In late October 2000, Children of Fire
hosted two full-day workshops at The Memorial Institute in Johannseburg for
people working with, or parents of, multiple disability children. Some 80
people registered for each day, to hear the ideas of Robert Orr, a specialist
from the United Kingdom. The level of interest in just one province,
demonstrated the need for more such training to take place. Children of Fire is
compiling research in the field to share with workshop delegates by end-2001.
The workshops held, looked at what happens when some senses are missing.
Helping children to begin to see, when their sight is not useful to them.
Building relationships with children who have many disabilities together, and
have little interest in people, objects or language. Robert Orr talked about
dysfunction among the eleven senses (sight, hearing, smell, taste, localised
touch, general touch, warmth, coldness, balance, proprioception, pain) and, the
implications these had for learning. He looked at building relationships with
children with multiple disabilities and at stimulating the available vision of
low vision children.
Parents and teachers were shown how to learn through play with children
who have no interest in the world beyond their own bodies. And Orr talked about
developing communication with children who prefer to withdraw and shut us out.
He also looked at children who can speak but merely repeat what they hear
(Echolalia). There are later problems with children who refer to themselves as
"she" or "he" rather than "I". Orr referred to blind children who do not see
the gestures that indicate what is meant by we, they, you, me and us, and who
cannot see where 'over there' is.
He persuaded people to close their eyes and to try to feel objects with
"spilliken" sticks - so that they would find out first hand how hard it is for
a blind person to use a stick to make sense of a 3D world. It was very
interesting to see how hard people found it, trying to work out that an orange
was fruit or that that stronge knotty shape was a scouring pad. In another
exercise with an apple, Orr encouraged people to voice all their senses in its
The people who attended included doctors, parents, teachers from
"special schools" and occupational therapists, speech therapists, language
therapists, people working and living with children with multiple disabilities
and the children themselves.
The workshops were accredited pro bono for doctors'
Continuing Professional Development point by Wits University C.P.D. Office.