Observation and the "practiced eye"
Welcome to the Observation Tutorial!
Our first task as parents or educators is to observe children to determine if they are deafblind (i.e. have a dual sensory loss in vision and hearing). Often, this is complicated by the fact that many of these children have additional multiple disabilities.
"Observation is something we all do during most of our waking life. Because it is done automatically, we assume that it is relatively straightforward." (Aitken et al, 2000). This is not always the case. I first heard the expression "using the practiced eye" at a workshop several years ago where the presenter asserted that we did not do enough of this. What did the presenter mean? The "practiced eye" suggests a combination of knowing what to observe and how, and then using our experiences, knowledge and skills to guide us to come to conclusions. The more we practice this skill, the better we get at it. The "practiced eye" implies observation that looks for details and nuances in behaviors. It also suggests that when we are observing, we need to concentrate on the subject of observation without allowing ourselves to be distracted. When observing, remember that the child is the focus of our attention, NOT the child’s mother, or the teacher, or a colleague who is fascinated by what we are doing! It is also NOT the lunch date you have coming up, the argument you had this morning, your phone or your blackberry. It means focusing on the child and his environment, if it is impacting him in some special way! During an observation in a home or a classroom, it is a good idea to set some "ground rules" with the other adults in advance. Don’t feel hesitant to say something like, "I am going to observe Janey. While I do so, don’t be offended if I do not respond to what you are saying or doing. I will share my observations with you later. In fact, I want to compare notes with you and find out what you think." If a parent is the observer, he or she will need to document what they do and have their spouse determine that this is indeed so. Often we think we are doing something, but are really not.
Aitken et al (2000) remind us that we should never underestimate the observational skills of parents and that it is a sobering thought but often true that parents, not the medical profession, are often the first to realize if their child has sensory losses that affect their lives. Parents see their children in a variety of situations and at various times during the day, when they are in good or bad moods, when they are full of energy or have had a really good rest during the night.
Observation is done to gain information. It is in addition to written documentation such as medical information, documented assessments, and information found on various forms. Although we can gather an amount of useful information from the paperwork, nothing is more useful than watching and documenting what we actually see. What we learn from observation can guide us in identifying whether or not a child has sensory disabilities (and is deafblind), what motivators might work and what a child dislikes, what his/her needs might be, and how the environment (including people) impact his/her world. Each time we observe a child, the purpose may be different. Are we attempting to build an overall picture of a child? "WHO is Joey?" Are we trying to estimate a child’s skill levels in communication? Are we finding out more about how a child relates to others? Are we trying to make a list of likes and dislikes? Ultimately, from the information gleaned from observation, meaningful program goals and objectives can be written and put into practice. Keep in mind your observations provide you with a baseline from which to start and to which you can compare what happens as the child makes progress.