CLOSE

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.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
science
Reading Aloud to Your Kids Can Promote Good Behavior and Sharpen Their Attention
iStock
iStock

Some benefits of reading aloud to children are easy to see. It allows parents to introduce kids to books that they're not quite ready to read on their own, thus improving their literacy skills. But a new study published in the journal Pediatrics shows that the simple act of reading to your kids can also influence their behavior in surprising ways.

As The New York Times reports, researchers looked at young children from 675 low-income families. Of that group, 225 families were enrolled in a parent-education program called the Video Interaction Project, or VIP, with the remaining families serving as the control.

Participants in VIP visited a pediatric clinic where they were videotaped playing and reading with their children, ranging in age from infants to toddlers, for about five minutes. Following the sessions, videos were played back for parents so they could see how their kids responded to the positive interactions.

They found that 3-year-olds taking part in the study had a much lower chance of being aggressive or hyperactive than children in the control group of the same age. The researchers wondered if these same effects would still be visible after the program ended, so they revisited the children 18 months later when the kids were approaching grade-school age. Sure enough, the study subjects showed fewer behavioral problems and better focus than their peers who didn't receive the same intervention.

Reading to kids isn't just a way to get them excited about books at a young age—it's also a positive form of social interaction, which is crucial at the early stages of social and emotional development. The study authors write, "Such programs [as VIP] can result in clinically important differences on long-term educational outcomes, given the central role of behavior for child learning."

Being read to is something that can benefit all kids, but for low-income parents working long hours and unable to afford childcare, finding the time for it is often a struggle. According to the 2011-2012 National Survey of Children’s Health, only 34 percent of children under 5 in families below the poverty line were read to every day, compared with 60 percent of children from wealthier families. One way to narrow this divide is by teaching new parents about the benefits of reading to their children, possibly when they visit the pediatrician during the crucial first months of their child's life.

[h/t The New York Times]

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Chris Jackson, Getty Images
arrow
Lists
21 Other Royal Babies Born In The Last 20 Years
Chris Jackson, Getty Images
Chris Jackson, Getty Images

by Kenny Hemphill

At 11:01 a.m. on April 23, 2018, the Royal Family got a new member when it was announced that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge have welcomed their third child, a (yet-to-be-named) boy, who will become fifth in line to the throne. While William and Kate's three children may be the youngsters closest to the throne, they're not the only pint-sized descendants of Queen Elizabeth II to be born in the past 20 years. Here are 21 more of them.

1. ARTHUR CHATTO

Arthur Robert Nathaniel Chatto, who turned 19 years old February 5, is the younger son of Lady Sarah and Daniel Chatto. He is 23rd in the line of succession—and has been raising some royal eyebrows with his penchant for Instagram selfies.

2. CHARLES ARMSTRONG-JONES, VISCOUNT LINLEY

The grandson of Lord Snowden and Princess Margaret, and son of the 2nd Earl and Countess of Snowdon, Charles—who was born on July 1, 1999—is the heir apparent to the Earldom of Snowdon.

3. LADY MARGARITA ARMSTRONG-JONES

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II (R) speaks to Serena Armstrong-Jones, Countess of Snowdon (L), David Armstrong-Jones (2L), 2nd Earl of Snowdon, and Lady Margarita Armstrong-Jones (2R).
JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images

Born on May 14, 2002, Lady Margarita is sister to Charles Armstrong-Jones, and great-niece to the Queen. She's 20th in line to the throne.

4. LADY LOUISE WINDSOR

Lady Louise Windsor is the eldest child and only daughter of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, and Sophie, Countess of Wessex. She was born on November 8, 2003 and is 11th in line for the throne.

5. ELOISE TAYLOR

The third child of Lady Helen and Timothy Taylor, Eloise Olivia Katherine Taylor was born on March 2, 2003 and is 43rd in line for the throne.

6. ESTELLA TAYLOR

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge chats to Estella Taylor on the balcony during Trooping the Colour - Queen Elizabeth II's Birthday Parade, at The Royal Horseguards on June 14, 2014 in London, England
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Eloise's younger sister, Estella Olga Elizabeth Taylor, was born on December 21, 2004. She is the youngest of the four Taylor children and is 44th in succession.

7. JAMES, VISCOUNT SEVERN

The younger child of Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, and Sophie, Countess of Wessex, James Alexander Philip Theo Mountbatten-Windsor—or Viscount Severn—was born on December 17, 2007 and is 10th in line for the throne.

