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This Mattered to Me

"Play and Recreation Habits of Youths Who Are Deaf-Blind," by Lauren J. Lieberman and Janet M. MacVicar, published in the December 2003 issue of the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, Volume 97, Number 12, pp. 755-768.

Recommended by Louis M. Tutt

Print edition page number(s) 435-436

The series editor of "This Mattered to Me" is Stuart H. Wittenstein, Ed.D., superintendent of the California School for the Blind.

I chose to highlight the article entitled "Play and Recreation Habits of Youths Who Are Deaf-Blind," written by Lauren J. Lieberman and Janet M. MacVicar, when I was invited to contribute to the "This Mattered to Me" column because I worked to influence the play and recreation habits of students with deaf-blindness at the inception of my career, and this article by Lieberman and MacVicar highlights why physical activity remains an important need for children with deaf-blindness today. When I started in the field of visual impairment and blindness in 1971, I was assigned to teach 35 students who were deaf-blind because of rubella at the Michigan School for the Blind. Although I had spent two years in graduate school studying the areas of physical education and visual disabilities, I did not have any experience working with young deaf-blind children before I started teaching at the school. Although I had been a physical education teacher in public schools in Virginia and also a football and track coach, becoming a motor skills instructor to a group of children with deaf-blindness was a significant challenge, and one that I did not like for the first six months. After that, however, I began to master some of the challenges, mostly because of the help of the excellent staff of professionals--fifth-year interns from Michigan State University, a teacher from Amsterdam, and administrators--with experience in working with children with deaf-blindness at the Michigan School for the Blind.

I was encouraged by the staff to continue working with the students with deaf-blindness, and I came to realize that the students were in great need of what I could teach them: motor skills, motor development, and motor activity. I began to see these young children with deaf-blindness learn to like motor activities and acquire skills that led toward spontaneous play and enjoyment. I witnessed firsthand the far-reaching effects of the skills I taught as the students became more attentive in their classrooms and with their classroom teachers. Seeing the effects of my hard work was the breakthrough I needed, proving that my professional background in the field of physical education was something substantial I could offer these students.

One of the authors of the article I am recommending, Lauren Lieberman, and I have collaborated from time to time, although we worked in different schools. She was a physical education teacher at Perkins School for the Blind when I was president of the Maryland School for the Blind during the 1990s. She would often "pick my brain" about my work in the 1970s with deaf-blind children. It was a pleasure collaborating with her because, as we talked about my past and my work with children with deaf-blindness, she often was able to apply my ideas and suggestions in her work with deaf-blind children at Perkins.

Dr. Lieberman believes, as do I, that play and recreation are very important to persons with deaf-blindness, and she supports this belief in her article. Dr. Lieberman points out that play and recreation often lead to more family interaction and social activity, which is a precursor to independent activity and play apart from family. I hope persons reading this article will gain a better understanding of how important play and recreation are for deaf-blind individuals, the importance of family input and support for play and recreation activities, as well as the need for self-determination of deaf-blind individuals.

Back in 1972, the principal of the Michigan School for the Blind was so impressed with my work during my first year at the school that she wanted others in the field of visual impairment and blindness to see what was happening at her school. She arranged to make a film of my work with the group of children with deaf-blindness to take to that summer's conference of the Association for Education of the Visually Handicapped (one of the predecessors of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired). My deaf-blind students and their teachers were on a picnic the day the principal arranged for the filming, and she ordered the teachers to bring the students back to the campus. You can imagine the teachers and students were very angry at having their picnic abruptly canceled, but nevertheless the filming was done. The original black-and-white film has been converted to VHS tape, and may someday be put on DVD. I still have a copy of the videotape in my possession, and I show it every now and then.

When I watch that videotape of my work with these students 36 years ago, I am amazed by and appreciative of those students, their families, and the Michigan School for the Blind for giving me that wonderful opportunity to make a contribution to students with deaf-blindness and opening the doors to many other opportunities throughout my career. All my work in the field of blindness I owe to those 35 deaf-blind students from the Michigan School for the Blind, who are now in their mid- to late-40s. Wow! The most amazing thing about this enduring first professional accomplishment is that the need for play and recreation by students with deaf-blindness has not lessened over the years. You are encouraged to read the article highlighted in this piece, and apply its findings, or its suggestions for further research, to your own practice, research, and teaching.

On the web

The article relating to this commentary is available free to subscribers at JVIB Online: <>. Nonsubscribers may purchase a copy of the article from AFB's ePublications web site: <>.

Louis M. Tutt, M.Ed.., principal, School for the Blind, Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind, 33 North Institute Street, Colorado Springs, CO 80903; e-mail: <>.

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