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Por María L. Muñoz, M.A., CCC-SLP

Adquisición de la lengua primaria

Los bebés nacen con la capacidad para distinguir el habla de los otros sonidos que escuchan, aún cuando no entienden el significado. Cuando llegan a la edad de ir a la escuela, ya hablan con oraciones complejas, mantienen conversaciones y entienden la mayoría de lo que escuchan. ¿Cómo sucede el desarrollo del lenguaje?

El cerebro de los niños está diseñado para que puedan aprender un lenguaje. Desde que nacen sus cerebros registran y procesan los sonidos que escuchan. A medida que se desarrollan su sistema motor, su cerebro y su capacidad de pensar, también crece su entendimiento y uso del lenguaje para comunicarse. Subyacente al desarrollo del lenguaje se encuentra la capacidad para reflexionar sobre el mundo y explorarlo con la vista, el oído, el olfato, el tacto, etc. Cuando el niño comienza a darle sentido al mundo a través de sus exploraciones, el lenguaje se une a esas experiencias. Progresivamente, el lenguaje se va desarrollando desde las palabras sueltas de los 12 meses hasta las oraciones complejas de los 5 años y de los conceptos simples (jugo, zapatos) a los más abstractos (frustración, suma). Los niños en edad escolar continúan aprendiendo y usan un lenguaje cada vez más abstracto y complejo.

Como el lenguaje primario se elabora a través de la exploración sensorial y la comprensión del mundo, el desarrollo del lenguaje para un niño sordociego o con discapacidad visual será afectado por la naturaleza y la gravedad de su deficiencia sensorial y por otros factores tales como sus capacidades cognitivas y motoras. A algunos niños con pérdidas leves o moderadas de la visión o de la audición, se les puede enseñar a compensar la falta limitada de información visual o auditiva. Llegan a esto usando sus otros sentidos, sus capacidades de reflexión y su experiencia práctica en aprender los significados asociados a palabras y oraciones.

Adquisición de una segunda lengua

El desarrollo de una segunda lengua puede ocurrir de maneras diferentes. Por ejemplo, un niño puede ser expuesto desde su nacimiento a dos lenguas al mismo tiempo o un alumno de escuela secundaria puede tomar un curso de idioma extranjero como elección. Deseo tratar aquí el caso específico de niños que aprenden in idioma diferente del inglés en casa y comienzan a aprender inglés cuando entran en la escuela. Dependiendo de la preferencia de los padres y de los servicios disponibles en el distrito local, estos niños pueden ser colocados en una clase de idioma inglés, una clase de enseñanza de inglés como segunda lengua (ESL) o en clase de educación bilingüe. Hay que remarcar que la colocación del niño en una clase o en otra, influenciará el desarrollo tanto de la primera como de la segunda lengua. La educación bilingüe estimula el desarrollo de técnicas lingüísticas, tanto en inglés como en la lengua madre del niño. Las clases de ESL estimulan el desarrollo de esas técnicas solamente en inglés, una estrategia que puede ser asociada con una adquisición más lenta del idioma abstracto.

En general, estos niños entran a la escuela con buen conocimiento de su idioma nativo, que luego utilizan como base natural para aprender inglés. El proceso para adquirir el inglés es gradual y sigue un modelo de desarrollo parecido al de adquisición de la primera lengua. Por ejemplo, producen las oraciones simples antes que las más complejas. Los errores que cometen en inglés reflejan las reglas lingüísticas de su lengua madre; por ejemplo, un niño de habla hispánica puede decir en inglés "I want the ball green", porque en español los adjetivos se colocan después de los sustantivos. Las técnicas de conversación se adquieren en aproximadamente 2 años, mientras que el desarrollo completo del lenguaje abstracto necesario en una clase requiere entre 5 y 7 años. Estos niños también aprenden mejor el idioma por medio de la práctica y la experiencia.

La adquisición de una segunda lengua, sin embargo, sucede a menudo durante las actividades de clase dónde se enseñan técnicas específicas centradas en el inglés, en vez de a través de la experiencia práctica típica de la adquisición de una lengua primaria. Se desafía a los niños a aprender inglés rápido, mientras tratan de no atrasarse con el aprendizaje de los nuevos conceptos presentados en clase todos los días. Tienen muy poco tiempo para aprender el inglés básico antes de entenderlo y usarlo en actividades académicas altamente abstractas y sin contexto.

Las discapacidades visuales y auditivas en la adquisición de una segunda lengua

Se ha dado por sentado, en general, que si la lengua primaria del niño se desarrolla normalmente, lo mismo sucederá con la segunda lengua. ¿Por qué esta premisa puede NO ser cierta en el caso de niños sordociegos o con discapacidades visuales?

Muchos profesionales, incluyéndome a mí, han observado que los niños con discapacidades visuales o sordoceguera, que pueden hablar, tienen a veces gran dificultad en aprender un segundo idioma. Pueden también tener dificultades en pasar de una educación bilingüe a una instrucción puramente en inglés. Creo que las diferencias entre aprender una primera y una segunda lengua yacen en la forma en que esos idiomas son adquiridos. Como todos los niños, aquéllos con discapacidades visuales o sordoceguera también aprenden su primera lengua gradualmente, durante varios años. Si bien la información que obtienen del medio ambiente es reducida, dentro del contexto de las experiencias multisensoriales altamente significativas, se usan otros sentidos para dar apoyo y compensar la limitada información visual y auditiva. Se construye una base de lenguaje relativamente normal sobre la cual se agrega el lenguaje complejo exigido en la escuela.

La enseñanza de un segundo idioma en clase es por naturaleza primeramente visual y auditivo. Así, un lenguaje es usado para enseñar otro lenguaje, ya sea a través del uso de un primer idioma o de explicaciones de conceptos simplificadas, en el segundo idioma. A menudo los niños no tienen tiempo para elaborar gradualmente un lenguaje complejo porque se espera que usen y entiendan conceptos académicos abstractos en inglés casi inmediatamente. Los niños sordociegos o con discapacidades visuales tienen dificultades para compensar la información limitada o distorsionada que reciben por medio de sus sistemas visuales y auditivos. Frecuentemente, no pueden servirse del tacto, el olfato, el gusto o el movimiento para aprender conceptos abstractos que son enseñados en forma visual y auditiva. Por lo tanto, deben confiar en sus conocimientos previos para entender lo que están escuchando y viendo. En forma rápida y fácil pierden o malinterpretan los conceptos que se les enseñan.

A continuación, un ejemplo de cómo un estudiante sordociego puede tener dificultades en aprender una segunda lengua. Juan, estudiante de habla española con discapacidades visuales y auditivas, está en una clase que comienza el estudio de los océanos. El maestro muestra la foto de una playa, (Juan ve un bulto claro y oscuro, pero no reconoce lo que hay en la foto). El maestro dice, "We are going to study oceans." (Juan oye "oin" ya que su discapacidad auditiva no le permite oír los sonidos /s/ o /sh/. No está seguro de lo que es un "oin" y no puede ver la foto lo suficientemente bien como para deducirlo). Luego, el maestro muestra una foto de un pez y dice, "We are going to study saltwater fish", pero Juan no sabe qué es un "altwatei" y nuevamente no puede ver la foto. Con su conocimiento limitado del inglés y su discapacidad auditiva, no se da cuenta de que son dos palabras. Entonces, cuando el maestro pide a la clase que escriba un pequeño párrafo sobre los océanos, Juan mira a su alrededor y ve a los otros niños escribiendo, pero él está confundido y no entiende el tema.

En este ejemplo, Juan no aprende el vocabulario en inglés porque no lo escucha claramente. No puede llenar los vacíos auditivos con las figuras porque no puede verlas. La recepción visual y auditiva limitada no le permite reconocer el tema y no se da cuenta de que la clase está hablando de cosas que él conoce como el mar y los peces. El lenguaje aprendido en este contexto de clase es muy diferente que aprender sobre los océanos yendo a la playa a jugar en la arena y con las olas, oler el aire salado y sentir el roce de un pez en la pierna. La capacidad de aprender inglés de Juan está limitada por las demandas altamente visuales y auditivas que se enfatizan en su clase.

Algunas sugerencias para estimular el aprendizaje de una segunda lengua

Siempre implementar modificaciones y dispositivos para mejorar la visión y la audición, tales como audífonos y anteojos.Siempre que sea posible, enseñar a los niños a través de actividades prácticas multisensoriales, que les ayuden a aprender tanto en forma experimental como lingüística.Utilizar la lengua madre de un niño para reforzar el entendimiento de la segunda lengua.Ayudar a los niños a entender las relaciones entre los conceptos nuevos que se enseñanza y sus experiencias propias.Tal vez los niños precisen entrenamiento específico en la segunda lengua, para discriminar entre cada sonido del habla e identificar los límites de las palabras. Estas técnicas son críticas para el desarrollo de la lectura y la escritura.Controlar los apuntes del niño periódicamente y hacer preguntas para verificar la comprensión de conceptos y la interpretación correcta de la información visual y auditiva.

BIBLIOGRAFIA

Guinan, H. (1997). ESL for students with visual impairments. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 91(6), 555-563.

Munoz, M. L. (1998). Language Assessment and Intervention with Children who have Visual Impairments: A guide for speech-language pathologists. Austin, TX: Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Snyder, T. (1972). Teaching English as a second language to blind people. New Outlook for the Blind, 66(6), 161-166.

Williams, C. B. (1991). Teaching Hispanic deaf students: Lessons from Luis. Perspectives in Education and Deafness, 10(2), 2-5.

English version of this article (Versión Inglesa)

Por Sandra Lewis, Profesora Asociada y Coordinadora, Programa de ImpedimentoVisual, College of Education, Florida State University

Joan Tolla, Especialista en Orientación y Movilidad, Tift and Irwin County Schools, Georgia. Reimpreso de Teaching Exceptional Children, vol. 35, No. 3, pp. 22-28, Ene/Feb 2003, con permiso del Council for Exceptional Children (Consejo para Niños Excepcionales), <www.cec.sped.org>.

Notas del Editor de VER/OÍR: Los recuadros referidos en el texto se localizan al final del artículo.

La Dra. Sandra Lewis discutirá el tema con mayor profundidad en el Texas Focus 2003, los días 12 y13de junio en San Antonio La información sobre el Texas Focus puede encontrarse en los "Anuncios Clasificados" de VER/OÍR. Su dirección postal es Sandra Lewis, Associate Professor, Department of Special Education and Rehabilitation Counseling Services, Florida State University, 205 Stone Building, Tallahassee, FL 32306-4459 (correo electrónico: ).


¿Qué es lo que todo niño pequeño aprende acerca de la lectura? De acuerdo a muchos estudios sobre aprendizaje de desarrollo (véase el recuadro abajo, "¿Qué Es lo que Dice la Literatura?"), los niños pequeños desarrollan la apreciación de que las actividades de "lectura" que realizan están relacionadas con las palabras que hablan y escuchan, y están conectadas con los símbolos escritos de nuestro lenguaje. Observan a otros leer y escribir en contextos funcionales y en actividades significativas. Es más, desarrollan conceptos básicos importantes acerca de la lectura de materiales (véase el cuadro 2 abajo, "Conceptos Librescos").

Pero ¿qué hay con los niños cuya visión es limitada o con los que son ciegos? ¿Cómo participan en actividades de lectura temprana? Este artículo explora las formas en que los educadores, padres y cuidadores pueden asegurarse de que todos los niños pequeños tengan la oportunidad de aprender a leer.


Cuadro 1

¿Qué Es lo Que la Literatura Dice Acerca de Aprender a leer?

Proceso de Desarrollo de Lectura. Aprender a leer es un proceso de desarrollo que comienza al nacer (Lamb, 1995; Rex, Koenig, Wormsley, & Baker, 1994; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998), sobre el que puede influirse de manera positiva mediante la participación de los padres y de otros proveedores de cuidados.

Entre las recomendaciones para facilitar las experiencias de alfabetización temprana de niños pequeños están las siguientes:

  • Proporcionar un ambiente rico en letra impresa (Clay, 1991; Handel, 1999; Purcell-Gates, 2000; Sawyer & Comer, 1996).
  • Modelar el comportamiento lector (Handel, 1999; Purcell-Gates, 2000; Sawyer & Comer, 1996).
  • Leer en voz alta a los infantes y bebés más pequeños (Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, & Wilkinson, 1985; Purcell-Gates, 2000; Sawyer & Comer, 1996).

De hecho, que le sea leído a uno puede ser el factor más importante en la preparación de un niño para que se vuelva un buen lector (Anderson et al., 1985).

Alfabetización Emergente. La fase de desarrollo de lectura durante la cual los infantes y bebés empiezan a familiarizarse con el lenguaje escrito y el proceso de aprendizaje de lectura y escritura se conoce como alfabetización emergente (Harley, Truan, & Sanford, 1997; Wormsley, 1997).


Cuadro 2

Conceptos Librescos

  1. Los libros están hechos generalmente de papel, pero también de otros materiales como piel o plástico.
  2. Los libros contienen páginas que pueden voltearse una a la vez; las páginas están numeradas.
  3. Los libros pueden contener imágenes y palabras escritas sobre sus páginas.
  4. Las imágenes reproducen objetos familiares.
  5. Imágenes y libros tienen una parte superior y una inferior, un anverso y un reverso.
  6. Los libros proporcionan información y placer.
  7. El lenguaje es consistente en cada página.
  8. El lenguaje puede ser recordado y relacionado a páginas o imágenes específicas.
  9. La información presentada en los libros estimula las propias ideas del niño.
  10. Los símbolos impresos le dicen al lector qué decir.
  11. Los símbolos impresos se leen de izquierda a derecha y de arriba hacia abajo.

