Future Reflections Spring/ Summer1989, Vol. 8 No. 2

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ASSESSING MOTOR SKILLS IN THE VISUALLY IMPAIRED CHILD

by Doris Willoughby

[PICTURE] Doris Willoughby, teacher and author, regularly volunteers to work at the NFB literature table during Federation National Conventions.

Editor's Note: A couple of years ago I received a letter from an occupational therapist who wanted some suggestions about methods for assessing motor skills in blind or visually impaired children. I didn 't know anything about it, so I referred the letter to Doris Willoughby, who knows a great deal about many things relating to the education of blind children. Mrs. Willoughby did, indeed, have some excellent suggestions to make. Most of all, however, she demonstrated in her response to that letter an attitude we should all develop. Mrs. Willoughby has faith that there is usually a way to adapt materials and tasks so that blind people can engage in almost any activity. She is also thoroughly familiar with the alternative techniques of blindness, but she doesn't make a big mystery out of the techniques. She just assumes that others can learn and understand them, too.

In any event I share this correspondence with you for its own intrinsic value and because it is such a good example of how to approach the "How do blind people do such-and-such?" type of question that every blind person and parent of a blind child have to routinely answer- both for themselves and for others.

October 14, 1987

Dear Ms. --:

Thank you for your letter about methods for assessing motor skills in visually impaired children. Barbara Cheadle has asked me to answer your letter. In general, I would suggest using your usual assessments but adapting them to make them appropriate. I also suggest observing the child in his/her regular daily activities. Here are some specific ideas:

1. Many kinds of evaluations are appropriate "as is," if the child is old enough to understand and if the task does not involve vision. A good example would be "hop on one foot times."

2. If you would ordinarily show the child (visually) what you want him/her to do, find a way to explain verbally or tactually. Suppose, for example, that you want the child to squeeze a small ball as hard as he can with one hand and that ordinarily you demonstrate while the child watches visually. With an older blind child, a verbal explanation may be adequate. But especially if the child is young, it is important to have him/her feel the ball in your hand while you squeeze. Also, take the child's hand and help him/her to squeeze as desired. Then say. "Now you do it by yourself."

3. If the task requires space, and the child may not know whether there are obstacles, provide plenty of space and assure the child that there are no obstacles.

4. If a visual cue or aid is typically used to guide the task, provide a non-visual guide instead. (Example: If a ball is to be thrown toward a target, provide a sound at the target.)

5. Consider the child's experience and techniques which he/she would ordinarily use. Test appropriate tasks, and avoid making evaluations based on inappropriate tasks. A good example is paper-and-pencil work, which tends to figure prominently in evaluation of fine-muscle control. If a child reads Braille, he/she may have had little or no experience with a pencil or crayon--at most using only a few symbols. A blind child should be evaluated on reading and writing Braille and on other appropriate tactual tasks.

6. It may be obvious that a totally blind child cannot be expected to use visual cues. We also need to remember that a partially sighted child should not be evaluated based on vision which he/she may not have. In examples such as those above, if the child does not clearly have enough vision to perform the tasks visually, an alternative should be used. (Example: A partially sighted child may not see obstacles until he/she is quite close. As in number three above, make sure he/she knows what space is available and whether obstacles are present.)

With children of first grade age and above, I believe you will find that your usual evaluations, adapted as above, will generally work for the visually impaired child (including the child who is totally blind). Probably you have more than one evaluation list or scale at your disposal, and you may find some more easily adapted than others.

For very young children it may be helpful for me to name some developmental skills or guides which have been especially easily used with blind children of preschool age. It is not meant to be an exclusive list, and some of the items on these scales may still require adaptation; but I believe this list might be helpful to you. (I apologize for the fact that I'm not certain of the spelling of all of these scales. In some cases I have not used the materials myself but have heard them recommended by other professionals whose opinion I respect.) CallierAzusa Koontz The Oregon Project Hawaii Early Learning Profile (HELP) Brigance Inventory of Early Development I hope that these thoughts have been helpful to you. Please let me know if I can be of further assistance.

Sincerely, Doris M. Willoughby

NOTE: If you are interested in obtaining any of the scales above, contact the following:

CallierAzusa:
Callier Center for Communication Disorders:
1966 Inwood Road
Dallas, TX 75235

Koontz:
Western Psychological Services
12031 Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90025

The Oregon Project:
Jackson Education Service District
101 N. Grape Street
Medford, OR 97501

Hawaii Early Learning Profile (HELP):
The Vort Corporation
P.O. Box 60132
Palo Alto, CA 94306

Brigance Diagnostic Inventory of Early Development:
Curriculum Associates
5 Esquire Road
N. Billerica, MA 01862-2589

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