Future Reflections Fall 1992, Vol. 11 No. 4


LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT: Ideas for Young Children

Reprinted from the VIP Newsletter.

The process of developing language is influenced by several factors. Two important factors for the young child who experiences blindness or visual impairment are: (a) the child's experience with the objects in his/her world and (b) the methods of communication that others use to encourage a verbal response from the child.

The first factor often influences whether the child has a meaningful vocabulary. Are his/her words purposeful in their ability to communicate? Often young children who experience a visual loss talk abundantly about items that they may never have been in contact with but have heard about in songs and rhymes or have only experienced in fragmented fashion.

It is important for all children to experience their world; to, for example, sit in a variety of types of chairs so they might learn that all of the different styles still equal chair. This concept, called generalization, is important in language as it provides the child with an opportunity to label the objects of the world into categories. To truly experience chair the sight-impaired child must have the opportunity not only to sit in many different types of chairs, but to explore chairs from all angles.

Another component of experiential learning is to provide the child with a full process sequence in his/her daily care routines. This is intended to assist the child in avoiding a fragmented viewpoint about the environment and the object within it. An example of a full sequenced experience is: Travel with the child to the refrigerator to take out the milk, then to the cupboard to get a glass, then to the table where the milk is poured into the glass, and after the milk has been drunk, take the glass to the sink with the child. This sequence (as compared to always handing the child a glass of milk) helps the child learn that things do not automatically appear, that there is an order to life. It also provides a participation model that will be important for later independence.

The second factor addresses the methods adults use to elicit and reinforce a verbal response. Research indicates that the following frequently utilized strategies may have negative influences on a sight-impaired child's language acquisition:

* Fewer responses to non-linguistic (non-word) vocalizations

* More labels but fewer descriptions of the attributes of objects

* More child-focused topics

* More routine-bound language

Strategies that enhance language-specific communication on behalf of the child are:

* Cue into the child's non-linguistic vocalizations; praising the efforts or acting upon what appears to be the intended meaning: "Ba—." "You want your bottle?"

* Expand descriptions of common objects, e.g. "You're holding the small blue cup" versus "You're holding the cup."

* Promote conversations that bring in other people and/or use others to model a language request, e.g. "Dad, please pat the dog." (This encourages the child to learn about this activity.)

* Provide change in the language involved in familiar activities. The sudden switch from a rote dialogue causes the child to stop and think about new vocabulary and meaning.

**By Tanni Anthony....from AVIS, Association for Visually Impaired Students in BC Newsletter. Original title of article: "Language Development: Ideas for Young Children Who Experience A Sight Loss."