Communication the key to ‘wider world’

Student Clair Burton officially opens the new sensory garden watched by deputy manager Ben Brown, principal Pat Dyson (centre) and acting education services manager Sue Larner-Peet. Photo (TIM WILSON): SG230612-141TW
Student Clair Burton officially opens the new sensory garden watched by deputy manager Ben Brown, principal Pat Dyson (centre) and acting education services manager Sue Larner-Peet. Photo (TIM WILSON): SG230612-141TW

FROM the moment visitors step through the door of Sense’s Glenside Resource Centre at Pinchbeck they are entering a different world.

It’s the world of the deafblind where staff have become skilled communicators using the language of touch or hand.

That language begins from the moment people arrive, to be greeted by education services administrator Kim Fovargue or Dawn Pacey, who is also secretary to the area manager, as both of them are trained to communicate with people who are deafblind.

However, it is the language that most of us are more familiar with that staff have been using this week to get their message across in Deafblind Awareness Week.

The centre opened its doors on Saturday afternoon and invited people to see some of the work and celebrate the achievements of the 28 adults who visit the resource centre. The staff took the opportunity to officially open a new multi-sensory garden, a beautiful, creative space made possible thanks to community support and the donation of garden furniture by Lloyd Loom.

Visitors were also invited to experience, for a short time, the world of the deafblind, with ear defenders and a blindfold used to help simulate the experience. For normally sighted and hearing people, that can be a scary, isolating experience.

There are not many people who have no vision and no hearing, but for those who lack both those senses, Sense staff have the skills to enter their world.

Acting education services manager Sue Larner-Peet explains: “You might touch their shoulder and run your hand down to their hand to tell them you are there and invite them to work with you, with your hand under theirs. It’s gentle and a co-active, shared experience using touch.

“We don’t get many people who aren’t communicating, but we get some and we can develop their communication further because you go into their world and do what’s meaningful to them. For instance, for someone who finds if meaningful to rock, you might get very close to them and rock with them and over time they realise this person is enjoying rocking with them, so you are in their world. Over months and years, you are helping that person to discover they can find out about the world, with people to communicate with and experiences to share.”

However, Sue says a lot of people who go to the centre have some residual vision or hearing, and staff maximise that, using photographs or sign for those with a little vision, or verbal instructions and demonstrations for those who can hear during the many and varied activities that go on both at the centre and off-site.

The Glenside Resource Centre is one of eight that make up Sense College – there is another centre in Bourne. The adults who go there are aged between 18 and the mid-50s and are either continuing their formal education or, and this applies to the majority of the adults, they are accessing therapies and recreation. Everybody has a personal programme and takes part, in small groups helped by support workers as well as qualified teachers, in anything from photography and film making to cooking or horse riding.

Most people who attend the centre were born deafblind, some as a result of rubella or other syndromes and problems that cause sensory and physical impairment.

The tests commonly carried out on babies today means diagnosis and early intervention – which is important – is now possible, whereas at one time it might not have been diagnosed until children were three or four.

Sue says: “Essentially, hearing and vision are the tools we use to gather information, as well as the other senses. If you think of a baby who cannot see or hear, they don’t know there is a world out there or that there are people interacting with them. It’s a very frightening place, so very specialised intervention is needed to work with gentle touch and massage to get babies to begin to learn they can gather information by other means. We have to really develop the use of other senses to compensate.

“If you have early intervention and children are taught to use touch or talk with their hands, you have that in place by the time they start formal education, but it wouldn’t have been at one time. Some of our older people have difficulties with communication and a lot of work has been put in place to teach them methods of communication.

“It’s going from isolation to sharing and opening up to new experiences in a wider world. To watch a skilled practitioner at work is a magical thing.”