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Family Journal: A Deaf-blind Toddler Comes a Long Way

by Kurt and Stephanie Kavanaugh


Reprinted from News From Advocates for Deaf-Blind, Summer 1996, a publication of the National Family Association for Deaf-Blind.


Editor's Note: Early and intensive intervention services for blind and multiply disabled children can do much to prevent developmental delays and serious gaps in the acquirement of basic skills. Such services were clearly important factors in the life of this three-year-old toddler who began life with a serious medical condition in addition to his deaf-blindness.

Our son, Tyler, has come a long way! His birth, on June 2, 1993, changed our lives in ways we never imagined. When Tyler was one day old, a pediatric ophthalmologist told us that he was totally blind. Four days later, we were told that he was also deaf and had a life-threatening heart defect. We were overwhelmed!

We became involved with a program called First Steps (First Steps is also available in other states) soon after Tyler was born even before he left the hospital. First Steps is a statewide program designed to assist young children with special needs and their families. These special needs include problems that may be caused by low birth weight, developmental disabilities, vision or hearing loss, physical abnormalities, and other conditions. The program represents a cooperative effort of four state agencies, local hospitals, doctors, and therapists and other local agencies throughout Missouri.

At one month of age, Tyler began working with members of the infant team from the Children's Center for the Visually Impaired (CCVI). CCVI gave us hope. They believed us when we said that Tyler responded to a camera flash and showed us ways to stimulate the little bit of sight he might have. CCVI monitored his development and guided us in stimulating him in such areas as speech, mobility, and the use of any light perception he had. Tyler can now identify eleven colors on a computer screen and can find the door of the Center by going towards the outside light.

At age three months, Tyler's hearing was evaluated. It was determined that he was profoundly deaf in both ears and was fitted with hearing aids. He now communicates both by sign and voice and learns very quickly. For example, we were very surprised one day when, after being told the rule 'No shoes on the furniture,' he stripped off his shoes before climbing on his favorite chair! We still have hopes that he will learn to talk. First Steps covered the cost of his audiological exams, CAT scans of his ears, hearing aids, and an auditory trainer. The program has also provided additional hearing and vision tests which were required over the past two years.

Tyler was physically weak until after he had open-heart surgery at age six months. He needed physical therapy just to help him learn to hold up his head. A therapist from the Children's Therapeutic Learning Center worked with us both at home and at the Center twice each week. She helped us teach Tyler how to sit up, crawl, and acquire many other gross motor skills. In addition, aquatic physical therapy gave him the needed balance to learn to walk at age two. Tyler now walks with a white cane wherever he goes and is not afraid to explore the world around him. Like most three-year olds, he climbs on chairs to play with light switches and water faucets. First Steps continues to provide needed materials and services such as speech therapy, sign language books and classes, developmental toys, Braille/tactile books, auditory-verbal therapy, orientation and mobility instruction, and an intervenor for school.

Thanks to early intervention, Tyler is now, in many ways, a typical three-year-old who is active, inquisitive, smart, cuddly, loving, demanding, and sometimes, even jealous of his baby brother Matthew. He eagerly attends preschool at CCVI five mornings a week, along with six other children. He signs more than 150 words in 8-9 word sentences. He plays on a MacIntosh computer, turns it on by himself, and pushes the mouse to activate different programs. He likes music, songs, books, swings, slides, and swimming pools.

Tyler's accomplishments continue to amaze us. He has shown us that his potential is limitless and we look forward to the future!

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