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February 22, 2004

Jacob learns and he inspires

From: Allentown Morning Call, PA - Feb 22, 2004

As teachers help open boy's silent, dark world, he gives them amazing experiences.

By Steve Wartenberg
Of The Morning Call

Jacob Jarrell loves pizza.

But the 11-year-old from Richland Township — born profoundly deaf and blind — couldn't tell anyone he loved pizza.

So instead of eating his favorite food on the days it was served in the school cafeteria, Jacob ate whatever his teachers selected for his lunch.

''We'd ask him what he wanted. Instead of telling us, he kept signing 'yes,''' said Patty Lipson, Jacob's instructional assistant at Guth Elementary in Perkasie.

Although Jacob has been wearing a cochlear implant, an electronic device implanted in his brain, since he was 2, his teachers still worried he'd never be able to link together words, understand basic concepts or express what he felt or wanted.

''Because he is deaf and blind, he has no visual or auditory memories,'' said Gale Weaver-Jones, Jacob's special education teacher at Guth. ''You can say to a regular blind child, 'Remember the sound a dog makes?' and they can link that to a dog. We can't do that with Jacob.''

According to Sue Ann Houser of the Pennsylvania DeafBlind Project, a 2002 study found 328 children in the state ''from birth to age 21 who are at risk for deafblindness or identified as being deafblind.''

However, she said this total includes children with minor deficits. There are few totally or severely deaf and blind. It means teaching Jacob is as much of an education for Weaver-Jones and Lipson as it is for Jacob.

''There were times we didn't think it would happen,'' Lipson said.

Teaching Jacob

Weaver-Jones has taught deaf students for 26 years. Jacob is her first deaf and blind student.

''When Jacob approached kindergarten I talked to several special education teachers,'' said Shari Orzehoski, Jacob's mother. ''Gale was the one who wanted to take on the challenge.''

Lipson worked as a waitress, in a shoe factory, at a day care center. Then she answered an ad for a job as a teaching assistant at the Children's Development Program in Quakertown.

''I didn't get that job, but the director said, 'I have a kid you might be good with.'''

That child was Jacob, who was 3 at the time. Lipson has been with him ever since, taking a job with the Bucks County Intermediate Unit when Jacob entered kindergarten.

She didn't know sign language, but took classes and can now sign fluently.

Teaching Jacob the basics of sign language took years and thousands of repetitions. Because he can't see, Jacob holds the hand of the person he is signing with.

He also has developed an uncanny ability to recognize a person by touching his or her hand.

Day after day, Weaver-Jones and Lipson, as well as vision, speech, orientation and mobility specialists and occupational and physical therapists, worked with Jacob.

''She's especially good at knowing where to start when teaching a concept,'' Lipson said of Weaver-Jones. ''She breaks it down so I know where to start.''

For example, every morning Lipson took Jacob to the cafeteria. She'd go over the day's menu, making the sign for pizza, hot dog or grilled cheese, then give Jacob a taste of what she'd just signed, hoping he'd make the connection.

''I said, 'This would never work,''' said Kathy Lawson, cafeteria manager at Guth.

Then, about a year ago, Jacob finally got it.

''He learned the concept that he could affect things, that he could make a choice,'' Lipson said.

Jacob learned how to make the letter P and then a small triangle — the sign for pizza.

He also learned the concept of ''more.'' Now, if wants another piece of pizza, he puts his fingertips together — the sign for more.

''It's so amazing,'' Lawson said. ''He can sign what he wants for lunch and he can even say my name.''

School days

Jacob's days at school are filled with a lot of amazing achievements.

Lipson meets his bus every morning and they walk to Weaver-Jones' class. Jacob takes off his coat and puts it in the closet, all the while signing furiously into Lipson's hands.

''His communication skills have increased by leaps and bounds,'' she said. ''Now, it's hard to get him places because he wants to talk.''

Jacob tells her about his weekend, where he went, what he did.

Then Lipson goes over the lunch menu and Jacob signs the sign for hot dog. Pizza isn't one of the choices.

And with the cochlear implant, Jacob's future is even brighter.

''I heard a simulation and it sounds like regular speech, but more tinny,'' Lipson said. ''He's learning to discriminate what he hears and what it means.''

With the ability to hear comes the possibility of speech. Jacob's vocabulary is growing.

The first time Jacob called his mother ''mom,'' it brought a tear to Orzehoski's eyes. ''It was exciting, chilling,'' she said.

Jacob — who his teachers think has a little peripheral vision — can make his way through the halls, double doors and stairwells at Guth without a problem.

''I used to have to prompt him to take every step, but now he goes anywhere,'' Lipson said.

Jacob loves gym class, especially in-line skating and climbing the ropes and the cargo net.

''Thank goodness for Patty,'' said physical education teacher Sharon Bolenius. ''She sees the next level for Jacob, talks to people and asks questions and figures out a way for him to do it.''

''A huge part of Jacob's success can be attributed to Patty,'' Weaver-Jones said.

The same can be said for Weaver-Jones, who works one on one with Jacob. Repetition and patience are the keys.

''Yesterday was … ?'' Weaver-Jones asks Jacob in sign language and verbally.

''Toos,'' he says, doing his best to pronounce Tuesday.

Weaver-Jones puts Jacob's hand on her mouth and says ''Tuesday'' a few times, slowly, clearly.

''Toos,'' Jacob says.

Even though he can't read it, Braille is now part of Jacob's daily lesson.

''He knows it means something, but he hasn't made the connection yet,'' Weaver-Jones said.

One concept Jacob understands is ''sick.''

''We couldn't teach him this until he was actually sick,'' Weaver-Jones said. ''Now he knows what it means when we say someone is sick.''

Jacob attends a traditional fifth-grade math class. Lipson works with him, with the help of Sarah Keller, 11, Tara Canning, 10, and Ali Kingman, 10, who have learned sign language.

''It's really fun to help Jacob,'' Sarah said.

''Even though he's deaf and blind he can still do a lot of stuff,'' Tara added.

Jacob will remain at Guth one or two more years, then move on to a special education class in a middle school, or a school for deaf and blind children.

''It will be like a part of me is leaving,'' Lipson said.

''People say to me it must be so difficult to teach Jacob,'' Weaver-Jones said. ''And at times it was. But my attitude is Jacob is one of the most wonderful things that has ever happened to me in my life.''

Copyright © 2004, The Morning Call