Fuente: Adaptado de Communication skills for visually impaired learners (2da. ed.), de R. K. Harley, M. B. Truan, & L. D. Sanford, Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas, 1997.


NECESIDADES DE ALFABETIZACIÓN DE NIÑOS CON IMPEDIMENTOS VISUALES

Obtener acceso a los símbolos escritos del lenguaje y observar a los adultos y compañeros modelar leyendo y escribiendo no lo consiguen fácilmente los niños con impedimentos visuales significativos. El impedimento visual puede interferir directamente con la observación de símbolos y eventos que son clave para el desarrollo de habilidades tempranas de alfabetización. Muchos educadores e investigadores han discutido las formas para introducir intencionadamente a estos niños en Braille y letra impresa así como para informarles sobre las actividades de lectura y escritura de otros (Harley et al., 1997; Swenson, 1999; Wormsley, 1997).

Una cuestión todavía más importante relacionada con la alfabetización emergente para niños pequeños con impedimentos visuales es el desarrollo de conceptos significativos por medio de experiencias de vida esenciales (Finello, Hanson, & Kekelis, 1992). Debido a que los niños con impedimentos visuales están restringidos a un acceso poco frecuente, espontáneo e incidental a las cosas y eventos en su mundo, su información acerca de estos objetos es limitada, inconsistente o fragmentada (Ferrell, 1997).

Además, una característica clave de aprendizaje de los niños con impedimentos visuales es aprender de las partes al todo. Debido a que su percepción está limitada a lo que pueden sentir con la mano o ver dentro de un campo visual limitado, los niños con impedimentos visuales tienen con frecuencia dificultad para entender la "gestalt" de un experiencia (Ferrell, 2000). Un niño con sentido de la vista puede observar con frecuencia desde una distancia todos lo objetos que están guardados en el cajón de un escritorio, que se sacan de la cajuela para lavar el carro o que están asociados con el baño; Pero el niño con impedimentos visuales quizás no puedan tener las mismas experiencias o tal entendimiento. En consecuencia, muchos niños con impedimentos visuales no traen consigo al proceso de alfabetización emergente la misma clase y calidad de información que los niños con buena visión. Los niños con impedimentos visuales tal vez no entiendan lo que otros les leen ni lo que se espera que ellos mismos lean (Koenig & Farrenkopf, 1997).

ILUSTRACIONES EN LIBROS PARA LECOTRES PEQUEÑOS

Los niños con visión normal tienen una ventaja agregada durante el proceso de aprender a leer sobre los niños que son ciegos o que tienen un impedimento visual importante. Los niños con vista pueden aprender cosas incluso si no han tenido contacto directo con ellas —animales, eventos, gente y objetos—excepto por medio de ilustraciones en sus libros. Los miles de libros publicados para lectores emergentes casi siempre incluyen imágenes. Tales ilustraciones no sólo introducen a los niños a la información con la que podrían no estar familiarizados, sino que dichas imágenes facilitan la comprensión del texto. "Las ilustraciones juegan un importante papel al enriquecer la trama al añadir humor e intriga, al dar pistas instantáneas sobre lo que trata la historia y al permitir al lector reconstruir la trama (en ocasiones sin referencia al texto)" (Lamb, 1995, p. 7).

Las ilustraciones también proporcionan un puente entre los comportamientos de escucha y de lectura temprana (véase el cuadro 3 abajo, "Comportamientos de Lectura Temprana"). Los niños se vuelven conscientes del texto sólo de manera gradual. Al principio, utilizan las ilustraciones como señales para recordar el significado de las palabras de la historia.


Cuadro 3

Comportamientos de Lectura Temprana

  • El niño disfruta al escuchar una historia.
  • El niño habla sobre las imágenes.
  • El niño completa líneas familiares de la historia con base en la memoria.
  • El niño usa señales físicas y visuales a partir de la letra impresa para hacer una historia.
  • El niño pretende "leer" libros de historias; puede deslizar el dedo sobre el texto impreso.
  • El niño asocia algunas letras con sus sonidos representativos.
  • El niño reconoce palabras clave en historias familiares

ILUSTRACIONES TÁCTILES

Para los niños pequeños ciegos o que tienen impedimentos visuales severos, los aspectos visuales de los libros escritos para lectores emergentes tienen un gran problema. La solución obvia a esta cuestión de posibilidad de acceso es el uso de dibujos de línea resaltada en conjunto con texto Braille. La interpretación de los dibujos de línea resaltada, sin embargo, es una tarea más difícil que la de reconocimiento e identificación de imágenes. Los dibujos de línea resaltada intentan presentar el mundo tridimensional en dos dimensiones. Aunque podemos ver esta relación visualmente, un círculo es muy distinto a como se siente una bola de béisbol; el contorno de un pastel de cumpleaños no se parece a su realidad táctil. De manera similar, el contorno del "Gato en el Sombrero" sosteniendo un pescado, no puede relacionarse fácilmente con el contorno del Gato sentado en una silla. Los detalles y la constancia que reproducen hasta lo abstracto no pueden reproducirse de forma táctil.

Un profesor ayuda mientras que el estudiante "lee" su libro táctil de la experiencia. .

Otra solución que se ha recomendado de manera frecuente es la de crear "cuadros de historia" (Newbold, 2000) o "bolsas de libros" (Miller, 1985 Stratton & Wright, 1991; Wormsley, 1997). Estos artículos son similares a aquellos objetos relacionados tanto a una historia publicada o no que se usan con propósitos ilustrativos para dar significado a la historia. Miller, la madre de un niño ciego, primero describió el uso creativo de sus bolsas de libros, en la que almacenaba objetos mencionados en los libros comerciales publicados. Miller y sus niños actuaban los hechos en las historias que leían usando estos objetos. Otros han recomendado guardar los objetos en una bolsa o en una caja, para estimular el reconocimiento y la discusión conforme son sostenidos y explorados por el niño pequeño con impedimento visual mientras el adulto lee (Stratton & Wright, 1991; Wormsley, 1997).

Las cajas de historias de Newbold (2000) fueron diseñadas para atender los problemas que los niños pequeños con impedimentos visuales tenían con frecuencia para relacionar sus experiencias con el acto de leer. Ella recomendaba que las historias simples acerca de las experiencias de un niño fueran escritas en tarjetas e incluidas en una caja con recuerdos del evento. El adulto y el niño examinan los objetos juntos mientras el adulto lee la historia, que incorpora gente y eventos que le son familiares al niño.

Ni las bolsas de libros ni las cajas de historias atienden la necesidad, para los niños ciegos, de ser expuesto a libros en los cuales el texto y los objetos o las actividades descritas por ese texto, sean presentados en la misma página. Los "Libros de experiencia táctil" pueden atender esa necesidad. En los libros de experiencia táctil, los artefactos de un evento experimentado por el niño son incorporados realmente en las páginas de un libro de estudio sencillo. Cada página también incluye Braille y texto en letra impresa. Los adultos que usan estos libros con niños pequeños pueden estimular la asociación de palabras que son leídas con Braille y el uso de movimientos manuales apropiados durante la lectura de la historia. Los niños pueden usar estos libros de manera independiente; pueden dar vuelta a la página, explorar de manera táctil el artefacto pegado a la página, y pretender que están leyendo la historia en voz alta. Los niños con más experiencias con este tipo de libros pueden empezar por reconocer palabras específicas basadas en su longitud, en su posición en el texto o las letras con las que inician o terminan.

Un profesor ayuda mientras que el estudiante "lee" su libro táctil de la experiencia

FABRICAR LIBROS DE EXPERIENCIA TÁCTIL

Seleccionar temas para libros de experiencia táctil es tan fácil como examinar los objetos que son parte de los ambientes en los que pasan el tiempo los alumnos con impedimentos visuales. Los eventos pueden planearse específicamente para recolectar artefactos para un libro o los artefactos pueden recolectarse como parte de un evento que ocurre de manera natural, tal como una ida a un juego de béisbol o una investigación de los patios escolares. De manera ideal, el niño participa en esta recolección de actividades, recolectando y separando los objetos que se utilizarán más tarde en el libro.

Sin importar el grado de compromiso del niño en su recolección, los artefactos deben ser artículos con los cuales el niño tenga contacto de manera táctil. Usar las llaves de un auto para representar un viaje no será apropiado a menos que el niño haya usado de alguna manera las llaves, quizás para abrir la puerta del auto. Usar objetos que el adulto asocia al evento, pero que no son familiares para el niño, es un error común de los fabricantes de libros inexpertos. Además, los artefactos utilizados en el libro deben ser reales –no representaciones miniatura de un objeto. Las miniaturas no proporcionan el mismo detalle para el aprendiz táctil que el que le proporcionan al aprendiz visual. Pensando otra vez en la representación de un viaje en auto, un carro de juguete no sería un artefacto apropiado, a menos quizás, que el niño haya jugado con el juguete durante el viaje. En general, un carro de juguete es muy diferente de la experiencia en auto de un niño ciego o que tiene visión baja. Un objeto más representativo podría ser un fragmento de la tela del asiento para el auto del niño o la hebilla del cinturón del asiento que el niño ha ayudado a abrochar.

Los libros preferidos son aquellos que son fácilmente manipulables por el niño. Deberá usarse cartón rígido para las cubiertas y las páginas, que deberán estar sujetarse con firmeza. Hemos encontrado que los aros de metal son más durables que el listón o la cuerda usados para encuadernar las páginas. Lo mejor es colocar sólo un objeto (o una categoría de objetos) sobre la página. Debido a que un objeto que ha sido pegado a la página crea una experiencia diferente que el mismo objeto cuando se sostienie en la mano, recomendamos que los artefactos puedan amarrarse a las páginas usando tiras despegables (Velcro©) siempre que sea posible, para que el niño pueda experimentarlos en tres dimensiones. Otra manera de garantizar que los objetos estén al alcance por completo del niño es guardarlo en bolsas Zip-lock que hayan sido pegadas o engrapadas sobre la página. Los objetos grandes, que pueden engrosar el libro y hacerlo difícil de manejar para manos pequeñas, pueden amarrarse con una cuerda a una hoja en particular y guardarse fuera de las páginas, para jalarlo cerca del niño cuando se lea la página.

Otro método para incorporar un objeto de gran tamaño, tal como el moño de un regalo de cumpleaños, es colocar el artículo sobre la cubierta. El niño puede usar este artefacto para identificar el libro y distinguirlo de otros en su colección. Las cubiertas no necesitan ser elaboradas. Aunque es visualmente significativo tener un libro acerca del viaje de Jim en el autobús de la ciudad cortado en forma de autobús, esto no le proporciona el mismo estímulo a un alumno con impedimento visual. Conservar el boleto que el conductor le dio al niño al abordar el autobús y pegarlo en la cubierta será un recuerdo más significativo del viaje.

Los niños con sentido de la vista pueden identificar fácilmente el lugar del texto en la página, así que su colocación no es crítica. El joven lector ciego recibe ayuda si el texto se puede encontrar en algún lugar predecible en la página. El texto Braille deberá crearse en papel Braille grueso en una línea continua. Las palabras deberán cortarse en pedazos y colocarse en la página como unidades o frases sencillas. La página del texto no deberá pegarse en la página, ya que el adhesivo puede reducir la superficie de los puntos Braille. Recomendamos engrapar el texto a la página, usando Brailleables®, o pegando solamente las orillas y las esquinas de la páginas sobre las que se estampa el texto Braille. Nota: para muchos niños pequeños con impedimentos visuales, la decisión sobre usar Braille o letra impresa para la instrucción todavía no se ha tomado. Por lo tanto, tiene sentido incluir también versiones de letra impresa de alta calidad del texto. La letra impresa puede crearse con un procesador de palabras sobre la página antes de que se agregue el Braille. Incluso para los niños ciegos, la letra impresa incluida en la página, ayuda a los padres, a los compañeros y a otros a compartir la lectura de la historia.

La determinación de que si el texto Braille debe ser creado en Braille alfabético (en el que el Braille iguala de manera exacta a la letra impresa) o en Braille Grado II (el formato de Braille usado en los materiales comerciales publicados, incluyendo los textos escolares) se basa en muchos factores. Los padres, el interventor temprano y el maestro de los alumnos con impedimentos visuales, si se ha asignado uno, deberán tomar la decisión de manera conjunta.

Los libros publicados para los niños pequeños con vista presentan texto que es simple y a veces repetitivo. Esta repetición ayuda al lector emergente a memorizar el texto, para que la atención pueda enfocarse en la correspondencia entre el texto y las palabras habladas. Esta misma práctica puede usarse en libros de experiencia táctil publicados para niños con impedimentos visuales. Aunque es tentador escribir pasajes largos y descriptivos, los niños pequeños resultan beneficiados si hay pocas letras en una página. También se ven beneficiados cuando se repiten las frases, tales como "En mi baño, hay un ____," o "Cuando arreglamos la chapa de la cerradura, usamos ____."

EL LIBRO DE EXPERIENCIA TÁCTIL DE MARY

Mary, que es totalmente sorda y ciega, está en el jardín de niños de su distrito escolar local. Un equipo de educadores, incluyendo a la segunda autora, Joan, quien es una especialista en orientación y movilidad (O&M), proporciona los servicios de apoyo a Mary. Los especialistas O&M generalmente trabajan en el desarrollo de habilidades asociadas con el desplazamiento, incluyendo el uso de bastón, imagen corporal, conceptos espaciales, percepción sensorial y habilidades de reconocimiento del ambiente. Joan decidió que un "libro de experiencia" sería un vehículo ideal para reforzar los conceptos de desplazamiento con Mary y se acercó al patólogo de lenguaje hablado que sirve a esta alumna para trabajar juntos en el proyecto.

