Vision is the primary learning modality and source of information for most children. No other sense can stimulate curiosity, integrate information or invite exploration In the same way, or as efficiently and fully, as vision does. The child who comes into the world without a dependable visual system, or without vision at all, has to navigate through the incomplete messages received through the other sensory modalities in order to put a whole picture of the world together. The visually Impaired child needs to determine how to organize this incomplete information and then respond to what may remain a confusing view of the world.
The child who is legally blind may not learn to do things by visual imitation, an integral pathway to learning during early development. Thus, her ability to understand basic life concepts, and the process by which most life tasks are accomplished and brought to completion, is seriously compromised. The visually impaired child who is unable to see the complex process of putting together a meal within the family home, for example, has missed invaluable understanding of what causes things to happen in life. Only through experience- based learning does the blind or visually impaired child gain the personal validation of what the world is about In a way that makes sense to that individual. By repeated opportunities for hands- on experiences, the VI infant/toddler begins to internalize the characteristics and properties of the world outside himself.
Without these essential pieces of information about the world, the ability of the legally blind child to develop effective problem solving skills, a cornerstone to cognition, is seriously challenged. The legally blind child Is often left to depend upon the verbal description of the world given him by a sighted person whose view of reality does not match with what the blind person is experiencing (Santin and Simmons). Instruction specific to his disability is essential for the young child who is blind or visually impaired in order to meet his unique needs.
Assessment Needs of Visually Impaired Children
- Use of assessment tools that take the child's visual impairment Into account by adjusting the timing, materials, and location of the assessment.
- Tran-disciplinary, collaborative assessment processes involving all qualified professionals who are working with the infant and family, including the vision teacher.
- Strategies to compensate for the lack of dependable sensory and experiential information available to the visually impaired infant.
- Training in the use of auditory, olfactory, tactile and kinesthetic senses to access the environment.
- Exposure to a wide variety of environmental experiences in natural settings to allow the child to generalize learned skills in new settings.
- Repeated opportunities to move out into the environment to take part in meaningful daily experiences using real objects.
Gross and Fine Motor Needs
- Physical Therapy and/or Occupational Therapy to overcome the effects of limited motor experiences on muscle development.
- Fine motor activities to develop tactile discrimination skills: requisite for Braille readiness.
- Special emphasis on the use of two hands in preparation for Braille instruction.
- Training and support to move out into the environment. The infant who is blind or low vision does not have the visual motivation that prompts the development of early motor milestones.
- Regular functional vision evaluations.
- Caregiver understanding of, and response to, the unique characteristics of the VI child's visual diagnosis.
- Vision stimulation activities in. the context of naturally occurring events to encourage the use of residual vision, when appropriate.
- Access to adapted visual aides (glasses, contacts, sunglasses, etc.).
- Early nurturing interactions with a consistent, significant caregiver.
- Recognition of the unique responses of visually impaired infants to the introduction of new voices and sounds.
- Simultaneous verbal description of activities in which the VI child is engaged.
- Identification of persons who interact with the baby by tactual and/or verbal cueing.
- Beginning orientation and mobility interventions to develop body awareness, spatial awareness and early mapping skills. .
- Adapted toys and equipment to encourage development of other sensory modalities.
- Frequent opportunities to develop pre- Braille tactual and fine motor skills, using two hands effectively.
Social and Emotional Needs
- Support for parent- child interactions; assistance in interpreting the unique human responses of the visually impaired infant: i.e. the tendency of a VI infant to become quiet and still when approached by even a familiar person is often interpreted as a lack of interest in social interaction, which discourages future social contact.
- Early exposure to age- appropriate skills for daily living: eating, dressing, toileting.
- Additional support to motivate the M infant to interact with family members and others within the extended family and community.
- Play opportunities with selective adult encouragement to interact with age mates takes on added significance for the legally blind child who is unable to visually imitate the play skills of other children.
Blind Babies Foundation
Janine Swanson California State Department of Education
Julie Bernas- Pierce, Blind Babies Foundation
XIVth International Seminar on Preschool Blind, June 1990