Raising a DeafBlind Baby

Clarisa Vollmar is not quite one year old but already has a worldwide Facebook following of more than 30,000 fans. They are keeping up with her as she grows, learns, and explores her world as a DeafBlind baby. 

That terminology is intentional, not a whim of random capitalization. Her parents, Justin and Rachel Vollmar, have introduced her to the world as DeafBlind, rather than deaf-blind or deaf and blind, in order to explicitly identify her with a community of DeafBlind people who are part of something called the pro-tactile movement. According to anthropologist Terra Edwards, who wrote a dissertation on the DeafBlind community, the pro-tactile movement is not quite an identity movement, but “a philosophy, which begins with the following axiom: Legitimate knowledge can be produced from a tactile perspective without first passing through visuality.”

In his book, Where I Stand: On the Signing Community and My DeafBlind Experience, DeafBlind poet and writer John Lee Clark talks about an unfortunate communication “bubble” that DeafBlind people have had to contend with. They have a “signing to the wall” feeling when they express themselves, not having access to any of the conversational feedback—nods, “uh-huh”s, smiles—that give an interaction vital energy. There are ways to convey those reactions through touch, and Clark describes a pro-tactile approach in terms of “tactile spaces, where DeafBlind people would enjoy equal access to information and participate fully.”

The Vollmars want to create such a space for Clarisa, and they have a special understanding of what such a thing might mean to her. Both parents and all three of Clarisa’s older siblings are Deaf in the “big D” sense of the word, meaning they view their Deafness as a cultural identity, rather than a medical condition. The father, Justin Vollmar, was lucky to have been raised in a Deaf family, and never realized how lucky he was until he once stayed with a hearing family for six weeks. He described the experience this way: 

"It drove me crazy. I never felt so frustrated before in my life. I could not understand what was going on at the dinner table. Everyone except for my host brother could not sign. I missed what they said. All of them talked and laughed at each other’s jokes. I kept asking what they were saying. They kept saying, 'wait a minute, I will tell you later.' (They never did). I finally understood that is what many Deaf people grew up with. They get left out at family gatherings and holidays. They are usually behind with family news. They are not sure if their grandfather died of a heart attack or from cancer. They just never know until years later. Some just give up and lose touch."

The Vollmars never wanted their daughter to experience this type of isolation: “When Clarisa was born, my wife Rachel and I immediately agreed that we will modify our family to Clarisa's needs and make sure that she is fully involved with family at all times.”

What is the best way to do that? They are figuring it out as they go along. Most DeafBlind people are born with some level of deafness and slowly lose their vision. They have early exposure to language and a visual concept of the world and social interactions. (Helen Keller also had this; she became DeafBlind as a toddler). A baby born DeafBlind doesn’t have that, and the case of DeafBlind from birth is very rare. The Vollmars have consulted with teachers, specialists, other parents of DeafBlind children, and importantly, DeafBlind pro-tactile advocates. They have made public their journey to find the best way for Clarisa, and it’s a remarkable model of how a family can bring a child into their world by being truly attentive to her view of the world.

For example, in this video, they explain the family rule that everyone must come and greet Clarisa when they come home so she knows they are there. They kiss her, sign “kiss” and “I love you” on her face, and move her own hands to sign “hello” and greet them, too.

They expose her to different textures as much as possible, encouraging her to handle and explore. And they are constantly exposing her to language. Here they explain how they sign with her in natural interactions. As she handles a ball, her father signs to her “ball” and “yes, daddy give ball” with his hands and then with her own hands. 

Clarisa’s story is inspiring, but not in the way one might think. There is no typical narrative here of her “overcoming barriers” or of others “breaking through” to her. She is not achieving “despite the odds” or “by working 10 times harder.” What’s inspiring is the way her family has adjusted to her unique perspective, in order to give her the most natural and effortless upbringing possible.

Follow Clarisa's story by becoming a fan of her Facebook page.

Videos used with permission of Justin Vollmar.

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Sorry, Kids: Soda is Now Banned From Children's Menus in Baltimore
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The war on sugary drinks continues. Following several cities that have passed laws allowing them to collect substantial sales tax on sodas and other sweetened beverages, Baltimore is taking things a step further. A new ordinance that went into effect Wednesday will prohibit restaurants from offering soda on their kids’ menus.

Leana Wen, the city’s health commissioner, told the Associated Press that the ordinance was enacted to “help families make the healthy choice the easy choice.” Instead of soda, eateries will be expected to offer milk, water, and 100 percent fruit juices.

If you’re wondering what will stop children from sipping soda ordered by an adult escort, the answer is—nothing. Business owners will not be expected to swat Pepsi out of a child’s hand. The effort is intended to get both parents and children thinking about healthier alternatives to sodas, which children consume with regularity. A 2017 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that 30 percent of kids aged 2 to 19 consumed two or more servings a day, which can contribute to type 2 diabetes, obesity, cavities, and other adverse effects.

Businesses in violation of this kid-targeted soda prohibition will be fined $100. Baltimore joins seven cities in California and Lafayette, Colorado, which have similar laws on the books.

[h/t The Baltimore Sun]

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7 Reasons Why You Should Let Your Kid Get Bored This Summer
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No matter how excited kids are for summer break, after a few weeks without school, they can start to feel a little bored. But as a parent, you shouldn't drive yourself crazy scheduling playdates, lessons, and other organized activities for your restless progeny. Instead, turn off the iPad, put down the camp brochure, and let them sit around the house moaning “I'm bored”—it can be good for them.

1. BOREDOM PROMOTES CREATIVITY ...

Research suggests the experience of boredom can lead to greater creativity because it allows minds to wander. In one 2014 study, researchers asked a group of participants to undertake boring activities like copying down telephone numbers from a directory. Then, they were tested for creativity—they had to come up with as many uses for a pair of foam cups as they could think of. The participants who had endured the boring tasks ended up thinking up more uses for the cups than those who hadn't. Boredom, the researchers wrote, "can sometimes be a force for good."

This isn't an entirely new idea. Another study conducted in Canada in the 1980s provides further evidence that boredom isn't always a bad thing: It found that kids who lived in towns with no televisions scored higher on imagination-related tests than kids who had TVs. Imagine what disconnecting from all of the screens available now could do for a kid's creativity.

2. ... AND MAKES THEM MORE INDEPENDENT.

Boredom can force kids to generate their own ideas about what they'd like to do—and what's feasible—then direct their own activities independently. "If parents spend all their time filling up their child's spare time, then the child's never going to learn to do this for themselves," Lyn Fry, a child psychologist, told Quartz in 2016. "Being bored is a way to make children self-reliant."

3. BOREDOM FOSTERS PROBLEM SOLVING.

In The Boredom Solution: Understanding and Dealing with Boredom, teacher and author Linda Deal advises that it's important to let kids learn to deal with their boredom themselves because it helps them learn to make decisions about how to use their free time. They need to learn to "see the problem of boredom as one within their control," she writes, which can help them come up with constructive ways to solve it rather than simply getting hopeless or angry about it, as kids sometimes do in situations they don't have control over. Kids learn that boredom isn't an insurmountable obstacle.

4. IT MOTIVATES THEM TO SEEK NEW EXPERIENCES.

In a 2012 study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, researchers sought to define what, exactly, boredom is. "At the heart of it is our desire to engage with the world or some other mental activity, and that takes attention," co-author Mark Fenske, an associate professor at the University of Guelph, explained at the time. "When we cannot do this—that seems to be what leads to frustration and the aversive state we call 'boredom.'" When kids (and adults) are bored, especially with activities that were once engaging, they're motivated to try new things.

5. BOREDOM CAN HELP THEM MAKE FRIENDS ...

According to a pair of psychologists from Texas A&M University, boredom might have a social role. They argue that it "expresses to others that a person is seeking change and stimulation, potentially prompting others to respond by assisting in this pursuit." Being bored can push kids to go out and be more social, and have fun through activities. When there's not much to do, hanging out with the new kid down the block (or even your little brother) suddenly seems a lot more appealing.

6. ... AND FIGURE OUT THEIR INTERESTS.

Both at school and at home, kids are often required to participate in a range of activities. Having the time and space to do nothing can help kids figure out what they actually like to do. "Children need to sit in their own boredom for the world to become quiet enough that they can hear themselves," psychologist Vanessa Lapointe writes at the Huffington Post. This downtime allows kids to direct their own activities without adult input. Pressed to come up with their own entertainment, they might discover a love of writing plays, baking cookies, biking, crafting, or perfecting their jump shot.

7. IT CAN HELP THEM FIND MEANING IN THEIR LIVES.

According to one 2011 study, boredom forced people to reflect on meaning in their lives, prompting them to seek out meaningful activities like donating blood. While the study only examined adults, who may be more inclined to search for purpose, boredom can nonetheless push kids to undertake activities they might otherwise find unappealing—whether that means helping out with the dishes or agreeing to go volunteer for the day—or could even inspire them to make the world a better place.

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