Los dos adultos se reunieron con Mary y su intérprete en el jardín de la escuela y exploraron el área, que incluía flores, árboles, un quiosco e incluso conejos. Como Mary no estaba familiarizada con ningún jardín, las preguntas tales como ¿"Qué piensas que puede haber en un jardín?" no eran útiles. Por lo tanto, los adultos le pidieron a Mary que se desplazara por el jardín y que buscara objetos a su izquierda o a su derecha, sobre el piso o arriba. Conforme exploraban, descubrieron varios objetos naturales que eran apropiados para un libro de experiencia; Mary los escogió y los colocó en un bolsa grande.

Joan entonces preparó las líneas simples de la historia en Braille y en letra impresa. Durante su siguiente reunión, Mary le ayudó a Joan a armar el libro. El proceso fue lento conforme Mary exploraba cada artículo del jardín, usando el lenguaje de signos para identificarlos y ayudando a colocarlos sobre la página. Mary pegó algunos de los objetos con cinta; más tarde, Joan preparó más montajes permanentes. Joan compuso algunas oraciones cortas en Braille al final de cada página. La última página se dejó para que Mary y Joan trabajaran juntas (véase el cuadro 4 abajo, "Mi Paseo por el Jardín") de Mary. Mary no sólo escogió las palabras para esta página, sino también ayudó a escribir las oraciones en el Braillewriter.

Al principio, el libro se guardó en un cuarto de recursos y se colocó sobre un estante para que Mary pudiera tomarlo fácilmente de manera independiente. Mary adoraba su libro y con frecuencia leía y exploraba las páginas, señalando con el dedo los artefactos. Más tarde, el maestro de salón de clases general le pidió que guardara su libro en su salón de clases, para que Mary pudiera leer durante el tiempo de lectura independiente del grupo. No resultó ser una sorpresa que otros alumnos del jardín de niños encontraran interesante el libro de experiencia táctil y disfrutaran compartiendo el tiempo de lectura con Mary y su libro. El maestro del salón de clases pronto pidió más libros. A los compañeros y a los adultos se les ha alentado a leer los libros en voz alta sólo cuando Mary está moviendo su mano sobre el Braille mientras su intérprete señala las palabras con su otra mano.


Cuadro 4

"Mi Paseo en el Jardín" por Mary

Cubierta del Título: "Mi Paseo en el Jardín" por Mary Pegado en el centro de la cubierta hay varios guijarros del camino sobre el que anduvo Mary.

Página 1: Oración en Braille en la parte inferior de la página que dice: "Fui a dar un paseo por el jardín escolar. Encontré 1 pieza de corteza de árbol. "Pegado en el centro de la página hay una pieza grande de corteza de árbol.

Página 2: Oración en Braille "Sobre el piso había 3 piedras. Cuéntalas conmigo." 3 piedras, una pequeña, una mediana y un grande, pegadas sobre esta página.

Página 3: Oración en Braille, "Tengo 4 ramas de un árbol." Acomodadas en tamaño creciente había 4 ramas de varios árboles.

Página 4: Oración en Braille: "Levanté 3 hojas, una grande, una mediana y una pequeña." En tamaño descendente, tres hojas diferentes se pegadaron en el centro de la página.

Página 5: Oración en Braille: "Acaricié a un pequeño conejo." En una bolsa de plástico Zip-lock pegado al centro de la página había un conejo de peluche sobre el piso cerca de una jaula para conejo.

Página 6: Oración en Braille: "Cogí un flor." Una flor de un arbusto se anexó al centro de la página.

Página 7: Oración en Braille: "Me divertí caminando con la Srta. Joan" Engrapado en la página había un elástico de la manija de un bastón desechado como el usado por Mary.


OTROS LIBROS DE EXPERIENCIA TÁCTIL

Los compañeros también han estado involucrados en los libros de experiencia táctil que otros alumnos disfrutan en los casos de Joan. Uno de sus favoritos es un libro intitulado, "Things for My Hair" (véase el cuadro 5 abajo, "Cosas para Mi Cabello"). Este libro tiene 10 páginas con objetos grandes pegados con Velcro para removerlos y reemplazarlos con facilidad, así como objetos pequeños colocados en bolsas Zip-lock. Aunque los alumnos pequeños con impedimentos visuales no participaron en la confección de este libro, han disfrutado al colocar las peinetas, los lazos, los prendedores y los "scrunchies" en su propio cabello, así como en los cabellos de sus compañeros y maestros.

Otra maestra creativa, Alysa Crooke de Pensacola, Florida, también utilizó un tema de cabello para describir un viaje de campo realizado por uno de sus alumnos a un salón de bellezas local (véase el cuadro 6 abajo, "El Peinado de Chloe"). Los siguientes son otros dos libros que hemos visto:

Mi Cuarto de Baño—Repetido al final de cada página de este libro está el texto: "En mi cuarto de baño hay…" Los artefactos incluyen jabón, cepillo de dientes, hilo dental, una muestra de pasta de dientes, cotonetes, un sostén para cola de caballo y una pequeña pieza de toalla.Cosas en el Bolso de Mamá—Este libro estaba guardado en un gran bolso de paja. Tiene 7 páginas y todos los artículos son removibles para su fácil exploración y manipulación. Los objetos incluyen una caja compacta, un bloc de notas de espiral pequeño, una tarjeta de crédito, un lápiz de labios y un monedero cerrado con Velcro en el que se había colocado algunas monedas y un billete de un dólar. El texto en cada página decía: "Miré en el bolso de Mamá y encontré…"


Cuadro 5

Cosas para Mi Cabello

Cubierta del Título: "Cosas para Mi Cabello" Se agregó un cepillo para el cabello a la cubierta con Velcro.

Página 1: "Champú para limpiar mi cabello. Acondicionador para volverlo suave." Se agregaron pequeños recipientes de viaje llenos con un poco de champú/acondicionador al centro de la página con Velcro.

Página 2: "Un cepillo y peines para mi cabello." Se pegaron dos cepillos y un cepillo pequeño a la página con Velcro. Un cepillo grande se pegó a una cuerda y se colgó fuera del libro.

Página 3: "Rizadores de pelo para rizar mi pelo." Se colocaron rizadores de varios tamaños y marcas en una pequeña bolsa de plástico. La bolsa se amarró a la parte superior de la página con Velcro.

Página 4: "Peinetas grandes y pequeñas conservaron mi cabello en su lugar." Se colocaron peinetas de varios tipos y tamaños en una bolsa y ésta se amarró a la parte superior de la página con Velcro.

Página 5: "Algunos pasadores mantienen mi pelo en su lugar." Se colocaron pasadores grandes, pequeños y medianos en una bolsa que se amarró a la página.

Página 6: "Las ligas para cola de caballo mantienen mi pelo en una cola de caballo." Lo mismo que las páginas 4 y 5.

Página 7: "Peinetas mantienen mi pelo hacia atrás." Lo mismo que en las páginas 4 y 5.

Página 8: "Bandas elásticas para la cabeza mantienen al cabello lejos de mi cara." Lo mismo que en las páginas 4 y 5


Cuadro 6

El Peinado de Chloe

La Sra. Margarte le llamó a Chloe y le dijo, "Por favor ven acá, ahora tengo tiempo para hacerte un peinado."

Chloe estaba entusiasmada. Empezó a retorcerse. Tenía que esperar a una dama que se hacía una permanente.

"Vamos a usar un peine para cepillar tu bello cabello. Usemos un pasador. Te vamos a cepillar tu cabello dos veces.

"Las Sra. Margaret, dijo, "Ya sé. Vamos a ponerte unos rizos. Este peinado se ve maravilloso en niñas pequeñas."

"¿Qué pasadores te gustaría llevar? Tienes buen gusto. Se ven fantásticos con tu cabello."

En seguida, le pintaron y barnizaron las uñas a Chloe. La Sra. Margarte dijo, "Muy bonito." Chloe sólo sonrió.

Chloe era buena, así que obtuvo una recompensa… Una paleta de mantequilla y ron, que le encantó comerse.

Las Sra. Margarte dijo, "Estás lista. Es hora de pagar."

"Gracias, Sra. Margaret. Tuve un día muy divertido."


BENEFICIOS

Los libros de experiencia táctil ofrecen varios beneficios para los alumnos con impedimentos visuales. Debido a que describen experiencias personales, los niños piden que les sean leídos, memorizan su contenido con facilidad y están dispuestos a pretender leerlos en voz alta para los adultos que los escuchan. Se dominan las habilidades de libros tempranos, grafema-fonema.

Los libros de experiencia táctil también pueden utilizarse para presentarles a los niños con impedimentos visuales algunas oportunidades de practicar otras habilidades importantes, incluyendo aquellas en el dominio motor. Un niño de 2 años que está totalmente ciego aprendió la difícil habilidad de abrir una bolsa de papel y colocar un objeto en ella cada día que soplaba el viento. Casi todos los alumnos pequeños con los que he utilizado los libros de experiencia táctil han aprendido la manera de abrir y de cerrar las bolsas Zip-lock, habilidades a las que no habían sido acostumbrados previamente. Para muchos otros, la práctica motora adicional les ha sido proporcionada al remover objetos del fuerte Velcro, desde colocar pasadores en el cabello de sus amigos, hasta abrir la tapa de un tubo de pasta de dientes. Aunque aparentemente son muy rudimentarios, éstas son exactamente las clases de habilidades que los adultos asumen que los niños pequeños con impedimentos visuales están aprendiendo y se sorprenden cuando no las tienen al entrar a la escuela.

De manera similar, los libros de experiencia táctil pueden utilizarse para reforzar los conceptos espaciales, temporales y numéricos. Pueden facilitar la expansión significante del lenguaje de las habilidades sociales y de la percepción táctil.

Cuando describimos la creación y el uso de libros de experiencia táctil a los padres de niños con impedimentos visuales significativos, nos encontramos con muchos padres que sorprenden al pensar que pueden no estar familiarizados con artículos comunes encontrados en sus casas, ni cómo tales artículos se utilizan y cómo los comparan con otro. Hemos usado estas pláticas como oportunidades para ayudar a los padres a entender mejor el impacto de impedimento visual en el desarrollo y el aprendizaje y, consecuentemente, para apreciar la importancia crítica de involucrar activamente a los niños en los acontecimientos sencillos que ocurren a su alrededor.

PRECAUCIONES

Aunque los libros de experiencia táctil parecen sencillos de hacer, su creación requiere tanto de tiempo como de planeación cuidadosa, especialmente si se involucra al niño en la recolección de artefactos y en la fabricación del libro. Se recomienda separar la tarea en distintas etapas para mantener el interés de los niños pequeños.

Los padres y los maestros de educación general que han trabajado con nosotros no han estado entusiasmados sobre incluir artefactos que puedan ocasionar un desorden, como champú, pasta de dientes o lápiz labial. Aunque tendemos a favorecer estos tipos de artefactos porque los alumnos con impedimentos visuales han tenido pocas oportunidades de experimentar con ellos en otros contextos, reconocemos el problema potencial. En la historia del bolso descrita previamente, se decidió sustituir con un lápiz claro el lápiz de labios después de que el maestro se quejó de los alumnos manchados. Una solución al problema consiste en poner sólo pequeñas porciones de líquido en los contenedores para que cualquier derrame que ocurra sea lo suficientemente pequeño y pueda limpiarse con facilidad (por el mismo alumno, esperamos).

Finalmente, los objetos incluidos en los libros para los niños muy pequeños no deben presentar el riesgo de asfixia si es que se ponen en la boca del niño. Para los infantes y los niños muy pequeños, será necesaria la supervisión de los adultos cuando aquellos lean de manera independiente algunos de los libros de experiencia táctil.

REFLEXIONES FINALES

Los libros de experiencia táctil pueden apoyar el desarrollo de la alfabetización emergente de niños pequeños con impedimentos visuales de diversas maneras. Cuando los libros de experiencia táctil se pongan a disposición de los lectores tempranos, los alumnos practican:

Dar vuelta a las páginas. Orientar los libros.Explorar objetos.Usar los movimientos de mano asociados con el Braille.Experimentar el placer de la lectura independiente.

Al mismo tiempo, estos niños tienen la oportunidad de ver la relación entre las palabras que describen las actividades en las que se involucran y las historias que leen —un prerrequisito para leer. También ganan experiencia con la escritura y con los símbolos del lenguaje escrito que estarán utilizando en la escuela.

También hemos visto cómo los libros de experiencia táctil apoyan la inclusión social de los niños de preescolar con impedimentos visuales en los salones de clases de educación general. Los niños con impedimentos visuales tienen historias significantes de las cuales escogen durante el tiempo de lectura y pueden compartir dichas historias con otros, tanto como un "lector" competente, como un escucha.

Lamb (1995) observó que los alumnos con algún impedimento visual no experimentan la misma inmersión en la literatura que los niños con visión. Swenson (1999) está de acuerdo, notando que "debido a la escasez de materiales en Braille, los niños ciegos o que tienen visión baja…no participan de manera automática en…el aprendizaje de alfabetización [temprana] En vez de ello, su ‘inmersión en Braille’debe ser deliberadamente orquestada por los maestros y parientes" (p. 11). La adición de libros de experiencia táctil a los libreros de los niños pequeños con impedimentos visuales es un "instrumento" importante de dicha orquestación.

