Volume 37 Number 2 Special Issue: Early Childhood
A magazine for parents and teachers of blind children published by
the American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults in partnership
with the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children.
Deborah Kent Stein, Editor
Copyright © 2018 American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
For more information
about blindness and children contact:
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children
200 East Wells Street at Jernigan Place, Baltimore, MD 21230 • 410-659-9314
https://nfb.org/nopbc • email@example.com • firstname.lastname@example.org
Letter from the Editor
by Carol Castellano
Early Childhood Initiative
by Patricia Maurer
Finding the First Steps
by Ashley Reinhart
The Conquest of Independence
by Carla McQuillan
Learn to Play and Play to Learn: Facilitating Your Child's Learning and Play
by Heather Field
The Active Learning Approach: Using the Resonance Board and the Little Room with
Blind and Multiply Disabled Children
by Gigi Newton
Parents: Blind Children's First Mobility Teachers
by Joe Cutter
TEACHING AND LEARNING
Another Way of Seeing
by Deborah Kent Stein
Scrambled Eggs and New Perspectives
by Michelle Murrey
You Are Never Too Young for STEM
by Marilyn Winograd and Lillian Rankel
I Don't Like That! Helping Your Child Overcome Tactile Defensiveness
by Casey Robertson
You Can Say That Again! Or, Echolalia, Echolalia, Echolalia
by Mary McDonach
My Body Belongs to Me
by Melissa Riccobono
Nationwide Braille Readers Are Leaders
by Deborah Kent Stein
NOPBC Conference: President's Welcome
by Kim Cunningham
ODDS AND ENDS
The 2018 convention of the National Federation of the Blind will take place in Orlando, Florida, July 3 to July 8, at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort, 9939 Universal Blvd., Orlando, Florida 32819-9357. Make your room reservation as soon as possible with the Shingle Creek staff only. Call 866-996-6338.
The 2018 room rates are singles and doubles, $88; and for triples and quads $93. In addition to the room rates there will be a tax, which at present is 12.5 percent. No charge will be made for children under seventeen in the room with parents as long as no extra bed is requested.
The hotel is accepting reservations now. A $100-per-room deposit is required to make a reservation. Fifty percent of the deposit will be refunded if notice is given to the hotel of a reservation cancellation before June 1, 2018. The other 50 percent is not refundable.
Rooms will be available on a first come, first served basis. Reservations may be made before June 1, 2018, assuming that rooms are still available. After that time the hotel will not hold our room block for the convention. In other words, you should get your reservation in soon.
All Rosen Shingle Creek rooms feature amenities that include plush Creek sleeper beds, 40" flat screen TVs, complimentary high-speed internet service, in-room safes, coffee makers, mini fridges, and hair dryers. Guests can also enjoy a swimming pool, fitness center, and on site spa. The Rosen Shingle Creek Resort has a number of dining options, including two award-winning restaurants, and twenty-four-hour-a-day room service.
The schedule for the 2018 convention is:
Tuesday, July 3 Seminar Day
Wednesday, July 4 Registration and Resolutions Day
Thursday, July 5 Board Meeting and Divisions Day
Friday, July 6 Opening Session
Saturday, July 7 Business Session
Sunday, July 8 Banquet Day and Adjournment
Are you the parent of a blind or visually impaired child? Don’t know where to turn?
Founded in 1983, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) is a membership organization of parents, educators, and friends of blind children reaching out to give each other vital support, encouragement, and information. We have thousands of members in all fifty states plus Washington, DC, and Puerto Rico.
The NOPBC offers hope, encouragement, information, and resources for parents of blind or visually impaired children. NOPBC provides emotional support and a network of other families dealing with the same challenges you are facing. We also provide information, training, and resources to empower you to take an active role in guiding your child’s development and education. We can provide information on your child’s rights and on the laws and legislative issues that will enable you and your child to become strong and effective advocates.
Have you ever wondered what your blind or visually impaired child will be capable of when he or she grows up? The answer to that question is that blindness/visual impairment does not have to stop your child from doing anything he or she wants to do. We can connect you with other families and blind adults who can serve as positive mentors and role models. They can teach you the attitudes and techniques that will enable your child to become independent and to succeed in life.
What is different about the NOPBC?
Our status as a division of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the largest and most influential organization of blind people in the world, provides many benefits. Our members are well informed about the societal, legislative, and technological issues that affect blind people. We also enjoy the resources, support, and expertise of fifty thousand blind people who can serve as mentors and role models for us and our children. Finally, as our children grow up, they have the Federation to belong to.
No other organization for parents of blind/visually impaired children offers more programs, activities, and training to families, children, and youth. One of our most exciting activities is our annual conference. Every year since it was established, the NOPBC has conducted an annual conference for parents and teachers of blind children as part of the national convention of the NFB. The program has grown to include five exciting days of workshops, training sessions, activities for all family members, including sighted siblings, and countless opportunities to meet blind adults and other families and children from around the country.
What is the mission of the NOPBC?
The purpose of the NOPBC is to:
Most states have an NOPBC affiliate chapter. You can find your state chapter at http://www.nopbc.org. If your state does not have a chapter and you would like to start one, please contact us. We may be able to offer training and other assistance to start a state NOPBC chapter.
What are the programs, activities, publications, and resources of the NOPBC?
by Deborah Kent Stein
"Just as the twig is bent, the tree's inclin'd," wrote the English poet Alexander Pope in 1732. The formation of young minds is not unlike the shaping of young trees; early influences set the tone for what is to follow throughout a person's lifetime. In the National Federation of the Blind we recognize the tremendous importance of early experiences and opportunities in the lives of blind children.
In 2004 Future Reflections published a special issue called The Early Years. For more than a decade the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) have distributed The Early Years to new parents, providing them with practical suggestions and a positive philosophy about the potential of blind children. By no means is this new special issue on early childhood intended to make The Early Years obsolete. Instead, this issue is meant to expand and enhance the resources available to new parents and to teachers who work with blind babies, toddlers, and preschoolers.
This special issue gathers some of the best articles on young blind children that have been published in Future Reflections during the fourteen years since The Early Years appeared. Several of these, such as Heather Field's "Learn to Play and Play to Learn" and Carla McQuillan's "The Conquest of Independence," are based on presentations that were given at NOPBC conferences. Some articles included here, such as Melissa Riccobono's "My Body Belongs to Me" and Michelle Murrey’s “Scrambled Eggs and New Perspectives,” are brand new. Carol Castellano's "Possibilities" and "Parents: Blind Children's First Mobility Teachers" by Joe Cutter first appeared in The Early Years. They are classics in our NFB literature, and they cannot be reprinted and reread often enough.
Taken separately or together, the articles in this special issue are filled with encouragement and hope. Whether suggesting games or simple science experiments, ways to spark exploration or methods of teaching, they are based on the premise that blind children have the same needs and capabilities as children with sight. They encourage parents and teachers to foster curiosity and movement in young blind children, supporting our supple twigs to grow straight and strong.
by Carol Castellano
Reprinted from Future Reflections, Volume 23, Number 2, The Early Years
From the Editor: Carol Castellano has served as president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) and the Parents of Blind Children-New Jersey (POBC-NJ). She is the author of four books on raising and teaching blind children, including Making It Work and Getting Ready for College Begins in Third Grade.