8. ALBERT WINDSOR

Albert Louis Philip Edward Windsor, born September 22, 2007, is notable for being the first royal baby to be baptized a Catholic since 1688. He is the son of Lord and Lady Nicholas Windsor, and grandson of the Duke and Duchess of Kent. According to the Act of Settlement, which was passed in 1701, being baptized Catholic would automatically exclude a potential royal from the line of succession. But there was some controversy surrounding this when, up until 2015, the Royal Family website included Albert.

9. XAN WINDSOR

Lord Culloden, Xan Richard Anders Windsor, is son to the Earl of Ulster and Claire Booth, and grandson of the Duke of Gloucester. He was born on March 2, 2007 and is 26th in succession.

10. LEOPOLD WINDSOR

Like his older brother Albert, Leopold Windsor—who was born on September 8, 2009—is not in line to the throne, by virtue of being baptized a Roman Catholic (though he, too, was listed on the Royal Family's website for a time).

11. SAVANNAH PHILLIPS

Autumn Phillips, Isla Phillips, Peter Philips and Savannah Phillips attend Christmas Day Church service at Church of St Mary Magdalene on December 25, 2017 in King's Lynn, England
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Savannah Anne Kathleen Phillips, the Queen's first great-grandchild, was born on December 29, 2010 to Peter Phillips, son of Princess Anne and Mark Phillips, and Autumn Kelly. She is 14th in line for the throne.

12. SENNA LEWIS

Senna Kowhai Lewis, who was born on June 2, 2010, is the daughter of Gary and Lady Davina Lewis, elder daughter of Prince Richard, Duke of Gloucester. She was a beneficiary of the Succession to the Crown Act 2013, which abolished the practice of giving sons precedence over daughters in the line of succession, regardless of when they are born. As a result, she is 29th in succession.

13. LYLA GILMAN

Daughter of Lady Rose and George Gilman, and granddaughter of Prince Richard, 2nd Duke of Gloucester, Lyla Beatrix Christabel Gilman was born on May 30, 2010. She is 32nd in succession.

14. COSIMA WINDSOR

Lady Cosima Rose Alexandra Windsor was born on May 20, 2010. She is sister to Lord Culloden, daughter of the Earl of Ulster and Claire Booth, and granddaughter to the Duke of Gloucester. She's 27th in line for the throne.

15. RUFUS GILMAN

Lyla Gilman's brother, Rufus, born in October 2012, is 33rd in line for the throne.

16. TĀNE LEWIS

Tāne Mahuta Lewis, Senna's brother, was named after a giant kauri tree in the Waipoua Forest of the Northland region of New Zealand. He was born on May 25, 2012 and is 30th in line for the throne, following the Succession to the Crown Act 2013.

17. ISLA PHILLIPS

Princess Anne, Princess Royal, Isla Phillips and Peter Phillips attend a Christmas Day church service
Chris Jackson/Getty Images

Peter and Autumn Phillips's second and youngest daughter, Isla Elizabeth Phillips, was born on March 29, 2012 and is 15th in succession.

18. MAUD WINDSOR

Maud Elizabeth Daphne Marina Windsor, the daughter of Lord Frederick and Lady Sophie of Windsor and granddaughter of Prince and Princess Michael of Kent, was born on August 15, 2013 and is 47th in line for the throne.

19. LOUIS WINDSOR

Louis Arthur Nicholas Felix Windsor, who was born on May 27, 2014, is the youngest child of Lord and Lady Nicholas Windsor, and brother of Leopold and Albert. As he was baptized into the Roman Catholic church, he's not in line to the throne.

20. MIA GRACE TINDALL

Mike Tindall, Zara Tindall and their daughter Mia Tindall pose for a photograph during day three of The Big Feastival at Alex James' Farm on August 28, 2016 in Kingham, Oxfordshire.
Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images

Daughter of Zara Phillips and her husband, former England rugby player Mike Tindall, Mia Grace Tindall was born on January 17, 2014 and is 17th in the line of succession.

21. ISABELLA WINDSOR

Isabella Alexandra May, the second and youngest daughter of Lord Frederick and Lady Sophie of Windsor, was the last addition to the royal family. In July 2016, she was christened at Kensington Palace wearing the same gown worn by both Prince George and Princess Charlotte (it's a replica of the one that Queen Victoria's children wore). Looking on was celebrity chef Jamie Oliver, who is one of Isabella's godparents.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios