-the-situation' as we called it, enhanced the communication between professionals including parents. This was very essential, because the line of development of every child was so unique that only by discussing the next developmental step from a 'mutually shared experience' had effect on the realization of the educational plan. This romantic idea was modified during the years. It was recognized that some activities could not always be taught within the framework of a group in a functional way. However, when the 'group-setting' as the foundation for education was left and the children were merely taught on an individual base the behavioral problems increased. After 30 years the circle is closed again, the unity between all educations involved will be restored by adopting the group-situation' as the most favorable situation to facilitate generalization of learning experiences.

II. a. From co-active movement to 'appropriate sensitive responsiveness'

Our early work and writings were dominated by the idea of educator and child, 'moving-acting-together'. It was felt that only working very closely together with the child the teacher could sense the child reluctance to get involved in a new experience. It was assumed that by hands-on experience the teacher could set a model for the child which he could imitate. It should be recognized that in some instances this model was forced upon the child. The important advantage was that the educator was physically involved with the child. Through this close relationship he/she was able to adjust his/her self to the child's level of competence. In the last two decades this educational approach got a strong support from the worldwide recognized and researched theory of 'attachment'. Appropriate responsiveness is recognized as the basis for emotional well-being and socialization and internal locus of control.

b. From hands-on to hands-off

The co-active movement theory applied by persons who are not sensitive enough of the child's level of competence has led in some instances to create learned helplessness in the child. During the years we have advocated also the principles of 'gradually taking hands-off' and have emphasized the educational benefit of carrying out independent self rewarding tasks.

III. From 'natural-symbols' to the selection of an appropriate communication system

An early educational practice was influenced by the work of Werner and Kaplan. These developmental psychologists emphasized in their theory of normal language development the stage in which the child discovered the similarity between object and referent [e.g. onomatopeic sounds, natural gestures]. These natural symbols were often discovered by the child himself and therefore very individual. The principle of creating for a certain period of time a repertoire of individual symbols is still an idea which we strongly advocate. It has been criticized by persons who emphasize that communication is transmission of information between persons. Effective participation in this transmission is only possible when the 'same language is spoken'. This critique overlooks the tremendous problems of motivation often seen in multi-sensory impaired persons in wanting to communicate with other persons. This barrier can be overcome by promoting simple 'home-made'. forms of expression [see similar ideas in Lewis Jackson: Best practices in communication facilitation, JASH) Fall 19931. This principle has been supported over the year by research in the area of dyspraxia. It appears that the development of sensory-motor skills and the memory for remembering these motor-patterns can be so seriously delayed despite training that it determines the selection of the methods of communication. Several studies have reported on the effect of 'easy systems' such as:

  • reference books
  • calendar boxes
  • tangible symbol systems
  • pars pro-toto drawings.

IV. Personal conclusion after more than 30 years of scientific and practical work

The multi-sensory impaired person is a unique human being with a unique line of development which is more dependent from the professional's willingness to accept this and act accordingly than any other group of disables persons.

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