It took my daughter, Serena, a long time to decide just what she wanted to be when she grew up, whereas, my son was only four when he decided that he would be a dinosaur scientist. It wasn't until she was seven that Serena realized that her destiny in life was to be a folksinger. Happily she played the chords to her favorite song, "Michael Row the Boat Ashore," on my guitar.
Then came the Presidential campaign of 1992. Serena was eight. She sat rapt before the television, listening intently to the speeches of both parties. After the summer's two national conventions, she realized that it wasn't a folksinger that she wanted to be after all ... it was a folk singing senator. By late fall, having heard all three presidential debates, Serena was going to be president. Her barrage of questions about how she could learn to be president and conversations about what politicians do kept up for so long that my husband and I were convinced she really might go into politics when she was older.
In the late spring of this year, Serena went out with her father to pick early snow peas from the garden. Coming inside with her basket of peas, she told me she was very interested in gardening. "That's wonderful," I replied. "You'll be a big help to Daddy."
Overnight Serena's interest must really have taken root, because the next day she asked me if I thought the gardens at the White House were too big for the president to tend, since the president is such a busy person. "Yes," I replied. "I'm sure there's a staff of people who take care of the White House gardens." "Well then, I won't be a gardening president," she told me. "I'll just be a gardener."
The desire to be a gardener was still but a tender shoot when Serena took a piano lesson—just a few weeks after picking those peas—and realized it was a pianist she wanted to be!
Serena is at such a wonderful stage of life! Interested in everything, trying everything out, she sees the world as her plum, ripe for the picking. She believes in herself, as we believe in her. And since what people believe largely determines what they do, it is critically important for parents of blind children (and other adults in the child's life) to have positive beliefs about blindness and what blind people can do.
If we are told (in a journal article or by a teacher of the blind, say) that blind children usually do not or cannot learn how to do a certain task, and if we come to believe this, chances are we will not give our child the experience or opportunity anyone would need in order to do this task. And chances are the child won't learn to do it. Imagine, though, if we—and our blind children—were never told that blind people couldn't accomplish a certain thing. Imagine what the results might be if everyone believed that blind people could do anything they wanted to! Well, I believe this—and attending National Federation of the Blind national conventions has solidified this belief for me. It is this belief that guides the way I bring up my daughter.
Sometimes in the literature I read the phrase "acceptance of the child's blindness." That word acceptance always causes me concern; the word acceptance can mean entirely opposite things to different people. To some, "accepting the child's blindness" means accepting—or coming to believe—that because the child is blind, there will be limits to what the child can do, limits to what he or she can understand, limits to what he or she can learn. (They often refer to these beliefs as "being realistic.") It is easy to see what the effects of that kind of thinking will be.
When I consider the term "accepting the child's blindness," I think about accepting that the child is blind, learning and coming to believe that blindness need not stop the child from achieving what he or she wishes, and allowing, indeed insisting, that the child learn the alternative techniques of blindness that will enable him or her to achieve the desired results!
Find a way, parents. Keep all the doors open. Glory in the exhilarating feeling of watching a child look toward the future and see only possibilities.
Postscript: At national conventions of the National Federation of the Blind there are opportunities to meet blind people from many walks of life. My husband and I know personally or have heard speak a blind high school teacher, a college professor, a mathematician, a scientist, a car body mechanic, an industrial arts teacher, a Foreign Service officer, an engineer, a high-performance engine builder, and a man who has sailed solo in races from San Francisco to Hawaii. Attendance at national conventions has enabled us to see firsthand that blindness does not have to stop people from achieving what they want to achieve. This knowledge gets passed along to our daughter and, equally as important, to the teachers and other professionals who work with her. Go to a national convention! It might turn out to be the most important thing you do for your blind child's future.
by Patricia Maurer
From the Editor: Patricia Maurer serves as director of community relations for the National Federation of the Blind. One of her passions is her work with the NFB’s Early Childhood Initiative, through which the NFB reaches out to the families of young blind children.
Those of you who know me know that I have worked at the National Federation of the Blind for thirty years. If you are acquainted with my story, you know that I am blind and have been blind all of my life. From my early years through high school, I lived in Dexter, Iowa, where I attended the public schools. During that time I depended on my teachers, family, and fellow students to read my textbooks and schoolwork to me so I could obtain the information I needed. I did utilize Talking Books, but these books generally did not help me with my school reading.
Although I had vision of 20/400 in both eyes, I did not know about traveling with a cane. Most of the time I followed other people, hoping that I would not fall over steps, curbs, or other obstacles.
I believe my parents explored the school for the blind as an option for me, but they did not want to send me three hundred miles away from home. At that time there were no other alternatives that would allow me to learn the skills of blindness.
When I was in my mid-teens, I saw a commercial about the National Federation of the Blind. I got on the phone and spoke with Dr. Kenneth Jernigan, who was the director of programs for the blind in Iowa. It was the year before he became president of the National Federation of the Blind. Dr. Jernigan urged me to come to Des Moines to learn Braille and cane travel skills. He found a way for me to receive Braille instruction and cane travel during that summer so that I could finish high school with my brand-new skills.
Fast forward to today. I am now trying my best to pay it forward and give families the kind of start that Dr. Jernigan gave me years ago. Our Early Childhood Initiative Program at the National Federation of the Blind gives families and their young blind children a rooted start—a start in early Braille skills, a start in cane travel, and a start in the Federation. These roots grow and blossom into our next generation of scientists, teachers, senators, and NFB leaders.
Through the NFB Early Childhood Initiative Program, families receive information and strategies for developing their children's skills in Braille and cane travel. The Early Childhood Initiative has two components: the NFB Braille Reading Pals Program and the NFB Early Explorers Program. All participants in either program receive a subscription to Future Reflections, our quarterly magazine for parents and teachers of blind children. They also receive a subscription to The BEE, a monthly e-newsletter, also directed to parents and teachers. You can enroll in both programs online at https://nfb.org/nfb-early-childhood-initiative-program.
Through the NFB Early Explorers Program, children can apply for a free long white cane if they do not have one already. Families will receive a variety of articles from past issues of Future Reflections that relate to cane travel as well as a flyer regarding the book Independent Movement and Travel in Blind Children: A Promotion Model by Joe Cutter. In addition, participants will be sent an informational DVD and the special issue of Future Reflections, Travel and Independence.
Participants in the NFB Braille Reading Pals Program will receive a plush "reading pal," a print/Braille book each year they are enrolled in the program, a Braille birthday card in the month of their birth, and quarterly activities in print and Braille for children and parents to work on together. They will also receive the special issue of Future Reflections, The Early Years.
Reading Braille and walking with a long white cane can become part of the child's daily life, and he or she will begin to gain confidence and independence from an early age. Parents will understand that with love, hope, and determination, their blind children can flourish and live the lives they want!
by Ashley Reinhart
From the Editor: When parents learn that their baby is blind, they usually have a host of questions and very few answers. They may search for weeks or months before they learn about early intervention services and the resources provided by organizations such as the National Federation of the Blind. In this article Ashley Reinhart describes her family's long search for help and its happy outcome.
In the summer of 2015 my husband and I sat in a dim, lonely doctor's office. We listened to the diagnosis that our youngest son, Colton, was blind. He would be a Braille reader, and he would use a white cane. We left the office speechless and lost, without so much as a brochure in hand to tell us where to turn next.
Immediately I began to search the internet for anything and everything I could find regarding our son's eye condition, Leber's congenital amaurosis (LCA). Even more than medical information, I wanted information about raising a blind child. How would Colton learn? How were we going to teach him to live successfully without sight?
We live in rural Minnesota, and resources for children with disabilities are scattered and scarce. I made phone call after phone call, I sent emails, and I waited and waited. Organizations bounced me back and forth. "Not us," they told me, or, "We can't help your son until he's a lot older."
Finally I received a return call from Minnesota's Help Me Grow program, which provides early intervention services for children with special needs. I knew right away that this was the program that was going to help us raise a successful blind child. We got our start with early intervention services when Colton was only seven months old, and we built a strong relationship with a great group of teachers and service providers.
Terms such as teacher of the visually impaired (TVI), orientation and mobility (O&M), and occupational therapy (OT) are now part of our daily conversations. We seem to talk about the Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) and the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) as often as we discuss the weather. It's hard to remember when Brailler, no usable vision, light perception, and dot one sounded mysterious and a little frightening.
From the beginning our team has shown incredible dedication and compassion. Our first interaction was with our early childhood education teacher, who was almost like a case manager. She had knowledge about children from birth to age three who have a disability or may need a little extra help. We were so blessed to have her as a part of our team! She went above and beyond the requirements. She even came to our house late one evening to check Colton's hearing after he fell asleep, as he wouldn't tolerate having anything placed in his ears while he was awake.
We worked with an occupational therapist for a year, until Colton learned to walk. She always made great suggestions for adaptations we could make. I wished we could keep her on our team, even after Colton had moved on and no longer needed OT services.
Our TVI has been incredible in providing Colton's day care, his preschool, and our home with tools for teaching Colton pre-Braille skills and Braille letters. Because of our remote location, Colton's O&M instructor is currently juggling her full-time job as a TVI to contract O&M services for us on Saturdays. She has a two-and-a-half-hour round trip commute to and from our home.
Colton has been enrolled at a day care center since he was eight weeks old, even before we knew that he was blind. The center is not specifically set up for children with disabilities, and they have never had a blind child there before. Colton's TVI, O&M instructor, and early childhood education teacher all meet with him at day care to provide direct services and to offer helpful suggestions to the staff. Before Colton transitioned into the next age-level classroom, the TVI conducted a simulation exercise with the staff to help them understand what it is like to be someone without usable vision, an activity that seemed to be very helpful. Colton's current day-care teacher is studying Braille. She hopes to become his Braillist when he enters kindergarten in two years. The key to our partnership and success has always been open communication and a willingness on everyone's part to try new things.
Colton's friends at day care view him as just another child in their class. They give him some help when he needs it, but they realize that he is just like most three-year-olds with his "I do it myself" attitude.
I had heard and read horror stories about IEPs, and I was nervous when Colton turned three in January 2018. The days of early intervention were over, and we had to put our first IEP into place. No longer would we have the comfort of services provided in our own home. Colton continued in day care and started attending a mainstream preschool one day per week. This change meant he would need to take a bus by himself from day care to preschool and back. To my relief our IEP team made the process very easy and put my worries to rest.
Colton's first few months of preschool have gone well, and taking the bus is one of his favorite parts. The special education teacher at the preschool graciously gave up several of her Saturdays so Colton could practice the layout of the cafeteria, restrooms, and classroom prior to attending. Our TVI has partnered closely with the preschool, helping educate the staff; it's been forty years since our public school last had a blind child attend.
Colton is thriving. He does not let his lack of vision get in the way of being a happy, carefree three-year-old. He has a great memory and what I think of as an old soul. When you meet him he loves to learn about your family and what you do at work. He may even ask something silly about vacuum cleaners. He can count to one hundred, he knows the print alphabet by touch, and he knows eight letters in Braille so far. He is a whiz at recognizing shapes.
Our goal for Colton has always been to keep him as age appropriate as possible. We intend to provide him with adaptations that will help him succeed alongside his peers. Yes, there are still times when meetings and appointments are overwhelming. We know that things may not always go as smoothly as we'd like them to, but I am so thankful that we were able to partner with such an amazing early-intervention team. If only doctors would learn about early-intervention services! At least they could hand a brochure to parents and direct them toward their next steps when they leave the office with a diagnosis of blindness!
by Carla McQuillan
Reprinted from Future Reflections, Volume 29, Number 4, Convention Report 2010
From the Editor: Carla McQuillan is a longtime Federationist from Oregon. For many years she has directed childcare for children at our NFB national conventions. She is the executive director of Main Street Montessori Association. This article is based on a talk she gave to parents of blind children at the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) Conference in 2010.
I do a lot of workshops with parents. I find that parents of blind children and parents of sighted children have very similar needs and concerns. Sometimes I ask parents of blind children to list the traits they hope to see in their kids when they grow up, and here are some of the answers they give me: confidence, independence, competence, intelligence, ability, curiosity, happiness, courage, adventurousness, compassion, determination. Those characteristics are identical to the ones I hear listed by parents of children who have no disabilities.
What can you do right now to help your child develop these characteristics? Over the thirty years that I've been in early childhood education, I've seen that these characteristics are formed at two, three, four, and five years of age. By the time a child gets older, characteristics become set in patterns.
I believe very strongly in the teachings of Dr. Maria Montessori. She was a medical doctor who developed theories about what children need at certain points in their lives to become independent, contributing members of society. She based her theories on her observations of children. The greatest obstacles that she found to a child's natural development of independence and self-direction were the adults who wanted to help more than was necessary.
Maria Montessori described an inner drive that every human being has from birth. That drive causes every child to move toward greater and greater independence and control over his/her environment. It causes a child to want to learn to move, to crawl, to walk, to reach out and explore. Because that drive is so strong in children, we adults have a tendency to check it, to slow the child down, to try to make him or her back off from that natural desire to move forward. As parents and educators working with blind children, we have to make sure that we are not obstacles in the way of their natural push toward independence.
I will tell you here and now that this may be one of the most difficult things you will ever have to do in your life! The world out there is not going to be kind to your blind children. It is a tough place for them. The best way to make sure that your children are ready for the outside world is to back off and make them do things for themselves.
Think about this scenario. You're watching your child and she's starting to walk. You see that she's going to take a tumble, and you want to stop her. You know what? Every kid who learns to walk is going to fall down. That's how they learn to be more careful. That's how they learn balance. A parent told me once that she had a seventeen-month-old blind child who was walking. Her daughter was in a play group with other blind and visually-impaired children. One of the leaders of the play group said that it was very unusual for a blind child to be walking before the age of two. I had never heard anything like that in my life! My background is not in work with blind children. I am blind, and I have worked with blind children in my environment, but my training is not in special ed. So my reaction was, "What? What is the reason behind that?"
The reason is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Parents are told not to expect their child to walk till the age of two, so they stop doing the natural things that they would do with a child who is not blind. With our kids who are not blind we hold their hands and walk with them. We give them walking toys. We put things in their environment that encourage them to practice walking. If you don't think your child can walk till she's two, when do you start to do those things? Probably not at eight and nine and ten months!
Be careful when you look at a developmental model for your child. Make sure you're not looking at someone's idea of what a blind child should be doing at each phase of development, but what every typical child should be expected to do at that stage. Do everything you can to move your child in that direction.
I have a good friend who's here at convention, Bennett Prows. Bennett is a twin. He is blind and his brother is sighted. He believes that one of his greatest advantages in life was that his parents did not know anything about raising a blind child. They made Ben do everything his brother was doing. When Bill learned to ride a bike, they told Ben to go out and learn to ride a bike, too. When Bill learned to skateboard, it was, "Ben, get out there on your skateboard!" There was no difference between what he and his brother were expected to do. They took out the trash, did the laundry, and cleaned the yard. Today Bennett Prows is a successful attorney who works for the Federal Office of Civil Rights. He attributes a great deal of his success, his ability to fit into society, to the fact that his parents treated him just as they treated his brother who was sighted. Keep that in mind. Stop and ask yourself, would I be doing this if I were talking to a sighted kid?
In my training I learned that children between the ages of one and five are developing their muscles. They are learning how their bodies work in space. They are learning balance and movement, their physical abilities and limitations. Unless they use their muscles and do things that stretch their physical limits, they don't develop naturally. We as adults have a tendency to say, "Oh, be careful!" All of a sudden we have put some doubt into the child's head. Be careful! Is there something scary about what I'm about to do? Adults tend to make children fearful. Fearfulness is not a natural instinct in most children.
When my son was six years old and we had just opened our big school, we had a play structure with wide, six-inch beams. It was eight feet high because I wanted the swings to be really high—I like swings! My son used to climb up onto the top bar of the play structure and walk on it as if it were a balance beam. It was six inches wide. Most balance beams are only four inches wide.
I am fearful of heights. I always have been, and I guess I always will be. So my heart stopped when he walked up there, but I resisted the urge to stop him. (I did tell him he couldn't do it when the kids were at school because it would scare my teachers.) He never fell. He is a very athletic, agile human being who has great balance. He is naturally able to do a lot of things that I can't do because of my fear. I managed not to impose my fears on him.
I'm not going to advise you to encourage your children to do anything like that. But if they have that desire, create an environment where they can explore the possibilities. I worked with the family of a four-year-old blind boy who loved to climb. He would climb up on the furniture and climb up on the counters. Children are drawn toward the things in their lives that they need in order to function and develop. I told the parents that if their son was climbing, they needed to find something that would give him the opportunity to climb safely. Probably climbing up the bookcase was not the greatest thing for him. Just because he wanted to do it, that didn't mean it was okay. That child's parents needed to find a safe alternative. Maybe they could set up a climbing structure and monitor it. Maybe they could put it in an environment where he'd land on something soft if he fell.
Montessori said there is a secret within each child, a secret that only the child knows. The child knows what she needs in order to develop cognitively, socially, and emotionally. The best we can do is to observe and learn from what the child shows us. Then we must do our best to bring the elements the child needs into her environment. Montessori said we should look at children as though we are scientists. We should always be exploring to find out what we should be doing next, whether we're meeting the child's needs, and how we can help her become more independent.
When a child is about two, he or she reaches the age of "me do it myself." The more you as parents encourage your children to do things on their own, the better off you're all going to be. If you do things for your children for too long, there will come a time when they will not want to do things themselves. You will not be able to get them to do things when you want them to.
When my daughter was five years old she cleaned my bathrooms. My daughter, who is not blind, was very meticulous. We had a black dog, and she would get every last little black dog hair off the toilet and off the floor. She was proud of what she was doing. What was my error? Alisson was so good at what she did that when her brother got to be five years old I didn't insist that Duncan step in and learn to clean the bathroom. Guess who doesn't know how to clean a bathroom today! By the time I said, "Okay, now it's your turn," he was past the phase of being interested.
Children go through sensitive periods where they're really interested in something. The phase goes on until they master that particular skill, and then it fades away. If you don't grab those moments when they come, they may pass by. It's not that your children won't learn later, but they won't be as efficient or effective as they might have been. Kids love to clean things. You should encourage your three-year-old to learn to dust. Teach your two- and three-year-olds to take silverware out of the dishwasher and put it into the drawers. By all means I encourage parents to have kids do chores around the house. It's part of their responsibility as a member of the household. It gives them the opportunity to feel that they're making a contribution, and there's no better way to build confidence!
A child is going to struggle when he starts learning to get dressed. Putting on socks and shoes—that's a big one! All of the three-, four-, and five-year-olds at our school put on their socks and shoes by themselves. They all change their own clothes.
It's a struggle at first. I always tell people it gets worse before it gets better, particularly if the children have gotten old enough that they're really not interested in learning that skill any more. If they've come to expect you to do a thing for them, you're going to have a battle. Keep in mind that children do not use energy unnecessarily. They may pitch a fit, but that takes a lot of energy. They will not do it unless it pays off for them.
It may be difficult to step back. Some parents have told me they have to walk out of the room and cry. But if you do this now and help your children become self-sufficient, you will be pleased with the results when they're older. You can't start that learning when they're sixteen years old!
Blind kids are supposed to start transition services when they're fourteen-and-a-half years old. In my opinion that is way too late to start teaching some of the skills that are included in what we call transition services. Those kids should be growing up with those skills. As soon as the child is physically capable of mastering a particular task, he ought to be doing it. If you have a blind child and you don't have any sighted children, you might not be sure what is age-appropriate. Talk to people. Read about child development. Learn about the expectations for children of different ages.
Sometimes we see a child who is not allowed to become independent and have control over her environment, who has not had the power to make choices. The drive for control is so powerful that the child will get control over the parents.
I watched this happen just today. I saw a blind girl seven or eight years old, brand-new to convention. She came into the Kids' Camp room and refused to use her cane. She set it down and proceeded to tell the workers in the room, "You need to tell me where that is! . . . You need to tell me what this is. . . . You need to tell me where you put my . . ." That tells me that there are people in her environment who do that for her. So we got our O&M specialist to come and take her on a lesson. By the time she came back to the room she was using her cane, she was looking for the materials around the room, and she wasn't asking anyone for help. It took all of thirty minutes.
We had a little blind boy enrolled at school. He had lost his vision very suddenly from a brain tumor. He had no other issues that they could detect, just the loss of his vision. He came into the classroom two weeks after he lost his sight, and his hands were on everything. He was adventurous, he was curious, he was doing exactly what a two-and-a-half-year-old ought to do.
In my state children have to be three before early childhood education kicks in. He came back to school when he was three. This child, who had been so adventurous right after he lost his vision, got off the school bus and stopped. He waited for someone to take his hand and lead him into the school building. We had a cane for him, and he was taught how to use it. There's a hallway that leads from the front door out to the back door and the playground. There's a wall on one side, there's carpeting on the other, and there's tile all the way—it's a straight shot. Every day he would get inside and he would stop.
Thank goodness for good staff. I told them, "I don't care what it is—if you know he can do it, just wait for him." We had a lovely assistant working with him, and she would sing. She would walk ahead of him and sing to let him know where he was supposed to go. She never touched his cane, and she never touched him. Over time he slowly began to do things on his own, little by little. Somehow, in those six months when he was at home with his family, I'm willing to bet that everybody brought things to him.
A child who is independent and adventurous is going to reach out and find things. He's going to find a way. The child who is accustomed to having other people do for him will sit with his hands out and wait for things to be brought to him. Translate that to the young person who is eighteen or twenty years old. Do you think that pattern is suddenly going to change?
Children will do exactly what we train them to do. If we teach them to wait right there and let us bring things to them, that's exactly what they're going to expect in life. That is the role that they will learn to play.
It's very, very hard for a lot of parents to take this in. I know how much you want to make sure everything is wonderful for your children! That can only happen if you make sure your child struggles and has to work. That's the only way for your child to develop the determination, tenacity, and never-quit attitude that will enable her to be successful in life. It begins when they're so young that they're just becoming aware of what is going on around them. That's when you start to teach those lessons.
My parents had no clue what to do with a blind kid. I have quite a bit of peripheral vision, but I have no central vision. I cannot read print at all. I didn't look blind, and no one ever suggested that I read Braille. I wish my parents had insisted that I learn—I can't stress enough the importance of Braille literacy for blind kids!
When I first went off to college I lived in an apartment six or seven miles from my parents' house. My mother would call me and say, "Hey, I'm going grocery shopping, would you like me to take you?" The grocery store she'd take me to was three blocks down the street from me. I know my mother would never have driven across town to go there! Then one day I was walking home from class, about three blocks, and my mother called me. She said, "It's raining. Can I give you a ride?"
I found myself feeling very irritated and angry with her. I knew it wasn't her fault; I knew she was doing it out of love. But I had to sit her down and say, "You have to stop this. You have to stop worrying about me. You have to let me go. I'm going to be okay." Well, she did stop—sort of. I mean, she's still a mom, right? [Laughter.]
Try to recognize how important it is for your children to pull away from you. If they don't, they can never hope to have what I know you want for them.
Young children are trying to figure out how the world works. Children under the age of five or six are taking everything in and processing it to derive some sort of meaning. They look for patterns and routines, and they define themselves based on the way things happen around them. Make sure the lessons you teach are the ones you really want your children to learn!
When we have a class of preschool children, we set up a lot of self-contained, single-purpose activities. You can set these up at home for your young children. For example, if I want to teach a child to pour, I start with a tray and a pitcher and grains instead of liquid. Once the child gets the motion of pouring from pitcher to pitcher, when he has not spilled any of the beans onto the tray, we go to smaller grains, and eventually to water. Then we move on, to the point where the child is actually pouring from a pitcher into a cup. Make sure at some point that the pitcher has more water than the cup will hold!
Children love activities like this. They want to learn things that will allow them to be more independent. Give them the activity in a very nonjudgmental environment. If they spill or drop something, do your best not to react. Say, "Oh, let me show you how to clean that up." We always have dustpans and brooms for cleaning up dry things, and we have buckets and sponges for cleaning up liquids. That's part of the natural process.
When the child starts learning to pour into a glass, show him how to put his finger over the lip of the glass and use very cold water. The first time he's going to keep pouring and pouring, right? Calmly point out how cold the water feels when it touches the tip of his finger, and tell him that's when it's time to stop pouring. It will probably take several tries, but the child will do it eventually.
One time at an NFB convention I was conducting a babysitting workshop with a roomful of kids who were eleven to sixteen years old. About half of them were blind. There were about fifteen kids, and it was very hot! There were pitchers of water at the front and the back of the room, and I called a break so everyone could get a drink of water. One of the blind girls, about thirteen years old, turned to the sighted girl next to her and said, "Would you get me a glass of water?" I said, "Wait a second. You're in a babysitting workshop to learn how to take care of someone else's children. You will pour your own water!"
She knew the technique. She put her finger over the lip of the glass and started pouring, but when the water touched the tip of her finger she didn't stop. The water spilled over the top of the glass. When she realized it had spilled onto the table, she panicked.
My heart sank. I knew that her family had been involved with the NFB for many years, but clearly she had not done this activity very often. Cognitively she understood the technique, but she couldn't do it smoothly and comfortably. Sighted people will notice if you're uncomfortable doing what you do. Gracefulness is key!
We had a lot of towels in the room because we were practicing diapering baby dolls. I tossed her a towel and said, "Go ahead and clean it up and try again." She was a bit flustered, but she did it. I told her, "Do it slowly," and she did.
I know her parents taught her how to pour. But because she wasn't doing it perfectly, watching her made them uncomfortable. I'm guessing that this was especially true in public. So they avoided putting her in any situation where she would have to be embarrassed. Let your kids practice at home in a nonthreatening, nonjudgmental environment where they can practice until they get it down.
It's a mom thing or a dad thing to do stuff for your kids. Parents feel uncomfortable when they watch a child struggle. It's very hard to stand by and let a child figure things out, when it would be so easy and efficient for you to step in and get the thing done. It's all about your comfort level. It affects not only parents, but all of the people who have any dealings with your children. When people act on the impulse to swoop in and take over, it's easy for a child (and later, for an adult) never to worry about doing those little things for himself or herself.
Self-advocacy is very important in this area. From a very young age you have to teach your child that she can do things, and that she needs to show other people that she can do things. Our kids also have to learn about doing things for other people. If they do not participate in social reciprocity, they will not be viewed as equals.
Keep your focus on the long term. When people see you letting your child struggle, they will tell you that you are being cruel. Know in your heart and soul that they will never understand what you are dealing with. They will walk away and never have to deal with the life that lies ahead for you and your child. Be confident in what you are doing and get the support you need from people in the National Federation of the Blind and other parents of blind children. You will need that support. Know that you are not alone and that you're doing what is best for your child in the long run.
by Heather Field
Reprinted from Future Reflections, Volume 34, Number 1, Convention Issue 2015
From the Editor: Heather Field is a passionate advocate for blind children. In her articles and workshops she often challenges conventional ideas about blind children's needs and abilities, encouraging adults to enter into the child's point of view. In this article, based upon a presentation she gave at the NOPBC Conference in 2015, she emphasizes the critical importance of play for the healthy development of all children, including those who are blind.
I'm originally from Australia, and I've lived in Tennessee for the past seventeen years. I have a master's degree in special education, and I have taught for over thirty-five years, working in early intervention, elementary education, tutoring, and consulting. I run a small private preschool and tutoring business from my home, and I happen to be blind.
Before I go on, let me define my terms. When I refer to blind children, I am not just speaking about those children who have no usable vision. I am referring to all children whose vision is not "functional." By saying that their vision is not functional, I mean that they cannot rely on their vision alone to perform the functions of daily life. They must also use alternative, nonvisual techniques. Low vision and visually impaired are other terms for functionally blind. Most professionals prefer to use these terms, but I use the term blind. Blind refers to the vision these children don't have, and that's really what's making the difference.
This workshop is about facilitating your child's learning and play, and, since it is sponsored by the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC), it's understood that we're talking about facilitating the play and learning of blind children. If you have had sighted babies or toddlers, or interacted with other people's very young children, you probably noticed that they played and interacted with you very naturally. You didn't feel that you were teaching them to play. They watched you and joined in with whatever you were doing. So the reasoning goes that because the blind child can't watch what we're doing, he or she will need to be taught how to play. This highlights one of the first ideas we'll be examining today. Here are some of the things we will cover in this workshop:
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, facilitate means to "Make (an action or process) easy or easier." So we're not talking about teaching blind children what to do; we're talking about being part of the process to make it easy or easier for them to play. But what exactly is the process of playing? The dictionary says that to play is "to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation, rather than a serious or practical purpose." Yes, we play for enjoyment. Do sighted children enjoy playing? Yes, they get great joy from playing with others, even as very young babies. But how do they know which activities will bring them enjoyment? Do we facilitate the play of sighted babies? Oh, yes we do! We smile, make funny faces, make funny noises, tickle their hands and feet, and shake rattles. We present them with a range of activities that they might enjoy, and they choose which ones they will engage in with us. If they don't respond to your smile with a smile back, you make funny noises, blow raspberries, and stick out your tongue till you get a smile. You make the process of play easy for your sighted baby by giving him lots of possible play options and engaging with the ones he appears to enjoy.