REFERENCIAS

Anderson, R. D, Hiebert, E. H., Scott, J. A., & Wilkinson, I. A. (1985). Becoming a nation of readers: The report of the Commission on Reading. Washington, DC: National Academy of Education, National Institute of Education.

Clay, M. M. (1991). Becoming literate: The construction of inner control. Birkenhead, Auckland, New Zealand: Heinemann Education.

Ferrell,K. A. (1997). Preface. What is it that is different about a child with blindness or visual impairment? In P. Crane, D. Cuthbertson, K. A. Kerrell, & H. Scherb (Eds.), Equals in partnership. Basic rights for families of children with blindness or visual impairment (pp. v-vii). Watertown, MA: Perkins School for the Blind and the National Association for Parents of the Visually Impaired.

Ferrell, K. A. (2000). Growth and development of young children. In M. C. Holbrook & A. J. Koenig (Eds.), Foundations of education (2nd ed.). Volume 1: History and theory of teaching children and youths with visual impairments (pp. 111-134). New York: AFB Press.

Finello, K. M., Hanson, N. H., & Kekelis, L. S. (1992). Cognitive focus: Developing cognition, concepts, and language in young blind and visually impaired children. In R. L. Pogrund, D. L. Fazzi, & J. S. Lampert (Eds.), Early focus: Working with young blind and visually impaired children and their families (pp. 34-49). New York: American Foundation for the Blind.

Handel, R. D. (1999). Building family literacy in an urban community. New York: New York Teachers College Press.

Harley, R. K., Truan, M. B., & Sanford, L. D. (1997). Communication skills for visually impaired learners: Braille, print, and listening skills for students who are visually impaired (2nd ed.). Springfield, IL: Charles C Thomas.

Koenig, A. J., & Farrenkopf, C. (1997). Essential experience to undergird the early development of literacy. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 91(1), 14-24.

Lamb, G. (1995). Fingerprints: A whole language approach to Braille literacy. Manurewa, Auckland, NZ: Homal Vision Education Centre.

Miller, D. D. (1985). Reading comes naturally: A mother and her blind child’s experi-ences. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 79(1), 1-4.

Newbold, S. (2000). Emergent literacy for young blind children. Phoenix, AZ: FBC Publications.

Purcell-Gates, V. (2000). Family literacy. In M. L. Kamil, P. B. Mosenthal, P. D. Pearson, & R. Barr (Eds.), Handbook of reading research, Volume III (pp. 853-870). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Rex, E. J., Koenig, A. J., Wormsley, D. P., & Baker, R. L. (1994). Foundations of Braille literacy. New York: AFB Press.

Sawyer, W. E., & Comer, D. E. (1996). Growing up with literature. Albany, NY: Delmar.

Snow, C. F., Burns, M. S., & Griffin, P. (Eds.). (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.

Stratton, J. M., & Wright, S. (1991). On the way to literacy: Early experiences for visually impaired children. Louisville, KY: American Printing House for the Blind.

Swenson, A. M. (1999). Beginning with Braille: Firsthand experiences with a balanced approach to literacy. New York: AFB Press.

Wormsley, D. P. (1997). Fostering emergent literacy. In D. P. Wormsley & F. M. D’Andrea (Eds.), Instructional strategies for Braille literacy (pp.17-55). New York: AFB Press.

 

TSBVI Publications

(Originally published in Spring 2004 SEE/HEAR Newsletter)

By Ann Adkins, Education Specialist, TSBVI Visually Impaired Outreach

Abstract: This article describes the advantages of teaching and using uncontracted Braille to meet the literacy needs of visually impaired students.

Key Words: programming, literacy, reading, Braille, uncontracted Braille, contracted Braille, Grade One Braille, Grade Two Braille, alphabetic Braille


In an effort to meet the needs of all visually impaired students, teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs) must explore all forms of literacy and be able to teach them to their students. In the "News and Views" section of this edition of SEE/HEAR, Phil Hatlen encourages us to expand our definitions of literacy to include a variety of types of literacy, including print literacy, Braille literacy, tactile literacy, auditory literacy, and media literacy. In our ongoing look at literacy, we encourage teachers, students, and parents to consider all options, including a combination of approaches to literacy. In this article, we would like to examine the use of uncontracted Braille (also called Grade One Braille or alphabetic Braille).

For tactual learners, literacy should not be limited to the use of contracted (or Grade Two) Braille. In the past, many TVIs in Texas have emphasized the use of contracted Braille and, for some, Braille literacy has even been defined as the ability to read and write in Grade Two Braille. This may have been because most instructional materials used contracted Braille (such as the Patterns program from the American Printing House for the Blind) and because most Braille books were printed in contracted form. Other reasons for emphasizing the use of contracted Braille were discussed in a previous SEE/HEAR article, “Reading for Everyone: Expanding Literacy Options” by Cyral Miller and Ann Rash (Summer 2001), which described the results of a survey of VI professionals. The primary use of uncontracted Braille seems to have been with students who had learning problems or additional disabilities, and the results of the survey showed that uncontracted Braille can “increase literacy options for visually impaired students with multiple disabilities.” (Miller and Rash, 2001). One common belief seemed to be that uncontracted Braille was a good method only for students who were not able to master the contractions of Grade Two Braille. In the list below, we encourage you to consider why other students might benefit from uncontracted Braille as well.

  1. Uncontracted Braille can provide increased opportunities for literacy. Miller and Rash (2001) describe its use by a variety of VI professionals to expand literacy options for all tactual learners.
  2. Uncontracted Braille works well with phonics-based reading programs, which are found in many elementary classrooms. Uncontracted Braille provides 1-to-1 correspondence and promotes letter/sound associations, important components of literacy instruction. The use of contractions does not reinforce basic phonics skills.
  3. When students use uncontracted Braille, they can participate in reading lessons with their sighted classmates. They can use the same reading materials as their peers, only in a Braille format.
  4. Teaching materials are now available to teach uncontracted Braille, such as Un’s the One: Uncontracted Braille FUNdamentals, from TSBVI, and One is Fun PDF document  links to another website, by Marjorie Troughton. A greater variety of books are now available in uncontracted form (see www.braillebookshare.com), and the Texas Education Agency (TEA) is currently working to provide textbooks and assessments in uncontracted Braille. These changes help alleviate the concerns of many TVIs about having adequate materials and curricula to support instruction in uncontracted Braille.
  5. Because there is a letter-to-letter correspondence between uncontracted Braille and print, it is easier for sighted peers, parents, siblings, and teachers to learn to read uncontracted letters. Everyone in a Braille reader’s life can be a participant in his literacy.
  6. Uncontracted Braille allows for immediate feedback from a classroom teacher. She doesn’t have to wait for the VI teacher to transcribe Braille once she learns the basic letters or consults a cheat sheet.
  7. Because the rules of spelling are the same in uncontracted Braille and print, students can sound out and spell words at the same time and in the same way as their classmates.
  8. 39 of the 50 most common words in English have contractions when written in Grade Two Braille. Many also include lower cell signs. According to The Reading Teacher’s Book of Lists (Prentice Hall, Fourth Edition, 2000), these words make up about one third of all printed material and are the words elementary teachers emphasize to their students as “instant words.” Examples include many common words such as the, and, of, from, for, and it and lower cell words such as be, to, in, was, were, and his. Common suffixes also appear in early reading and involve the use of Braille contractions, such as –ing, -ed, -er, -est. The use of contractions in these early words makes reading more difficult for beginning Braille readers.
  9. There are 180 rules to learn in uncontracted Braille compared to 450 rules for contracted Braille.
  10. Uncontracted Braille can promote greater speed and fluency in reading (Troughton ,1992. Miller and Rash, 2001).
  11. Uncontracted Braille can promote more interaction with peers. Sally Mangold reported in the Braille Monitor (October 2000) that Minnesota students showed greater interaction and participation with sighted students, both academically and socially. Marjorie Troughton’s research also showed greater peer interaction when students used uncontracted Braille.
  12. The Minnesota teachers (Mangold, 2000) and the teachers involved in Troughton’s study also reported higher academic achievement scores, in both reading rate and accuracy, with uncontracted Braille than with contracted Braille.
  13. In One is Fun, Troughton described how motivation and interest in reading improves with the use of uncontracted Braille. Although difficult to measure, teachers in her study noted that it encouraged thinking rather than memorization, allowed their students to help their sighted classmates, and was “great fun.” Miller and Rash also cite Instructional Strategies for Braille Literacy (AFB, Wormsley and D’Andrea, 1997), which showed that uncontracted Braille can promote self-esteem.
  14. Uncontracted Braille facilitates a quick transition from print to Braille for adults and adventitiously blind students (Mangold, 2000). Uncontracted Braille offers early successes with the mechanical challenges of Braille reading (Miller and Rash, 2001), and these successes can be easily recognized and supported.
  15. Uncontracted Braille can be a successful approach to reading for students who later transition to the use of contracted Braille (Miller and Rash, 2001).
  16. Fewer reversal errors have been reported when using uncontracted Braille, especially for those students who use uncontracted Braille for a longer period of time before they transition to contracted Braille (Troughton, 1992).
  17. Uncontracted Braille works well with a linguistic approach to reading.
  18. Uncontracted Braille works well with ESL students and foreign languages.
  19. Uncontracted Braille works well for students using dual media for literacy, such as those students who use print but need Braille as well.
  20. Uncontracted Braille can work well with students with deafblindness because finger-spelling does not correlate with Braille contractions.
  21. Because it matches print letter for letter, students can use uncontracted Braille in a variety of board games (Monopoly, Scrabble), card games (Uno), and leisure activities with sighted friends and family members.
  22. Troughton found that because it is easier to write in uncontracted Braille, children can write their own compositions sooner and can write more independently.
  23. Marjorie Troughton found that books written in contracted Braille do NOT take up significantly less space than the same books written in uncontracted Braille. Research presented at the CEC National Convention in 1999 showed that contracted Braille only saved 20% (Ross, Scheira, & Urick).
  24. Uncontracted Braille can make production of Braille materials easier and helps with computer-assisted Braille (Troughton).

Many of the ideas in this article were generated as part of a Braille Study Group to improve the Braille and literacy skills of visually impaired students in Texas. We hope that you will discover other advantages as you explore the uses of uncontracted Braille, and we encourage VI teachers, students, and parents to examine all literacy options. We also encourage you to contact the VI Outreach team with information about your experiences with uncontracted Braille (Ann Adkins at 512-206-9301 or ). Ann Rash, Education Specialist with TSBVI Visually Impaired Outreach, is currently collecting data on the use of uncontracted Braille in Texas and invites those who are interested in trying uncontracted Braille to contact her (at 512-206-9269 or ) to participate in the collection of this data.

References

Mangold, S. "Trends in the Use of Braille Contractions in the United States:  Implications for UBC Decisions." Braille Monitor. October 2000. The National Federation of the Blind.

Miller, C. & Rash, A. "Reading for Everyone: Expanding Literacy Options." See/Hear. Summer 2001. Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Austin, Texas.

The Reading Teacher's Book of Lists. (2000). 4th Edition. The Learning Network, Prentice Hall, p. 47.

Ross, D., Scheira, J. & Urick, M.J. "Print Materials in Grade 1 and Grade 2: Physical Comparison for Space Usage." CEC National Convention, Charlotte, NC, April 16, 1999.

Troughton, M. (1992). One is Fun: Guidelines for Better Braille Literacy. Brantford, Ontario. http://faculty.sfasu.edu/cadyd/indexpagextra/BRAILLE/Case%20for%20Grade%201%20Braille.pdf

Wormsley, D.P. & D'Andrea, F.M., eds. (1997). Instructional Strategies for Braille Literacy. American Foundation for the Blind, New York.

(Originally published in Spring 2005 SEE/HEAR Newsletter)

By Kate Moss(Hurst), Education Specialist, Texas Deafblind Outreach

Abstract: This article shares information about the book, Learning Through Touch, by Mike McLinden and Stephen McCall. Special attention is paid to the anatomy and physiology of touch and the functions of touch.

Key Words: Programming, blind, deafblind, touch, tactile


It stands to reason that children who are visually impaired or deafblind would be more reliant on touch or their tactile sense to experience the world. These children have different needs and different skills related to their use of touch in learning. Unfortunately, many of us don’t know all that much about how to help these children develop better tactile skills and make better use of their tactual sense.

The work of such people as Barbara Miles, Lilli Nielsen, and Deborah Chen has made us very aware of the need to pay more attention to this sense in programming for these children. We are beginning to use hand-under-hand in our interactions with these children, and becoming more mindful of what message our touch conveys. We are providing them with a greater variety of textures and materials and giving them more time and opportunities for independent exploration of these objects. We are recognizing that hand use progresses systematically simply by the child completing constant repetition of specific hand movement schemes. We are thinking about touch as it relates to literacy and general learning. In short, we are becoming better educated about the importance of developing touch in all our children with visual impairments and deafblindness.

Recently a colleague shared a copy of a book, Learning Through Touch, by Mike McLinden and Steve McCall from the School of Education at the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. This book includes information on the anatomy and physiology of touch, the functions of touch, assessing touch, and providing instruction through touch. I was struck by a number of things I read and want to encourage our readers to try to find a copy of this book. Though the book is not readily available in the United States, it may be ordered through Amazon or on-line from Fulton Publishers at http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9781853468414/.

The Anatomy and Physiology of Touch

Our largest organ is our skin. It serves a number of purposes, such as protecting our internal organs from infections, and is also the location of the tactile receptors in our body.

The skin has an outer layer called the epidermis and an inner layer called the dermis. In each of these layers of skin are different tactile receptors or nerve endings, which seem to respond best to particular types of stimuli. These receptors are generally divided into three categories:

  1. Mechanoreceptors: respond to indentations of the skin. An example of this is when a finger presses against the back of the hand. There are two types of these mechanoreceptors: those that are rapidly adapting and those that are slowly adapting.
  2. Thermoreceptors: respond to temperature changes.
  3. Nioceptors: respond to stimuli that damage the skin such as intense heat or the prick of a pin.

Even though each of these receptors responds best to these stimuli, they also respond to some degree to all types of tactual stimuli.

Tactile receptors are also located in the joints, tendons and muscles, and limbs. These help form part of the proprioceptive system. The proprioceptive system allows us to know about the stationary position of our body and also give us information about our movements. We know where our hand is and how to make it move out to reach and grasp an object because of our proprioceptive system. The visual system ties into the proprioceptive system, too, which is why some children with visual impairments have problems knowing where their bodies are located in space.

The sensations coming to us from outside our body and those coming from inside our body are experienced as two separate sensations that our brains are able to process so we can complete a wide variety of actions. When we manipulate a small object such as a pen with our hands behind our backs we know where our hands are in relation to one another, even if they do not touch. We experience the feel of the pen and can explore it, turn it, and transfer it without looking all because of the tactile sensations we experience within our bodies and from outside our bodies.

Tactile information is sent to the brain from the receptors along two main neural pathways. One pathway, called the dorsal column medial lemniscal system (DCMLS), can be thought of as a discriminatory system. It carries information we obtain through active exploration and includes such information as pressure, vibration, and proprioception. The other system, called the anterolateral system (ALS), carries information that helps our body defend itself by relaying information about pain and temperature. The DCMLS ends in the somatosensory cortex within the parietal lobe of the brain located at the top, back part of your head. The ALS appears to be a more primitive system and ends in the reticular formation that is located just above the area of the brain stem.

Although these systems are separate, they do have some overlap of function. For example, some pain information may be carried by the DCMLS, and some tactile discrimination information may be carried by the ALS. This might explain why some children avoid touching or being touched. If damage is done to one of these systems the result may be that the other system becomes more dominant. The ALS system, which handles pain, is less vulnerable to damage than the DCMLS system. Children who are tactually defensive may be responding to touch primarily through the ALS and experience its defensive function.

The Functions of Touch

The active use of touch to “seek out and acquire information” has been called “haptic touch.” The “haptic system” has been defined as a distinctive perceptual system, oriented towards discriminating and recognizing objects by handling them as opposed to looking at them. (McLinden & McCall, 2002) McLinden and McCall share information about the various property features we acquire through the haptic system. These include:

  • Vibration/Surface texture
  • Wetness/dryness
  • Surface temperature
  • Shape
  • Slope
  • Curved
  • Hardness/softness
  • Weight
  • Elasticity
  • Pliability

Many types of touch are active, but some types of touch are not active. For example, we can experience the breeze blowing on our faces and the warmth of the sun. We can feel vibrations from the car next to us that is playing music too loud.

Touch can be interactive or non-interactive. Interactive touch includes such actions as hugging, kissing, or shaking hands. Non-interactive touch includes things like resting your hands in your lap, massaging a leg cramp, or bathing.

Think about the difference in the kind of information you can receive through various types of touch. For example, if you simply place your hand on a cat without moving it, what could you learn about the cat? You would feel warmth from its body and, depending on where on the cat’s body your hand was placed, some information about how soft or hard it is. If the cat is purring, you might experience some of the vibrations it makes. Passive touch like this does not provide that much information about the cat. However, if you pet the cat and examine it from head to toe by exploring it with your hands and fingers, you would find out it has fur, a tail, legs, whiskers, eyes, and ears. You might have some idea of the weight, size, and shape of the cat and whether it has short or long hair. Through interactive touch you might also learn about teeth and claws!

Hands play a leading role in touch for most of us. Still it is important to remember that we also use other sensitive parts of our bodies in touching. This is especially important to remember when we are working with children who do not have good use of their hands. A great deal of information can be gained through exploration with lips and the tongue, with feet, and with other parts of our bodies. In fact, a baby first explores with his or her mouth, and often uses his or her feet to explore things as well.

As the child’s vision and motor skills develop, a typical baby begins to incorporate more and more strategies for exploring objects with the hands. Many of these strategies are learned through watching others, but also are developed naturally by just interacting with a million different things. Think about the ways most babies spend their time. They are constantly interacting with the objects in their world — reaching and grasping, banging and batting, putting together and taking apart.

McLinden and McCall include the following chart to show the type of sensory information that can be found by various exploratory procedures we typically use on objects.

Chart1

When we think about children with blindness and deafblindness, we can begin to see how important it is to develop haptic ability (or hand use). Hand use and cognition are tied together. The more capable any child is in their exploration of objects with their hands, the better they are able to formulate concepts that are critical to learning. One researcher, Rochat, suggested that vision is the ‘organizer’ of different types of sensory information. As the child manipulates the object they view it from different perspectives and learn about its properties. So sight helps the baby make sense of what they are feeling. Stilwel and Cermak note in Hand Function in the Child: Foundation for Remediation (1995) in their chapter, “Perceptual functions of the hand” that young babies’ do not so much use sight as a substitute for touch but rather they use sight to guide their haptic manipulation, in order to make the sensory input more meaningful. (McLinden & McCall, 2002)

For children with visual impairments, vision may not help them make meaning from what they are experiencing. At the same time, touch may be all they have to work with to help them experience the world. When a visually impaired child’s sense of touch is also impaired because of motor problems, missing or malformed limbs, or because of prolonged restraining by IV lines and such, they are denied a great deal of information about how the world works. It is understandable that these children often show cognitive delays as well.

What Can We Do to Develop Hand Function?

If hand function is so important, what can we do to help our blind and deafblind children to develop these critical haptic skills? Although there is very little research-based guidance on what we should do, current best practice gives us some guidelines. These strategies include:

Honor the child’s hands. Do not grab or hold the child’s hands any more than is absolutely necessary. Build trust between you and the child so that he/she is inclined to trust you not to try to control what he/she does with his/her hands.

Watch what the child does with his/her hands. Barbara Miles reminds us this is especially important for the child who is deafblind since their hands may serve as eyes, ears, voice, and tools. When we look at what the child does with his/her hands, we can have a better understanding of what the child might know about the world.

Use a hand-under-hand approach in guiding the child or modeling actions with your hands. This also means offering objects to the child by bringing them up underneath his/her hand rather than taking the child’s hand to the object.

Watch what a child can do with his/her hands. This can be done through formal assessment and informal observation. There are a number of tools programs can use to assess the haptic sense and hand use in children with visual impairment and deafblindness. Some assessment tools that are used frequently in the United States include the Callier-Azusa Scale, Functional and Instruction Scheme, Home and School Inventories or Problem-Solving Skills, and the INSITE checklist.

Give the child objects that encourage the development of skills. For example, if you want the child to develop finger isolation, give him many different objects that encourage that skill, such as metal washers and nuts, wire whisks, loose knit fabric, rings or sections of tubing, containers with holes in them, and so forth. Expand skills horizontally (letting him practice this skill with many different objects) before trying to achieve higher-level skills.

Provide the child with many opportunities each day to explore a wide variety of objects on his/her own. These should have different textures, weights, temperatures, shapes, flexibility, and hardness. Most of the Active Learning theory focuses on this approach. If the child’s hand use is limited by other disabilities, we need to make sure that things come to his hands.

Make your hands available to the child for him/her to be able to tell you something or show you something. A nice way to do this is to simply hold your hands out to the child with the palms facing up. Let the child take your hand and guide it where he/she wants.

Model hand-use for the child as you do things. This is typically done using hand-under-hand approach as you complete everyday activities such as opening, closing, twisting, rubbing, reading Braille, signing and so forth. The child can learn a great deal about hands from “watching” what you do with your hands.

Let the child know you are experiencing the object he/she is experiencing. Co-actively touching objects that the child is touching is the equivalent of using a pointing gesture to reference an object that the child is looking at. This allows the child to share information with you about the object.

Play hand games with the child. Begin by imitating what the child does with his/her hands. As time goes on and the child begins to attend to what your hands are doing introduce new actions or movements. Clap, wiggle fingers, shake hands, rub them on a surface; any interaction the child is interested in will work.

Offer many hands-on learning experiences with real objects. Avoid the use of miniatures or replicas.

Provide more time for the child to explore objects within activities. What we can quickly take in with our vision requires more time to learn with our tactile sense.

Create object books and boxes for a child to “recall” an event they have experienced byexploring materials associated with that activity. For example, a trip to McDonald’s might be recalled by exploring a collection of objects such as a straw, a french fry cup, a toy surprise, and a sticky napkin.

Conclusion

Developing the sense of touch and good hand use skills are important goals for any child who is blind or deafblind. The tactile sense often is needed to confirm what the child is seeing or hearing. Using the sense of touch to teach children with visual impairment or deafblindness may be challenging to us as sighted and hearing individuals. We must think about the child’s experience of the world and find ways to enhance the use of the child’s tactile sense in all the activities we do.

There are many good resources to help us learn to make better use of a child’s tactile senses. Some of these are listed below. Learning Through Touch may not be a book that is familiar to many of us in the United States, but it is another great resource for teachers and parents alike who want to have a better understanding of the critical role touch plays in learning for children who are blind and deafblind.

References and Resources

References:

McLinden, M. and McCall, S. (2002). Learning Through Touch: Supporting children with visual impairment and additional difficulties. London: David Fulton Publishers, Ltd. The Chiswick Centre, 414 Chiswick High Road, London W4 5TF. http://www.routledge.com/teachers/.

Stilwel, J.M. and Cermak, S.A. (1995). On the Way to Literacy: early experiences for visually impaired children. Louisville, KY: American Printing for the Blind.

Rochat, P. (1989). “Object manipulation and exploration in 2- to 5-month-old infants”, Developmental Psychology 25, 871-4.

Resources:

Miles, B. (2003). Talking the Language of Hands to the Hands. Monmouth, OR: DB-Link. http://www.tr.wou.edu/dblink/lib/hands.htm (Update 5/10/2015 DB-Link is now the National Center on Deaf-Blindness https://nationaldb.org/)

Project SALUTE. http://www.projectsalute.net/

By Teresa Dafft, Deafblind, Family Leadership Participant, The Woodlands

Abstract: One parent shares her pointers for preparing for her child’s hospital stay.

Keywords: Family, blind, deafblind leadership, hospital tips


Our son, Travis, had a pretty rough start with life. Emergency C-section, emergency resuscitation, emergency life flight to Houston — Emergency, Emergency, Emergency. During those times, we didn’t have time to stop, think and ask questions. It just happened so fast.

That was 14 years ago, we have been fortunate that Travis has not been in the hospital since he was two. Not because he has been in perfect health but because he has a pediatrician who believes that under certain situations a child will do better at home with nursing care as opposed to lying in a strange bed in a room that actually has more germs than your home!

Then the year 2004 came rolling around and a new journey began. In January, Travis had to have bilateral hamstring lengthening. It was a fairly easy operation, which was performed in day surgery. Afterwards, he was in long leg casts for two weeks before we were able to resume our regular routine. For us, our regular routine meant a summer of fun at grandma’s farm and a growth spurt!

Travis has always been monitored for scoliosis because he is in a wheelchair and his muscles don’t work correctly. Well, this growth spurt caused his curve to go from 30 degrees to 74 degrees in 3 months. It was causing his pelvis to shift, making it harder for him to sit.

Waiting in the doctor’s office to find out what needed to be done to fix the problem, I remember thinking that perhaps the doctor would increase the support of the brace or maybe have him wear it at night. When we met with the doctor, he shared with us what was really going on. From there, everything became a blur “surgery” “lose ability to sit” “50/50 chance” “ventilator” “ICU” “12 hour surgery.” Words that can stop you in your tracks. The only difference this time was that the surgery was not an emergency and we could take the time to stop, think and ask our questions.

Travis came through his back surgeries with flying colors and now almost 6 months postoperative he is doing great. We know that a lot of parents will be facing the situation of surgeries and hospital stays, and as result of our experience we learned a few pointers that we would like to share with other families.

