For children with normal vision, it's been estimated that 80 percent of learning is visual. Blind students and their teachers need to adapt, compensate and find other methods that connect the learner to the curriculum. Blind students also need to master additional skills, such as those involved in orientation and mobility. Whether a blind child is educated in a special school or a mainstream classroom, he or she should have access to teachers with special training in educating children with visual impairments.
The Preschool Years
First, find out whether your area has specialized early-intervention assessments and services for the visually impaired; experts can be invaluable allies. But even without formal early intervention, parents and caregivers of blind children can get them ready for formal education by keeping some key points in mind.
Your child relies on her senses of hearing and touch, so keep the auditory environment simple by minimizing background noise and talk; sing or read to your child a lot. Provide toys with a variety of textures, weights and temperatures -- and toys that make sounds. Encourage your child to explore in safe situations. When describing an object or an action to your child, guide his hand so he can feel what you are talking about or doing.
Unless a district has a large enough population of visually impaired children to create a separate class for them, blind students in public school are usually taught in a standard classroom or in a class that includes children with other impairments. Specialized teachers of the visually impaired and orientation and mobility specialists often travel from school to school and may be available only some of the time. At specialized schools for the visually impaired, full-time and in-depth services are available, but there may be a trade-off -- lower academic standards and less experience in adapting to the sighted world..
Tips for Educating Blind Children
Adaptive equipment such as Braille tools and materials, magnifiers and lighting for those with low vision -- as well as tactile and auditory aids -- should be made readily available. Leaning Braille has been shown to be a key factor in the education of visually impaired children, improving literacy levels and the ability to master higher-level courses such as algebra. Classroom teachers should receive extra training as needed and work closely with specialists in educating the visually impaired so that they'll know what adaptive techniques the child is learning.
Pitfalls to Avoid
Be wary of over-protectiveness. Blind children should be encouraged to participate in extracurricular and social activities alongside their sighted peers; if possible, they should also spend some social time among other visually impaired children and adults. And be wary of low expectations. A blind child may not meet every developmental milestone according to the standard timetable, but this may not have anything to do with her cognitive abilities. Given the right educational techniques and mentoring, many blind students are fully capable of excellence and high achievement.
- Blind Children's Resource Center: Education and Development
- National Foundation for the Blind: A Brief Look at the Education Of Blind Children
- American Foundation for the Blind: Specialized Education Services for Students with Vision Loss
- Teaching Students With Visual Impairments: Early Intervention
- Teaching Students With Visual Impairments: Expanded Core Curriculum
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