This process continues throughout childhood. You might invite a toddler to brush your hair with a toy brush. When a preschooler brings you a cup of pretend coffee, you might say you'd like a bowl of cereal, too. With an older child you may suggest a board game or offer to play catch out in the yard.
Children also facilitate play for each other. I remember observing some of my pupils playing "wedding" around the time of the royal wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana. One little boy, Raheem, didn't want to be the husband. The girls assigned him to be the uncle, but he didn't care for that, either. Then they assigned him to be a little brother, but he didn't like that idea any better. Finally he ended up being cast as the dog. Through all of these changes, the girls facilitated Raheem's play.
We certainly facilitate the play of sighted children, so naturally we need to facilitate the play of blind children, too. This is not something we need to do because the child is blind. We need to do it because we facilitate the play of all children. Can you guess why Raheem didn't want to play husband, visiting uncle, or little brother? He was an only child of immigrant parents, and his father worked nights. He didn't know what his father did as a husband, and he had no visiting relatives. He didn't have a pet dog, either, so he always ended up being sent outside of the playhouse for being a bad dog. This had nothing to do with vision; it had everything to do with lack of experience.
Having established all that, let's now look at how sighted adults play with blind babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. The scant research we have, including anecdotal records, suggests that most sighted adults play with young blind children as if they were broken sighted children. Most sighted people have interacted only with young children who are sighted, and they have certain expectations for how young children should interact with them. When blind children don't interact in the expected ways, the adults usually choose one of two responses. They may decide that the child isn't interested in playing with them and leave her to herself; or they may decide that the child should physically be made to interact as much as possible like a sighted child would. Neither of these options results in our dictionary definition of play, with the child "engaging in activity for enjoyment and recreation, rather than a serious or practical purpose."
We have observed the tragically delayed development of young sighted children raised in institutions where they were not played with. Based on these outcomes, we know that the choice to leave the young blind child to his own devices—to invent his own play experiences—will not turn out well. The delayed development of deprived sighted children strongly suggests that the lack of appropriate interaction with adults and/or other children, and not the lack of vision, causes aberrant behavior and delayed development.
What about the second approach? What about taking hold of the blind child and moving her hands and feet, putting her arms and legs and body where they need to be to make her do what a typical sighted child would do? I am not referring to physical therapy, where this is usually just what needs to happen. I'm referring to playtime.
This approach of manipulating the child's body is based on the assumption that, because the blind child can't see what people do with the objects in the world around her, she must physically be shown what to do. Unless someone puts her through the motions, she won't know or learn, because sight is the only way to learn and she doesn't have sight. This way of thinking about blind children as lacking what they need in order to develop normally is known as the deficit model. It is promoted by many sighted professionals who advise parents regarding their blind children. Consider this passage in a handbook for parents published by a prominent blind children's organization: "Vision is the primary source of information for most children. No other sense can stimulate curiosity, integrate information, or invite exploration in the same way, or as efficiently and fully as vision does."
If the deficit model of blindness is true, then your blind child's curiosity will never be stimulated as much as that of a sighted child; he will never be as tempted as a sighted child to explore his world; he will never be able to integrate the information he gathers about the world as fully and efficiently as a sighted child. He won't be able to do any of these things because he doesn't have vision. Clearly, the writer of this handbook has never been lost at fairs and in shopping malls and in carparks with the sighted people I've had to provide with the information they needed to get unlost!
Here's another quote from the handbook: "Since 85 percent of all early learning is visual, the child who is blind or visually impaired is at great risk for developmental delays. Effective, intensive intervention is imperative in the early years. ... Early vision loss affects every area of development, including cognitive, social, emotional, communication, self-help, and both fine and gross motor skills. The unique educational and developmental needs of children with vision impairments can best be assessed and interpreted by qualified educators."
As you may imagine, I disagree strongly with these claims. I do so based on the evidence, which is more than what appears to have been used in composing this handbook. Firstly, many blind people grow up to be as normal as the next man or woman, without any effective and intensive early intervention from specially qualified educational professionals. I am one, and Dr. Jernigan was another, and there are lots of others at this convention. As children, these people simply had parents and other family members who found nonvisual ways to facilitate their learning and play experiences.
Secondly, and I am constantly dealing with this phenomenon, many blind children emerge from these early intervention programs having received little or no effective assistance, but having acquired a bunch of antisocial behaviors. Too often they acquire attitudes of passivity and fearfulness that they must be helped to discard—not to mention the erroneous information and expectations that have been communicated to their parents.
The handbook claims that "85 percent of information is acquired visually." The inference is that without vision the blind child misses out on 85 percent of the information in his world. However, the blind child will only miss out if he tries to use vision to gather all this information, which, of course, he can't do, because he is blind. Vision is the sense through which a child gathers information if he is sighted. Given the innate, internal drives to move and to know, a child without functional vision will seek to gather information using his remaining senses. He is a fully functioning blind child, not a broken sighted child. From the child's point of view there is no problem. If people interact with him nonvisually, he will develop normally, even if for some children that development may take longer, particularly if they have additional issues. The blind child will gather information through nonvisual means. However, sighted caregivers aren't used to the nonvisual route, and they are used to taking cues from sighted babies.
In the beginning we don't expect any specific reactions from a newborn except for it to cry when it is hungry, uncomfortable, or afraid. As time passes and the baby grows, its brain and body develop, and it reacts in new ways. On cue we change what we do, based on the baby's changing reactions. The baby leads the dance and we follow, familiar with how sighted babies react. The baby makes the connection between his behavior and the responses of those around him. He realizes that he can cause people to do things that he likes. With his sighted parents following along, he makes the transition from being a reactor to becoming an interactor. His parents respond to smiles, eye contact, and directed gaze. The baby is doing other things as well, mind you, but the parents know to look for visual cues from a visual baby. They see them, they respond, and the baby learns to interact.
If a baby is to develop in a healthy way, it is crucial that he make the transition from being a reactor to being an interactor. A child who interacts will initiate games and verbal exchanges as ways to make things happen, to get the response she wants. If parents respond to the grunts, shrieks, or pointing fingers of their sighted children, these children take much longer to develop normal language. They don't need words because they achieve successful interactions through other techniques.
We know that blind children are not the only children who may be delayed in language development, and we know why certain sighted children are delayed. When a baby is blind, he doesn't use eye contact or directed gaze, and he doesn't react the way his sighted parents expect a baby to react. Though blind babies are perfectly capable of learning to become interactors, this transition is often prevented by sighted parents who don't know what nonvisual actions to look for. Even though the baby is responding to them and their actions, they don't realize it and don't, in turn, respond. The baby is interacting nonvisually, but his cues to make the transition aren't being understood. As a result, he stops trying out his nonvisual interaction because it doesn't cause anything to happen. The sighted adults expect him to interact like a sighted baby, and they fail to look for other signs that he is interacting.
In her landmark study on the development of blind babies, Selma Fraiberg filmed the interaction between blind babies and their mothers and the research team member once a month. Then the team reviewed the films to see what they could learn. There was one bright little boy whom they worried about because he didn't seem to be making the connection between sound cues and the objects they represented. They thought he wasn't developing an understanding of object permanence, i.e., the concept that an object continues to exist even when you can't see it or, in this case, touch it. When the researcher rang a bell, the child's favorite toy, the child's face remained motionless. He didn't smile, turn his head, move his body, or reach. It appeared that he had no clue what was going on.