  • If the surgeon is different from your regular physician, don’t hesitate to inquire about him. Ask your regular physicians, other parents and even hospital caseworkers.
  • Meet with the surgeon more than once. We met with Dr. Hanson to discuss the surgery. Then two weeks later we met again with all of our questions written down for him to answer.
  • Write down all your questions. NO QUESTION IS A DUMB QUESTION WHEN IT COMES TO YOUR CHILD’S HEALTH.
  • Have the surgeon explain exactly what he is going to do step-by-step. Have him explain the possible outcomes–both the good and the bad.
  • Ask which hospital your surgeon prefers. Many have privileges at several hospitals.
  • Ask which anesthesiologists they like to work with and be sure to get a written list. Doctor’s do not get to choose their anesthesiologist but parents can! However, YOU MUST REQUEST IT DURING THE PRE-ADMISSION BEFORE SURGERY. Travis was going to be on the table 12-14 hours. We wanted someone who our surgeon was comfortable working with.
  • Ask if blood will be needed during the surgery. Call the blood bank yourself because the doctors do not know how the blood donation system works.
  • Call the hospital. Most will give you a tour and arrange for you to talk with the child life specialist. Explain your child’s needs. Travis was going to be in the hospital awhile so we asked about switch toys and other items he could use. We found out that at Texas Children’s Hospital people could e-mail Travis every day and the hospital staff would deliver his messages to him. We sent the address out in a school memo and he got lots of email.
  • Make a small laminated chart or book that explains how your child communicates. When we left him at the Operating Room doors, we knew that the nurse could at least communicate with him because of his book.Make a sign for the hospital room that gives people a quick reminder of how to interact with your child. We made a small sign to put on his door that said,

    ***Please do not touch Travis until you have introduced yourself to him, then gently touch him. Explain what you are going to do BEFORE you do it***

    I UNDERSTAND MORE THAN YOU THINK I DO – Travis

  • Keep a scrapbook near your child to help people learn more about your child than just the medical stuff he or she is going through. We did this by placing ~his special book near his bed that has lots of pictures of Travis and all the cool things he does. This really helped to show the medical personnel that Travis was not a syndrome, but a typical teenager who did things a little differently.
  • If your child has been getting his medication on a regular schedule, make sure you inform the doctor and his nurse so that this schedule will not be interrupted. Travis has been getting his seizure meds at 7am, 12:30pm and 6pm for the last 12 years. The standard hospital medication schedule is 9am, 2pm and 9pm. If we kept to this schedule, his seizures would have really been bad.
  • Set up a shift system for the parents. During the surgery both of us were waiting for Travis and we were both there for him in recovery. Then we took shifts: one went home to sleep while the other parent remained at his bedside. This allowed us to not be so fatigued (yes, you are still tired) and cleared headed when doctors came in to talk to you. Have one person act as your information source to those who want to be kept updated on how your child is doing. This way you only have to make one call and you can focus on your child. When you get home from your shift, you can call those you would like to talk to in person. In addition to our family and friends, we made sure we had one person designated at his school and our work to spread the word about Travis.
  • And most importantly, after the surgery and hospital stay is over, drop a note to the hospital to express your appreciation and share what your child’s hospital stay was like. This should include noting anything that went well and (anything) that could have been done differently. In our letter, we especially thanked his anesthesiologist, because she was so good at taking care of our son. She kept him off a ventilator and made his hospital stay 10 days shorter. She also came by the floor to see him and still asks about him through our neurologists.

We hope our experience and the things we learned while Travis was in the hospital will help another family. We know they will certainly come in handy for our family when we face this again this fall when Travis is scheduled for another surgery.

by Kate Moss, Family Training Specialist

Based on material presented by Jim Durkel, Audiologist and Education Specialist for Texas Deafblind Outreach

Originally published in See/Hear Newsletter prior to 2008

HOW DO WE HEAR?

In a normal ear, sound waves are collected by the outer ear which is made up of the pinna and ear canal. The sound wave is resonated and focused as it travels down the ear canal to the tympanic membrane (ear drum). When it strikes the ear drum the vibration produced causes the tiny bone chain in the middle ear (ossicles) to move in a pumping or rocking motion. The ossicles are attached to the window of the inner ear. The hearing mechanism of the inner ear is made up of the cochlea (sensory) and the VIIIth cranial nerve (neural). The inner ear also houses the vestibular mechanism responsible for maintaining balance.

The movement of the ossicles sets off motion in the fluid that fills the cochlea. Within the cochlea exists the organ of Corti which is lined with approximately 15,000 hair cells. These hair cells resonate at certain frequencies and convert the sound wave motion into electrical impulses.

These impulses trigger nerve impulses in the auditory nerve which in turn sends impulses to the auditory centers of the brainstem and brain. There the auditory information is processed by the brain so that we understand and respond to the sound source. (Flexer, 1994)

CAUSES OF HEARING LOSS

Damage may occur at any point along the hearing mechanism and result in hearing loss. In humans there are two systems that work together to allow us to receive and process auditory signals. The outer ear, the middle ear and the inner ear make up the peripheral auditory system while the brainstem and the cerebral cortex make up the central auditory system. If there is a problem in the area of the outer ear or the middle ear it is called a conductive hearing loss. We all have experienced this type of loss when we have a bad headcold or water in our ears. If there is a problem in the inner ear, it is called a sensorineural hearing loss. This is the type of loss most typically thought of as deafness. When there is a problem which occurs at the brainstem or the cerebral cortex we consider these as auditory processing problems.

Conductive losses occur when:

  • impaired movement of the bones of the middle ear (ossicles) because the bones are damaged or missing or can not move efficiently due to fluid or infection,
  • the absence of the outer ear,
  • unusually small ear canal,
  • obstructions in the ear canal such as wax build-up or small objects (beans, rocks, etc.),
  • and damage to the tympanic membrane.

Sensorinueral losses occur when:

  • there is damage to the cochlea due to noise exposure, disease, or trauma, or hereditary condition;
  • there is damage to the auditory nerve, because of trauma, disease, or hereditary condition.

In auditory processing disorders, even though information seems to be reaching the brain, the individual is unable to process that information correctly. Often individuals with this type of disorder have language problems and may function as if they have some type of hearing loss.

Auditory processing disorders occur when:

  • there is damage to the brainstem or cerebral cortex due to trauma or disease;
  • there is underdevelopment of neural pathways.

Additionally individuals may have combination losses which include a conductive component, a sensorineural component, and/or auditory processing component. When any part of the auditory system fails to function properly the auditory signal (words, environmental sounds, etc.) is not processed correctly and the person experiences hearing loss.

CHARACTERISTICS OF SOUND

What do we need to know about sound to help us understand how our hearing mechanism processes it? First of all the signal or sound has physical characteristics which can be measured: intensity (loudness) measured in decibels (dB) and frequency (pitch) measured in hertz (Hz). This holds true for any sound whether it is a sound produced by the human voice or environmental sounds.

The second thing we need to know is that these physical characteristics combine in spoken language to create what is known as segmentals (letter sounds like k, t, æ, ƒ, th, etc. ) and suprasegmentals (loudness, pitch, rhythm).

COMPONENTS OF UNDERSTANDING THE SPOKEN WORD

Segmental And Suprasegmental Elements

All of this linguistic (language) information is important in helping us to understand speech. We must be able to distinguish specific vowel and consonant sounds. It is important to understand the segmental aspects of speech so that we can distinguish "cat" and "bat" or "cat" and "calf" or "want" and "wanted".

We rely on information provided by the segmental elements, but we also respond to the suprasegmental elements (pitch, loudness, and rhythm) to make sense of what is said. The rise and fall of the human voice carries meaning for us. For example, "you ate this" changes from a statement to a question if the pitch of the "this" rises. ("You ate this." "You ate this?") Pitch typically helps us tell the gender and general age of a person simply by hearing their voice. Sometimes we can also get an idea about their emotional state or physical health because of the pitch, loudness, or rhythm of the voice.

This information guides us in understanding what has been said in order to respond correctly. For example, a strange, male voice shouting, "What do you want?" would get a completely different response from your mother’s voice quietly asking the same question. We have to interpret more than just the words to determine what our response should be.

Language Scheme

We also rely on our understanding of certain situations to help us in processing the information carried by the auditory signal. Take the example of the loud male voice speaking the words "what do you want." If you are in a football stadium and you see the popcorn vendor coming toward you, and your friend asked this question, you would probably respond with, "A large popcorn." If you are walking down a dark street and hear the same thing, you will probably turn and run. Our knowledge of situations play a part in how we interpret what we hear.

This is also true of environmental sounds. If I hear a car alarm outside my bedroom it generally means that the neighbors accidentally set it off. When I hear the same sound outside my motel room in a strange town, I immediately race to the window to see if someone is stealing my rental car. I have learned how to respond to that sound based on where I am when the sound occurs. In other words, I have developed a scheme about the meaning of a car alarm at my home and one about a car alarm at a motel.

Developing scheme is also important in helping me to sort through the auditory signal coming at me to find out what is important for me to pay attention to auditorily. For example, I may not be aware of all of the sounds around me in an airport when I am waiting for a flight, but if my flight is announced, I tune into that information. Why? Because I have a scheme filed under "airports and returning home" in my experience that helps me know when to pay attention to the voice on the speaker overhead.

These scheme are very important to us in using our auditory skills. Think of all the situations we have filed away in our memory that have red flags for listening: a fire drill at school, driving around town, parties, taking a test, eating out at a restaurant. Because we know what to expect as possibilities or probabilities in those situations, we don’t have to put so much of our energies into sorting out what is important to pay attention to and what can be ignored.

OTHER FACTORS INFLUENCING AUDITORY SKILLS

Acoustics

Sometimes our ability to pick up on key auditory information can be affected by environmental factors. For example, the amount of noise around us can drown out (mask) the sounds that are important. Reverberation (echo) can also make listening difficult.

Competition From Other Senses

If there is too much competition from our other senses, listening can become more difficult. Think about trying to listen to what someone is saying to you on the phone while watching your child run out into the street after a ball. You are so engrossed in what you are seeing that you probably don’t hear what the person says.

Motivation

Motivation can impede or improve our ability to hear certain things in certain situations. We are all aware of the phenomenon of "selective hearing." If you are at a party and many people are talking, you may be unaware of what is being said or aware of only a general buzz of voices. However, if someone says your name, you most likely will pick up on their conversation and be able to hear it.

Emotional State And Demand On Memory

Likewise, emotional state can be a factor. "She was so upset I don’t think she heard a word I said." Additionally the demands on our memory can have impact as well. Since I am not fluent in Spanish I have to work hard to pick out the words I might know in Spanish when someone is talking to me. Listening to an English speaker I do not have to listen as carefully to follow the conversation.

Redundancy Of Language

There is also a lot of redundancy in spoken language. For example, if I hear a sentence beginning with a "wh" word and ending with a rising pitch, I know that you are asking me a question. Even if I do not specifically hear the first word, I can make assumptions based on other features of what is said.

In order to understand spoken language or even to understand the significance of environmental sounds, we must have highly developed skills. Some of these skills are related to detecting and interpreting sound on an auditory level and some of these skills relate to more general understanding of the world around us. Even children with mild or moderate hearing loss may need specific instruction and adaptations to access this information and make meaning of it.

THE ROLE OF VISION AND HEARING IN EARLY LEARNING

We know how important the first five years of life are in creating a basis for all learning that will take place throughout the life of an individual. Looking at a child without disabilities we can see how dramatic the development and learning process is during this time period. The foundation for all learning is laid during these critical years as the infant’s body works to complete the development that began in utero. While it is easy to understand the impact of severe and profound sensory loss (vision and hearing) to a young child’s development, it is often easy to overlook the impact of mild and moderate sensory loss during this same critical period of development. In thinking about a child who may also have some type of visual impairment the impact of this type of loss becomes even more dramatic.

When we are born, our hearing skills, much like our vision and our motor skills, are not fully developed. Our brains literally develop the neural pathways that will allow us to use the information coming in through our senses to comprehend ourselves and the world around us.

A hungry baby cries and mom pads across the room and talks to the baby as she picks it up to be fed. Over time the baby comes to expect this response and associates these sounds with getting fed. As most parents will tell you, after a while the baby will cry for assistance and calm the minute he hears the parent’s voice or footsteps. That baby has already developed skills that allow him to:

  • detect the sound of her voice or steps ;
  • recognize it is mom’s voice and not the vacuum cleaner;
  • know that mom’s voice is responding to him;
  • know that mom is at the door of his room;
  • comprehend she said "want bottle";
  • and understand all of this together means that dinner is on the way.

Beginning at birth, vision and hearing play a critical role in the overall development of a child and his ability to learn.

"Piaget describes the first two years of life as the sensorimotor stage during which time the infant progresses from reflex activity to more systematic and organized behavior. He learns that he has control over the object world and will visually search for a toy he has lost. He will reach for and grasp his toys. He learns that objects are independent of himself. He learns to imitate and to respond to people through imitative behavior. Finally, he takes the first steps toward establishing verbal communication. The acquisition of speech begins with the cooing of the infant at about 16 weeks; babbling at about 28 weeks; and putting sounds together at about 40 weeks. Language development proceeds in a similar sequential fashion. At 28 weeks the infant attends to voices and by 40 weeks responds to simple commands. By 15 months he says single words together to express ideas and by 2 years he puts words together to form simple sentences. (Scholl, 1986)

Vision and hearing are the senses that help him understand his separateness from the people and the world around him. They serve as the motivators in his exploration of his body and of the world. This leads to his ability to move his body, use his hands, walk around a room, and so forth. A child does much of his early learning by observing the sights and sounds of the world around him. Watch a group of three year olds at play and you will understand just how much they have learned simply by looking and listening in their environments.

"A greater quantity of information is gained in a shorter period of time through use of the visual system than through any other single sense organ." (Scholl, 1986)

"Auditory processing and listening for learning is the ultimate level of auditory progress and is a skill essential for academic progress and continued cognitive development of visually handicapped students." (Scholl, 1986)

" A child with a minimal, borderline, or slight hearing impairment may experience problems in the following areas: 1) hearing faint or distant speech (in fact, at least 10% of classroom instruction may be missed); 2) detecting subtle conversational cues which could cause the child to respond inappropriately; 3) keeping up with fast-paced communicative interactions; and 4) hearing the word-sound distinctions that comprise morphological markers for tense, plurality, possessives, and so on. In addition, the child may appear immature and be more fatigued than peers due to the increased level-of-effort needed to hear." (Flexer, 1994)

When you consider the importance of vision and hearing to the overall development it becomes apparent that even a mild or moderate sensory loss at this critical phase can have dramatic consequences. Even though these children are receiving a great deal of visual or auditory information, this information is distorted. They may also miss visual or auditory information that occurs at a distance from them.

