Communication and Deafblindness, Special Needs Education, and New Perspectives on Deafblindness


  • Marleen J. Janssen



communication, deafblindness, special needs education, evidence-based, new perspectives


Introduction: In this valedictory lecture, the author presented new perspectives on deafblindness, by looking back at the studies performed in the field of Communication and Deafblindness from an educational perspective at the University of Groningen since her appointment as professor in 2008, preceded by her personal life story. Background Ph.D. Studies: In these studies, based on Single-Case-Research methodology, the aim was improving communication between individuals with congenital deafblindness and their educators (teachers, caregivers and parents) and evaluate the effects of the interventions in a mainly quantitative way. Building up evidence-based-practice was the central theme. In total, interventions were performed with 75 people with congenital deafblindness and their 175 educators. These communication interventions were based on attachment theory (Ainsworth, Bell, and Stayton, 1974) and Trevarthen’s intersubjectivity theory of (Braten and Trevarthen, 2007). The interventions were performed by well-trained communication coaches who conducted a cyclic diagnostic intervention approach, tailor-made for each individual case, in which video analysis and video feedback were crucial tools. Results Ph.D. Studies: Presented were the developed Models and Educational Instruments by the different Ph.D. researchers, and some crucial communication aspects from each model. Martens developed the Intervention Model of Affective Involvement, Bloeming-Wolbrink the Change Project, and Huiskens the Intervention Model for Tactile Communication. Interventions based on these models proved to be effective on the first and second layers of intersubjective communication and were focused on aspects such as attention, initiatives, positive emotions, affective involvement, meaning-making, and bodily emotional impressions. Damen developed the High Quality in Communication Intervention, Boers the Interaction Communication Analysis List, and Wolthuis the Layered Communication Model. Interventions based on these instruments proved to be effective on three layers of intersubjectivity, on aspects such as attunement, meaning-making, symbolic communication, declarative communication, and perspective-taking. Based on the Self-Determination theory of Deci and Ryan (2000 Haakma, developed the Need-Supportive Behavior Intervention, to enhance motivation in learning for both students with acquired and congenital deafblindness. It was concluded that the ‘autonomy-supportive behavior’ of educators in particular should be more strongly encouraged. Results Master Studies: In the years between 2006 and 2020, when the author coordinated the Master Pedagogical Sciences Communication and Deafblindness, a number of 85 international master theses and 35 Dutch theses were written, of which several were published in this Journal.  The international theses were based on theoretical frameworks of Dialogicality, Developmental Psychology, Semiotics, and Cognitive Linguistics integrated into a Special Needs Education perspective, lectured and reviewed by members of the former DbI Communication Network, now known as Groningen Study Group on Diversity in Communication. New Perspectives and Conclusion: As main new perspectives for the future were referred to in the presentations of the Symposium Deafblindness (June 21, 2022), namely: a) the voices of Persons with Deafblindness are heard; b) listen to parents; c) unite the three fields of deafblindness (Congenital, Acquired and Age-related); d) overview of educational knowledge in Academic Volumes for Oxford University Press; e) dialogical Reflections on Video-analysis of Communication related to different theoretical perspectives; f) continuation of Research and Education on new topics in Groningen; and g) international collaboration. The main conclusion of the author was that a solid foundation has been laid in which science and practice go hand in hand and that it is up to the young people with deafblindness, family members, practitioners, and researchers, to build a ‘sustainable house’ on this foundation.