Then someone noticed the child's hands. The researcher rewound the video and looked again, this time watching the child's hands carefully. The minute the bell rang, the baby lifted his right hand and curled his fingers into the shape they would form to hold the bell. Then he wriggled his hand as though he was ringing the bell. The child was interacting all the time, but the sighted people were handicapped by their preconceived notions of what to look for. They hadn't noticed the child's attempts to interact with them.
Now that we know that blind children, like sighted children, must have play facilitated for them, how do we do it? We start with physical contact. We place the child on our body, lying tummy down on our chest, and we react to his movements, a touch of the hand or the kick of a foot. We use routine songs, rhymes, or sets of words when doing the same things, e.g., stroking or patting the child's back or tapping his feet. Watch for nonvisual clues that he's enjoying the interaction; watch his hands and feet for wiggles. Sit an older child on your lap and play games that involve bouncing, swaying, leaning, or lifting, games played to a rhyme or song that has a clear beginning and end. Use routine words before initiating a game, such as "Ready, set, go!" or "Show me rock-a-bye-baby."
Children must learn to be interactors with people before they will move on to toys. I love the Little Room mini play environment, a nonvisual, multisensory equivalent of the hanging mobile, conceived and developed by Dr. Lilli Nielsen. The Little Room is an environment where a young blind child can explore and play with a variety of toys that make sounds or have interesting textures. [See "The Active Learning Approach" by Gigi Newton elsewhere in this issue.]
When you introduce new toys or equipment, talk about it and make its noise. Then place it beside the child, just touching a foot or leg. It is not necessary to force the child's hands to touch and engage with the toy. The child who has learned to be an interactor, who has grown beyond passively reacting, will investigate if she is interested. If you have fun playing with it, eventually she will take a look. Do sighted babies instantly engage with every toy we present them?
When blind toddlers and preschoolers are provided with role-play props such as hair brushes and cups, or with equipment such as swings, slides, and step stools, those who have learned to be interactors will investigate and experiment. However, their early games may not be those you expect; they may not be like those of their sighted peers. You can facilitate other choices by making suggestions and by role-playing with a favorite doll or teddy bear. Be willing to allow the child to find her own way to the game that she eventually makes up.
Even very young children can learn to take turns by having to wait for Bear, Dog, and Truck to go down the slide first. Blind children can learn to push their siblings on a swing or in a wagon. It doesn't matter if the wagon has a crash. The sighted children will scream with delight as they see the crash coming, and they'll ask for more. Soon the blind children will be shrieking right along with them. They can also learn to pull the wagon and give toys or siblings a ride, using a cane to prevent bumping into things. They don't need to be made to ride in the wagon before they can pull or push it.
One of the best ways to facilitate your blind child's play, and the learning that will result through that play, is by giving him lots and lots of normal experiences. Don't keep him strapped into the stroller when he is two or three and can walk. Let him experience the world by being in touch with it physically as he moves through it. Here are some of the things he may enjoy doing:
You can model splashing and jumping, and your child may or may not copy you. If you've given her enough experiences and nonvisual interactions, she will learn to play and play to learn.
by Gigi Newton
Reprinted from Future Reflections, Volume 31, Number 4, Convention Report 2012
From the Editor: Gigi Newton is an early intervention specialist with the Texas Deafblind Project sponsored by the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI). During the 2012 NOPBC conference she conducted a workshop on Active Learning (AL), the intervention approach developed by Dr. Lilli Nielsen (1926-2013). She developed this article based on the presentation she gave at the NOPBC conference.
You could say I'm a Lilli Nielsen groupie. Dr. Lilli Nielsen is the pioneer of the Active Learning approach. A native of Denmark, she researched and developed equipment to help children become active learners. She was the first educator ever to be knighted by the Queen of Denmark, based on her dedication to helping individuals with visual impairment and blindness.
Lilli has been in the field of education for over forty-five years. Her research is based on her work with blind/visually-impaired children with and without other disabilities. You can read about her research in her book Space and Self.
When I went to my first Lilli Nielsen conference twenty-two years ago, I didn't like Lilli at all. I had spent many years doing the wrong things for kids. As a teacher, I was taught to talk to kids, to teach them language by talking and talking. I was taught to use the hand-over-hand method, to take hold of a child's hands and help him or her manipulate objects. By making the child touch things, I thought I was desensitizing the child to things in the environment. Sometimes kids bit me or pinched me, and I didn't understand why that happened. I wasn't picking up the subtle hints kids gave me. When I grabbed their hands and they bit me, they were saying, "I don't like this!" That was communication!
I was working in early childhood intervention programs, and we developed goals for each child. We had to come up with goals for gross motor and fine motor skills. I saw it as my job to make the kids do all of the things on my list. I forgot to sit back and watch the children. If I sit back and observe, they show me how they get information into their neurological systems so it can make sense to them.
When I say that I didn't like Lilli, I really mean it! I couldn't stand her! She said everything I'd been taught in college was wrong. First of all, she said, "Be quiet. Stop talking to the kids!" I thought, Well, excuse me! How else am I going to put language into them? I was constantly running my mouth when I was with the kids. My daddy used to say I'd talk to a fencepost! But Lilli said children learn by experiencing things. That's what she was teaching us.
Another thing Lilli told us was, "Never, ever touch a child's hands!" I'd been taught that when you want to show something to a blind child, you take the kid's hand and put it on the object. You want to show the child how to do something, you put the kid's hand through the motions. Lilli said that was all wrong. She said the child will explore on his own or her own, once we make the environment interesting enough.
It was a five-day conference, and for the first three days I was very unhappy. Then I fell in love with Lilli. There were a hundred and twenty-five of us adults listening to her, and there was one little boy in the audience. None of us even noticed him. He sat in his wheelchair, not moving, not crying, not making a sound, for three days.
Then Lilli looked over at him and said, "There is no reason for that child to be bored. Put him on the Resonance Board and give him a little break."
She put him on the Resonance Board and continued to lecture. Pretty soon we heard giggling. We heard laughter. We heard toys clattering. This child, who had sat in a wheelchair without moving for three days, had become active. He was laughing! There's nothing better than hearing a child laugh!
After that conference I realized I had been doing many, many things wrong. At the time I thought I was doing what was best. I have apologized to a lot of parents.
When I began to use Lilli's Active Learning approach, I was afraid I would lose my job. If an administrator came to watch me, I would just be sitting there. It looked as though I wasn't doing anything. I'm not afraid to talk to administrators now. I can explain what I do and why I do it.
Teachers and caregivers tend to place children on soft surfaces such as blankets or rugs. However, a soft surface doesn't provide much information to a blind child. For instance, when the child drops a toy, there is no sound to indicate where it landed. It simply disappears.
The Resonance Board is a thin, flexible sheet of wood that gives tactile and auditory feedback whenever the child moves. When the child kicks the board, there is a sound and a vibration. This feedback encourages the child to repeat the movement, and eventually to experiment with other movements as well. The child moves independently, without an adult manipulating his or her body.
Sounds created by the child's movements resonate from the wood. This immediate feedback can help the brain integrate motor activity and listening skills.
I've gotten some very odd looks from physical therapists! I remember one child I visited at home. He was lying on a rug, his legs scissored, his back so arched you could see underneath it. The physical therapist said, "You're not going to put him on that board, are you? It's got no padding!"