ADDRESSING THE EFFECTS OF HEARING LOSS

Regular Periodic Hearing Screening

All children, especially children with visual impairments, should be screened for hearing impairment regularly. Many schools provide hearing screenings from time to time, but parents shouldn’t rely on these screenings alone. Make hearing screenings a regular part of the yearly check-up routine.

Medical Treatment When Appropriate

Because many mild or moderate hearing losses can be corrected or treated, good medical management is a must. Ear infections usually require medication, and if they are chronic, the insertion of tubes in the eardrum to keep fluid from impeding the movement of the middle ear bones.

Obstructions in the ear canal are also not uncommon. Young children do indeed "put beans in their ears" and some children may produce an excessive amount of earwax which builds up and creates a blockage. These types of problems can usually be corrected without extreme measures.

Modern surgical procedures have made it possible to correct problems with the ossicles in the middle ear. The chain of bones may even be replaced by prosthetics.

Amplification

Many children with mild or moderate hearing loss can benefit greatly from the use of hearing aids and auditory trainers. It is important that these devices are monitored daily to assure that they are working properly. It is also important that the child wear the device as much of the day as possible. Specific training to help the child build tolerance for the device and to learn to use the improved signal provided by the device is critical.

Improving The Listening Environment

Reducing noise goes hand-in-hand with improving the signal quality. The difference between the loudness of the sound and the loudness of the other noises in a listening situation is called the signal-to-noise ratio. The signal-to-noise ratio in most schools and homes is poor. Carpeting rooms, adding acoustical ceilings, closing doors to noisy hallways, and using study carols are a few of the things that can improve the signal to noise ratio. Many homes and some classrooms may constantly have a radio, record player or television playing. Simply turning off these noise makers can greatly improve a child’s ability to function auditorily.

Another problem causing auditory clutter is constant chatter. We may think that constantly talking about everything that is happening is beneficial to the child with hearing loss and especially vision loss. Rather than a constant chatter, clear and simple statements about what has or is about to happen may be more helpful to the child. This is especially true if the child has multiple disabilities or seems to have trouble processing auditory information. Too much information makes it even more difficult to sort out what needs to be attended to auditorily.

Making the listening environment pleasant and varied is important. Total quiet is not the goal; managing noise and auditory information is.

Ongoing Training To Develop Better Auditory Skills

Remember, in order for auditory information to be useful to us, we not only need to be aware of the sound but need to be able to attach meaning to that sound. When a child is visually impaired the need to attach meaning to the sound becomes more important. Auditory training for children with identified hearing impairment should be included as a part of each child’s educational goals in school. However, parents can also be a major force in the development of these skills through the everyday activities at home.

STRATEGIES FOR DEVELOPING LISTENING SKILLS

Determine Current Skills

First of all, it is important to establish what the child responds to auditorily. In addition to appropriate audiological testing, parents should observe what types of sound the child responds to and how he responds. Does he respond to male or female voices better? Does he seem to search for the source of certain sounds or become animated or fussy if the sound occurs? Is there a different type of response to environmental sounds and human voice? Does the child show an awareness when the sound starts or stops? Providing a rich auditory environment and carefully observing the child’s responses to that environment are key.

Draw Attention To Sound In A Non-Pressuring Way

Consistently drawing the child’s attention to the sounds in the environment in a non-pressuring way and helping him to build scheme around the sound are critical. Make listening a rewarding and pleasant experience. For example, help him find the dog when it is barking. Discuss why the dog might be barking. Let him pet the dog or give it a treat to quiet it. Imitate the dog barking and try to get the child to imitate the sound, too.

Model A Variety Of Reactions To Sounds

Model a variety of reactions to different sounds especially tuning in to the suprasegmental features of pitch, rhythm, intensity, and duration. For example, move or dance to music that alternately is fast or slow. Respond to loud and soft sounds by covering and uncovering your ears. Relax to soft, slow music and exercise or dance to faster tunes.

Present Sound In A Variety Of Contexts

Present the same sounds in a variety of contexts. For example, the keys at home, the keys at the grocery store, and the keys at grandma’s house are used to cue the child that "we are about to go somewhere in the car." Your goal is for the child to react consistently and differentially to different sound classes. For example, no matter who is clapping or how the claps sound, the child knows this means "someone is about to play a game with me" and indicates he is anticipating what will come next. The sound of running water causes the child to anticipate washing his hands or bathing wherever he is when he hears the sound. He anticipates this activity because he has heard that sound many times and developed associations related to that sound.

Make Sound A Part Of Routines

Using sound within routines to establish and reinforce the meaningfulness of sound is very important. For example, call the child’s attention to the sound that the pans make when you get them from the cupboard or put them away. Have him listen for the sound of the can opener as you open up the food container. Listen to the sound of the spoon against a pan as he stirs, etc.

Pair Visual And Tactile Cues To Sound

Pairing visual, tactile, and auditory cues within these routines is also helpful. For example, cue the child to reach for the microwave by touching his hand or get him to watch for the flashing light on the timer to get him to open the microwave as it beeps. Later on you can fade the touch and/or visual prompt, letting the auditory prompt of the beep alert him to opening the microwave door. 

Engage In Turn-Taking

Response to the human voice is a very important concern for social and communication purposes. Engaging in turn-taking routines which involve vocal play can be helpful. Having the child listen and respond vocally with the "pop" sound or its approximation in when dad sings "Pop Goes the Weasel" is an example of this type of turn-taking. Imitate the child’s vocalizations whatever they are and try to get a turn-taking interaction going.

Simple, Repetitious Language

Using simple, repetitious language within the context of routines is also important. Sometimes it helps to actually write down a script for the language you will use during a routine. Even if you stray from the script somewhat, it helps you to evaluate how complicated the language is that you are using with the child in that routine.

Respond To The Child’s Vocalizations

Whenever the child makes any type of vocalization try to respond to it. A fussy cry might be interpreted as a "no" response to the activity that is being offered. Give the child the choice of stopping or at least taking a break from the activity. In the same way a giggle or coo, might be interpreted as a positive response. Continue that activity a bit longer. You are letting the child know in this way that his voice has power in controlling the events that are occurring.

Encourage The Child To Experiment With Sound

It is also important to provide opportunities for the child to experiment with sounds through vocal play alone or with an adult or playing with objects or toys. Singing songs together, making sounds with your voice as you swing, taking turns saying "boo" and scaring mommy, imitating the sound of a toy, or any kind of vocal play helps develop important auditory skills. Remember to allow the child the time and space to use their voice in response, especially if that child has multiple disabilities.

Playing with more environmental sounds is important as well. Let the child start and stop the blender, ring the doorbell, turn the radio up and down. This helps to build scheme around the objects and activities and also helps him to understand he can control the occurrence of the sound. 

CONCLUSION

Auditory skills are developed, we are not necessarily born with them. Children with hearing impairment, especially mild and moderate hearing impairment, may not develop these skills readily without appropriate support.

  • Make sure your child has regular and periodic hearing screening.
  • Monitor medical conditions that may lead to permanent and more severe hearing loss.
  • Be a good observer of the way your child uses their hearing and help them to build their listening skills.
  • Use hearing aids and FM systems when appropriate.
  • Provide good listening environments that are interesting, but not cluttered.
  • Give your child positive and meaningful experiences in listening through play and routines.
  • Encourage and reward the child’s experimentation with producing and listening to sound.
  • Keep your language simple and consistent in interacting with the child.

Children with visual impairment need to learn to use their hearing well. As their other distance sense it is critical for safety and is also the key to connecting with the world and the people in it.

RESOURCES

Durkel, Jim (1986). Handout from "Auditory Assessment and Auditory Training for the Mulihandicapped" session of the Statewide Deaf-Blind Multihandicapped Conference, Austin, TX.

Flexer,Carol (1994). Facilitating Hearing and Listening in Young Children. San Diego, CA: Singular Publishing Group, Inc.

Watkins, Susan, Editor (1989). The INSITE Model - A Model of Home Intervention for Infant, Toddler and Preschool Aged Mulithandicapped Sensory Impaired Children. Logan, UT: Hope, Inc.

Scholl, G. T. (1986). Foundations of Education for Blind and Visually Handicapped Children and Youth. New York, NY: American Foundation for the Blind, Inc.

by Kate Moss, Family Support Specialist, TSBVI Deafblind Outreach

Originally published in the See/Hear Newsletter, Spring 1997 by TSBVI Outreach Programs

As professionals working in the area of vision and hearing disabilities, we frequently face a common dilemma --- parents who have not told their child about a progressive vision or hearing loss. We see the child struggling in different situations at school, and we worry that he or she will not be prepared when their vision or hearing loss becomes worse. We worry that they are confused about what is happening to them, but are afraid to ask for help. We worry that they are setting goals and dreaming dreams for the future that are destined for failure. If we could get started right now on developing those adaptive skills like cane travel or sign language, we know the child would not have to struggle so much when his visual and auditory senses change. We are afraid the child will ask us what is wrong and we won't know how to answer. We do not understand why his parents won't tell him what is happening to him.

Working with families through the TSBVI Deafblind Outreach, I have come to understand "why" a little better. My information hasn't been scientifically gathered; it's simply what I hear from parents who aren't "telling" their children. However, what they say makes sense to me and it fits with what experts like Dr. Ken Moses tell us about grieving issues for parents of children with disabilities. Perhaps if we understand where they are coming from in their silence and develop better strategies for supporting them, parents may find it easier to have these discussions with their child.

First of all, I think it is important for us to understand that each new disability diagnosis requires some grief work for most parents. It does not matter that the parents have come to term with the hearing loss or the vision loss long ago; when the other sense becomes an issue they must grieve that loss, too. This means that the family's lives will be turned upside-down --- again. They will go through episodes of denial, anger, depression, anxiety, fear, etc. in much the same way they did when they learned about the disability that was identified first. Coming to terms with the second or third or fourth disability diagnosis is frequently no easier than the first diagnosis.

What most parents tell me about this experience is that the professionals don't seem to want to allow them the time they need to come to terms with this loss. They expect them to be ready to deal with the issues the child is facing before they have come to terms with it themselves. They have a need to learn about the new disability and to organize their resources to address the problem before they can take action on behalf of their child. This is often a slow process. Once again they are faced with learning new terminology, making sure they have an accurate diagnosis, and understanding the implications of that diagnosis. They must learn about and connect with the system that can help them. They must figure out a way to talk to their child about what is happening in a way that the child can comprehend and handle. This is a formidable task.

These parents frequently have had the experience of professionals who made pronouncements about what their child would experience or be able to accomplish. "Your child will never walk." "Your child will never be able to hold a job." "Your child will never . . ." Many times these professionals have been wrong. After having this experience, the parents are justifiably skeptical. If we as professionals had these same experiences, we might also be reluctant to tell our children what the professionals have told us.

Even if the parents know that the professionals are correct in their predictions, how do you tell your son or daughter about something that is so devastating? What words do you use? What can a ten-year-old or a sixteen-year-old do when someone tells him or her that they will become blind or totally deaf? Parents are suppose to be able to make things right for their children. How do you fix something like this?

Many parents tell me they are trying to inform their child, but they aren't doing it quickly enough to suit the professionals. One parent whose child has Usher Syndrome, told me that she has gone to workshops to get information for herself and her son, told him that the problems he has with his eyes may get worse, but can not bring herself to tell him he will go blind. She is concerned that his dreams include a job which requires a lot of vision, and that he talks about getting his driver's license constantly. She tries to explain to him that he will have to pass a driver's test which might be difficult since he has night blindness. She asks what else is she suppose to do? Does anyone know for certain that her son will loose all of his vision or when his vision will be gone? The answer to her question is, of course, "No." These questions can't be answered with certainty.

What I think we can do as professionals to help the child is to get the best information possible to share with parents. We can help connect them with other families who have faced or are facing the same issues. We can introduce them to adults who have faced what their child is facing and can answer their questions about what they wished their parents had told them. We can listen and empathize with the struggles they face in a nonjudgemental way. We can believe they want only the best for their child and are doing the very best they can. We can learn about their fears. We can ask them how we can help.

I also believe that as professionals we do have specific responsibilities to the child. If we explain to the parent what our fears are and ask for their support in helping their child, I truly believe we can work together to find the answers to the situations that occur. We don't have to tell the child everything that may happen to him in the future to address his needs today.

Setting small goals for the child in coming to terms with his disability is not a bad approach, in my opinion. For example, if the issue for the professional is the child's safety in traveling around school or in the community, is teaching him to use a cane the only answer?

Perhaps we could look at ways to build supports around the child to reduce the danger as a first step. At the same time we could help the parents understand the difficulties of travel with night blindness and a visual field loss. We might arrange for them to meet with the Orientation and Mobility Specialist (apart from the child) to look at the child's typical activities at home and in the community and give them guidance on how to make those activities safer. Maybe an older student who is visually impaired and using cane travel could share information with the parents and perhaps later mentor the child. My point is, collaborating with the parents to find creative solutions to our concerns as professionals seems more helpful to the child than forcing our agenda.

There are many creative ways to address issues. One teacher developed a unit about how the eye works for her class and infused information about visual disabilities into it. In this way, she provided the child with some general information about how people with visual disabilities travel or read that did not single him out or make him feel different. Another teacher was concerned about how well a child could see an overhead. She had just completed a unit on the elections. She used the idea of having different opinions and voting as a way to let the child tell her what worked best (i.e., to have the ceiling light on or off when the overhead was used). She would turn the ceiling light on (or off) and ask who preferred it that way. She reinforced and validated the notion that it was okay to have different preferences.

