Interveners and Children Who are Deaf-Blind

Technology, supports and services for children who are deaf-blind have come a long way since Helen Keller first responded to Anne Sullivan’s efforts to help her learn.

The importance of intervener services today for many children who are deaf-blind children cannot be overstated. The National Center on Deaf-Blindness (NCDB) defines this service as providing access to information and communication and facilitating the development of social and emotional well-being for children who are deaf-blind.

In educational environments, intervener services are provided by an individual, typically a paraeducator, who has received specialized training in deaf-blindness and the process of intervention. An intervener provides consistent one-to-one support to a student who is deaf-blind (age three through 21) throughout the instructional day.

The NCDB is funded by OSERS’ Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) as a national technical assistance center to improve the quality of life and educational opportunities for the roughly 10,000 children who are deaf-blind. Deaf-blindness is a low incidence disability and within this population of children there is great variability. Ninety percent of children who are identified as deaf-blind have additional physical, medical and/or cognitive disabilities. Without supports, these children are cut off from most, if not all, communication and activities in their environments. Thus, it is clear that many of these children can, and do, benefit from services offered by trained interveners.

Because we recognize that parents are best able to describe their child’s educational experience, consider these comments from parents of children who are deaf-blind who have written to express their thoughts about what happens when their child has an intervener:

“My child’s educational experience over the past four years has been exceptional with the expertise and training his intervener has provided. An intervener is specially trained to work with my son who is deaf-blind. Their ability to engage my child in activities and learning as well as connect them with their peers and teachers is simply a necessity to my child’s education. My son feels included, appreciated and ABLE; thanks to the support and encouragement his intervener adds to his education. Without her, he would be lost.”

Jackie Bauer

“When we were told our child was deaf-blind, we had no idea what to do. We didn’t know if we would ever be able to communicate with her or if she would be able to let us know what she needed. Her interveners have taught us how to talk to our daughter. They have given us and her, the tools we needed to interact. They are her bridge to the world and I’m so thankful every day that she has people who support her learning and help the world learn about her. Through interveners I have come to know my daughter better and know better how to do with her, not for her or to her. If you have chosen this career, you are a very special person and through hard work and believing in your student, you will make a deeply felt difference in not only the life of the person you intervene for, but the lives of everyone that person touches.”

Emily Gold

“Our son Matthew has had an intervener in the school system and community for a number of years. The benefits from having this highly trained support person have been enormous. I believe the intervener is an ambassador for our son—modifying his school projects to make them fit his needs, being his eyes and ears when he is in an environment and needs assistance understanding what is around him, enabling social connections and doing all these without being too present in his area. The intervener has the knowledge of how to do the job but not do the job for the person they are working with. Matthew would not benefit from having someone do everything for him but doing just enough that he can participate to the fullest in each one of his daily settings. Many, many teachers have commented to me what a valuable resource Matthew’s intervener has been to them.”

Michele Pedersen

“Having interveners in my sons life has made a drastic change in his education and his daily living. He is finally able to communicate with others around him, which has helped him not only in his education, but in his daily living. Imagine trying to learn when you can’t hear and have difficulty seeing. Interveners bring it all together. They provide the light in a dark world and sound in the silence. Best thing to happen with his education ever! They are absolutely AMAZING!”

Hatti Edwards

“When Anna didn’t have a full time intervener at school she would get frustrated to the point of not being able to finish the school day and a parent would have to go pick her up. It was very frustrating for Anna, school staff and her parents. Anna has had a full time intervener for the last 4 years she is able to finish every school day and her outbursts are seldom and don’t last as long. Her intervener helps her stay on task and not get or feel lost or left out during school. Without her intervener she would not be able to handle the different transitions that take place during a full school week. As parents, we feel very grateful for this service.”

Greg and Beth Volkers


Posted by
OSERS Project Officer—National Center on Deaf-Blindness and several State Deaf-Blind Technical Assistance Project.