Sometimes offering adaptive techniques as ideas to explore make it easier for the child to learn about a technique without saying they will need that technique later on. For example, a child who has relied on speechreading but may not have enough vision in the future to use it in every setting, might have the option of learning sign language in the same way another child might take a course in Spanish.

I believe if parents feel our respect for the difficulty of their situation and see how we truly care for their child, they will be more open to collaboration with us. However, if they feel judged (negatively) or pushed into a corner by us, they are naturally going to be defensive if not downright combative. A response we might have if we were in their shoes. This is their child. They know him better than we do. They will always be his parents and (hopefully) will always be involved in his life. We are only around for a few short years if that long. We must trust them to tell their child in their own way and in their own time. The reality is that they own the information about their child, not us. With our support perhaps they can share this difficult news with their child sooner and help him/her come to terms with it.

 

 By Jim Durkel, TSBVI Outreach Programs

Cues

A cue is a type of communication used by an adult to let a child know what is expected of him/her in a given situation. Cues are a type of receptive communication.

Designing and using a consistent routine is the beginning of teaching cues. Given time in this type of the routine, the child will first begin to anticipate his/her part in the routine. Given more experience with the routine, the child may begin to anticipate the routine from some part of the routine.

Touch cues are ways an adult can touch a child to communicate a desired action. For example, an adult may gently pull a child's arm upward with a grasp at the wrist to cue the child to lift arm during a dressing routine.

A sensory cues is some sensory input used to help a child anticipate an event: For example, a smell of lotion before it is applied to the child's arm or the sound of water splashing before placing the child in the bathtub.

Object cues are some concrete piece of a routine that is used to represent that routine. For example, a diaper may be an object cue for diaper changing.

When deciding what cues to use with a child, it is important to remember to select cues that the child can easily discriminate one from the other. Otherwise the cues may be confusing to the child.

Signals

Signals are movements the child uses to communicate needs, desires and feelings to adults. Signals are a form of expressive communication.

Signals may start as a behavior that the child is not intentionally using to communicate. But because an adult consistently responds to this behavior, the child begins to understand that producing this behavior causes a particular event to occur. For example, a child may inadvertently clap hands with an adult. If hand clapping is enjoyable for the child and the adult consistently responds by hand clapping with the child, the child may signal for more hand clapping by clapping the adults hand again. Signals are usually first seen within an already occurring activity. As the child becomes more sophisticated, he or she may produce the signal to initiate the activity.

Symbols

Symbols are representations of an event, action, object, person, or place that can be used to communicate about the event, action, object, person, or place. Symbols can be used for both receptive and expressive communication. Objects, parts of objects, pictures, print, actions, gestures, signs, and speech can all be symbols. Symbols may start as cues and signals. If a child recognizes a cue out of context, that cue may be acting as a symbol. If a child uses a signal or an object cue to communicate about an event, action, object, person or place out of context, the child may be using that signal or cue as a symbol.

The more a symbol resembles what it represents, the more concrete that symbol is. The less a symbol resembles what it represents, the more abstract that symbol is. An example of a concrete symbol would be a spoon, used during mealtimes, to represent mealtime. A less concrete (or more abstract) symbol would be a small line drawing of a person eating. The spoken phrase "time to eat" would be the most abstract because those sounds don't look, smell, or feel like food or the action of eating. Concrete symbols are more easily associated with what they represent than are abstract symbols. When determining how closely a symbol resembles an event, action, object, person, or place it is important to consider how the child perceives that event, action, object, person, or place. For example, a symbol based on visual similarities may not be as concrete for a person with a visual impairment as it would be for an individual who is fully sighted. A symbol based on an action may be abstract for an individual with physical impairment such that he/she had never performed that action.

A hierarchy of visual symbols from concrete to abstract may be the following:

  • an object used as part of the activity it represents,
  • an object identical to the one used as part of an activity,
  • an object similar but not identical to the object used as part of an activity,
  • a part of an object,
  • a full-sized colored drawing of the object,
  • a full-sized black and white drawing of the object or a reduced-size colored drawing of an object,
  • a reduced-size black and white drawing of an object,
  • a printed word.

There is a similar hierarchy for movement with an object to sign:

  • movement with an object used as part of the activity it represents,
  • movement with an object identical to one used as part of an activity,
  • movement with an object similar to but not identical to the one used as part of an activity it represents,
  • movement without an object,
  • a sign that resembles the movement without the object,
  • a sign that does not resemble the movement without the object

J. C. Durkel, Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired, Austin, TX

By Kristi Sprinkle, Intranet Developer and Unofficial Historian for TSBVI, Austin, TX

Abstract: This article describes some of the interesting moments in the 150-year history of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Key words: School for the Blind, history, sesquicentennial, advancements

Editor’s Note: We are currently celebrating the Sesquicentennial of the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired—150 years. This history is being preserved in a museum being created on campus. At a recent sesquicentennial assembly, some interesting highlights discovered in researching these years were presented to the TSBVI staff by Kristi Sprinkle, who has taken the role of campus historian. In place of Dr. Phil Hatlen’s usual article from TSBVI, we have chosen to print the text of Kristi’s presentation.


To understand the significance of the year 2006 for the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, you’d have to understand where we came from—not necessarily the buildings we lived in, but the kind of people we were and what our predecessors did.

When Elisha Pease, Texas’ first governor, took office, there were few schools for the blind in the Southwest and, in fact, only a handful in the US—less than 20. But in Texas, we had a great opportunity when Governor Pease established our public school system, and in 1856 we, as well as the School for the Deaf and the Insane Asylum, were created, even though there were less than 1800 people living in Austin at that time. In November of 1856, we rented the house now known as the Neill Cochran House on San Gabriel St., six blocks from the Capitol. This was our very first home.

It was at that house that the first pupil arrived, one Robert McKeachern, on December 29th of 1856. As a 17-year old teenager, Robert couldn’t get away with much, as he was under the thumb of not only the Governor’s personal physician—who became our first superintendent, but also his wife. By the end of the school year in 1857, the school had a total of seven students and one teacher. In comparison, today, TSBVI serves almost eight thousand students through on-campus instructional programs and outreach services across Texas.

By 1860, we were living in the new home for the Institute—a place of our own at the corners of Red River and 19th Street—a city block now owned by the University of Texas. At this time in our history, the Superintendent was our maintenance man, and was responsible for maintaining the grounds, including working on the pipes and trimming the hedges. If you can imagine Dr. Phil Hatlen mowing the campus lawns, or painting the dorms, then you might have a clear picture of what was expected back then.

But other roles at the school would also seem a bit odd to us today, however necessary and proper they were 150 years ago. For example, the principal, even into the late 1930s, was also the superintendent for Sunday school. It was mandatory that each student attend chapel every day as well as church on Sunday. And teachers were required to help with Sunday school with no extra pay.

In the early days, even on the current campus, the matron made sure that students followed the rules and kept to their schedule of activities while in the dorms. There were no Residential Instructors, but “housemothers” who often had charge of 15 to 18 pupils each. At this time, the Superintendent disciplined every misbehaving student. It was usually his job to notify the parents of the child’s mischief. For example, a 1923 letter to one parent went like this:

Dear Mrs. West:

Your letter of October 17th was received yesterday and I have made inquiries in regard to the matter. There was nothing much the matter. Maude Harris, a friend of Frances’, told Frances that Edna Brown said that Louise Wilson said something about her. On investigation, it seems that Louise Wilson didn’t mention Francis, but said something about Maude Harris. So it seems there is no reason in the world for Frances to get excited or worked up. In fact, Maude Harris is not right bright, and so it seems there was nothing really serious as I feared when I received your letter...

Yours sincerely,

Superintendent EE Bramlette.

Teachers did not have an easy job, either. They were responsible for escorting the students on all off-campus visits, and often went home with the students to help them with their studies and report to the parents. There were two resident teachers for each dorm. These teachers also taught regular classes at the school, while having to look after the students in the dorm after hours and on Saturday and Sunday. For these extra duties, they were compensated solely by free room and board.

Other jobs on campus emerged over the years, as well. The “transportation guy” was the one who polished the buggy and took care of the horses, including making sure the barn was mucked out, the animals were fed, and the horseshoeing was done. He would also make sure that the mules, donkeys or horses of the travelers from El Paso were fed and tended. When the trains arrived in the 1870s, this person would meet the students at the train station and escort them to TSBVI. Often TSBVI would pay for the return trip of the guardian who escorted the student to Austin.

In the early 1900s, the school’s farmer was the ultimate job coach, getting students to help him and supervising boys who wanted to learn about gardening, poultry or hog raising as a means of making a living when they left TSBVI. On the land behind our current location, our farmer grew 225 bushels of corn, 6 tons of oats for livestock, 6 tons of sorghum cane for molasses, and 2 tons of hay. He also tended various 6 to 10-acre gardens, and with student help, grew beets, English peas, mustard, radishes, onions, tomatoes, squash, lettuce, snap peas, shallots, okra, cucumbers and cantaloupes. Although the school wasn’t self-sufficient after the move to our current location, these gardens and the farm greatly reduced the school’s food budget.

There were other items we made in the interest of self-sufficiency. Girl students took sewing classes from our resident seamstress to make dresses for themselves and for the entire school. The students also made shoes for the residents of the school. The industrial arts pupils made brooms, selling them door-to-door here in Austin as well as to other state institutions.

So instead of placing students in local businesses as we do today, many of our students learned a trade at the school. Basket weaving, bead work, sewing, gardening, animal husbandry, piano tuning, musician training, chair caning, mattress making (with locally grown cotton) and broom making. One year, we made and sold 15,000 brooms.

In the late 1860s, after the Civil War devastated the Texas economy, we relied on the businessmen who were on our school board, some of whose names can still be found on the streets and monuments that dot the Austin landscape. Lewis Hancock, the namesake of Hancock Center and Hancock Drive, built the first and longest standing golf course in Texas. He also owned an Opera House where many of our students were graduated while Hancock was on our board of trustees.

Then there were the Littlefields of Littlefield Hall, Littlefield Mall, and Littlefield Fountain fame. George Littlefield was a cattle and land baron who owned one of the first banks in town—a bank that would also hire a famous local writer and scoundrel named William Porter (aka O. Henry). George Littlefield was on our board with Lewis Hancock in 1874. He donated the original 40 acres for the building of the University of Texas and was one of the first trustees there, as well.

During the forty years following the Civil War, the superintendents for our school emphasized vocational skills. These leaders also believed in physical education, and every student was required to participate in physical fitness on a daily basis. This was usually a recommendation from the physician on staff—and in the formative years of our school, that physician also happened to be the superintendent. Again, can you imagine Dr. Hatlen doing a tonsillectomy on one of our students? Dorm F and Dorm C were once used as emergency hospitals. Things have certainly changed.

Finally, by the turn of the century TSBVI superintendents were hired more for their educational background than for their skills as a physician or as a man of the cloth. We kept the vocational skills training, but reading, writing and arithmetic—and keeping up with the kids in public school—seemed more important. The routine of a child circa 1905 went like this:

  • 6:00 A.M. - rise for an hour for exercise;
  • 30 minutes for breakfast;
  • 30 minutes to study and 30 minutes of chapel (including a lecture from the superintendent about the current events of the day);
  • 8:30-12:30 classes were held followed by an hour for lunch;
  • 1:30-5 P.M., classes again;
  • 5:00 an hour of recreation in open air, only a half hour for supper, and then two hours for study and preparation for classes;
  • at 8:45 P.M., students were allowed to retire for the evening.

Wednesdays and Sundays were mandatory bathing days. There was no contact between the boys and the girls at any time unless supervised by an adult at the school. Mail to and from the opposite sex was forbidden and grounds for dismissal from the school—as was tobacco chewing and smoking, especially for the girls.

The school’s cook and assistant received goods fresh from local farmers, baked bread, and produced things like buttermilk and butter. Large quantities of fruit, such as peaches, were bought and canned before we had refrigeration, supermarkets, and even before Amy’s Ice Cream. Because the school had no refrigerators until 1930, ice was brought in from local icemen, one of whom was Mr. Zilker, of Zilker Park and Gardens.

There are those who will tell you that this school once had a famous visitor named Helen Keller. But there were others of local fame who were quite influential in our world. A local black leader named Norris Cuney Hare was unrelenting in his battle to create a place like ours, but for underprivileged black children. Despite never having been elected to any state position, this man almost single-handedly pushed through the Legislature the bill that would create the Institute for Deaf, Dumb and Blind colored youths on April 5, 1887. This institute remained open until 1943, when it combined with the state orphan home in Corsicana to create the Blind, Deaf and Orphan School in Austin, where Norris Cuney Hare’s daughter taught music and wrote about their lives.

In 1965, during the struggle for equality for all people, the Blind, Deaf and Orphan School disbanded and its teachers and pupils joined our current schools for the blind and deaf. It was from the Blind, Deaf, &Orphan School that TSBVI attained longtime administrator Matthew Caldwell, as well as other fine teachers and staff.

In the early 1980s, the students and staff of the TSB Deaf-Blind Annex became part of our main campus, abandoning the old Confederate Widows Home on 38th Street. Along with the students and staff, impaired students, including those with multiple disabilities.

Because of the hard work of the staff through the years, and because we have had leaders with vision, TSBVI is now recognized as one of the top schools in the country. So we are not just celebrating the school’s history, but the future of every child that has passed and will ever pass through TSBVI. We are celebrating every person who has ever worked here including those that do right now. I think we are all worth celebrating and are all important to this school and to its ongoing history. So Happy Birthday, everyone! It’s time to celebrate.