Before the session was over, the child's extension had broken up. He had used his hands at midline, and he was bending his knees so that the soles of his feet rested on the board. That night the physical therapist called me. She said, "You need to know that in the three years I've seen him, this is the first time he has ever moved that way without adult intervention." She was a big believer in the Resonance Board after that!
The Resonance Board can be used in a variety of ways. Here are some examples.
1. The child lies alone on the board with favorite items around her.
2. An adult sits with the child and offers favorite items. The adult is the child's playmate, not a teacher. The adult does not talk or do hand-over-hand with the child.
3. The child uses the board inside the Little Room. The adult is an observer. The adult notes what the child is doing and tries to determine which are the child's favorite items and activities. By collecting this data, the adult learns what interests the child; those items of interest can be used in other environments to support progress.
The Little Room is an environment that allows the child to play and explore without distraction or interference. Lilli Nielsen developed her idea of the Little Room based on what she calls the "denning effect." She observed that children up to the developmental age of eleven seek out and enjoy dens, or small, enclosed spaces. As she states in Space and Self, the first room for human beings is in mommy's uterus. As a child grows, the possible denning areas can include the corner of the crib, a kitchen cupboard, the space under a table, the corner behind a chair or couch, or a tent created by draping a blanket over pieces of furniture. I am well over the developmental age of eleven, and I have always been a denner. My current den is a nice, warm bath in the tub. It provides comfort and joy for me. It allows me to enter a calm, peaceful emotional state.
If the child with vision loss can't yet get to or make her own den, the space must come to her. This is the idea behind the Little Room. Dr. Nielsen spent three years researching and testing the Little Room's size and design. It is essential for the child to be able to touch the walls. This is a critical difference between the Little Room and commercially available, open-air, standing activity frames. Adequate ventilation is also crucial. There must be enough oxygen supply that the child can be active and will not fall asleep. The need for proper ventilation is one of the reasons cardboard boxes should not be used.
The items in the Little Room, made of materials such as wood, metal, and fabric, are suspended from the walls with elastic cords. They are within easy reach, and the child can comfortably examine and play with them. When the child releases an item, it returns to its original location. Therefore, the child can locate the item again and repeat the activity. This repetition builds memory for the child. If the child needs time to process what he has done, no adult is hovering over him to interfere. We all know how important it is to have unbroken concentration when we're learning something new. If someone breaks our train of thought, we may not be able to pick up where we left off. We may have to start all over again to learn the new information.
Dr. Nielsen has developed a Functional Scheme Assessment. The assessment is a list of learning skills that can occur when a child uses the Little Room. Here is a sample:
When an adult shakes a rattle or other sound toy for the blind child, the child is just hearing a random sound. The sound has no true meaning, and no learning can occur. The child cannot associate the sound with that particular toy. However, when the child can make a sound with an object, he gains an understanding of causation and a sense of mastery. He will repeat the sound and learn that his movement made the sound occur. Then he can start to compare that sound with other sounds.
Lilli Nielsen developed Active Learning as a way to work with blind and deafblind children who are functioning at a developmental age of four years or younger. The approach also has been effective with blind and visually impaired children who have additional disabilities such as autism or cerebral palsy. To benefit from this approach, the child should have access to Active Learning equipment such as the Little Room and the Resonance Board on a daily basis.
Lilli has used Active Learning with people all across the chronological age spectrum, from infants and toddlers to adults fifty years old. I have used the Resonance Board and the Little Room with infants and children and even with a twenty-one-year-old. The individuals had various degrees of functional vision, hearing, and motor skills.
Active Learning equipment can help a child regulate his bio-behavioral states. One mother described her son's first experience with the Resonance Board and Little Room. For the first time in over a year after a serious illness, he was able to calm himself without her physical intervention. When she placed him in the Little Room, he fussed and started to cry. As he flailed his arms, he accidentally hit an object, and he became curious about it. He started to interact with the object, and through this activity began the process of calming himself down. The activity was repeated over and over again for at least forty-five minutes. The mother cried with joy.
I have seen many exciting, amazing things happen for children through Active Learning. I have seen many parents shed tears when their children did things in the Little Room that they had not been able to do before. The children were having fun, and learning was taking place. Teachers of the visually impaired report that children with cortical visual impairment (CVI) appear to start using their functional vision in the Little Room, and use of their visual skills continued outside this environment.
I must caution that, without care, mistakes can be made. The Little Room must be set up with attention to the interests of the individual child. If the Little Room is set up with objects that are not interesting to the child or objects that are incorrectly placed, adults may conclude that the child did not like the experience.
The Active Learning approach has taught me to wait and observe the child. The child will tell me what she needs in order to learn new information. It is my job to set up the environment so she can get what she needs. Lilli Nielsen believes that every child can learn, and every child has the right to learn.
LilliWorks Active Learning Foundation is the only authorized North American distributor of Active Learning equipment. LilliWorks also supplies Dr. Nielsen's books and her videos on DVD. The foundation's mission is to advance Active Learning through supply of equipment, education, and research. LilliWorks is dedicated to the Active Learning principle that "everyone can learn."
Active Learning Space
This website is a community for parents and teachers who are interested in implementing the Active Learning approach. It is sponsored collaboratively by the Penrickton Center for Blind Children, Perkins School for the Blind, and the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.
by Joe Cutter
Reprinted from Future Reflections, Volume 23, Number 2, The Early Years
From the Editor: In the 1980s Joe Cutter pioneered the concept of teaching cane travel to blind toddlers and preschoolers. He gave the following presentation to parents of blind children at the 1994 National Federation of the Blind Convention.
When Barbara Cheadle asked me if I would be interested in speaking about parents as the blind child's first mobility teachers, I responded with an enthusiastic Yes! I was delighted, because I believe this statement to be true, and I welcomed the opportunity to relate to you my ideas on this subject.
I have come to respect and value the information and positive thinking about blindness that I have gained from the National Federation of the Blind. Blind persons—including blind children and their parents—have taught me the most about blindness. In a small way, then, your sharing with me through the years comes full circle as I now share my thoughts with you.
My thoughts and words today are from a book I am writing about blind children and independent mobility. Interwoven in this book is the common theme that parents truly are the blind child's first mobility teachers. It begins when the expectant mother introduces her baby to movement in utero. Whenever the mother sits, stands, turns, or walks, the child inside her experiences movement. Once the baby is born, the mother and father become attached to their child through touch—through holding, carrying, and playing with their baby. The joyous world of movement has begun, and it is the parents who are the first, the primary, educators of their child. It is only natural, therefore, for parents of blind children to be their child's first mobility instructors. After all, they are the ones who set the stage for the play of movement.
If parents are the natural educators of their child, then the professionals are secondary educators of the child. In the early life of a blind baby parents may be introduced to professionals, programs, and services established to assist in caring for their baby's needs. Parents may have a blindness professional visit their home, or they may take their baby to an early intervention program outside the home. Some of these services are given directly to the baby. In others the professionals provide guidance to parents with suggested activities, materials, and strategies that will facilitate the child's learning. The intent of these programs is to inform parents and at times give hands-on intervention with the child.
Now, I have visited many of these early intervention programs over the years and have learned much from observing the creative teaching of many talented, dedicated, and hardworking professionals. I have also visited in the homes of many families of blind babies. I have learned equally as much through observing the creative teaching of talented, dedicated, and hardworking parents. The significant difference is that parents are not paid, and they do what they do for twenty-four hours a day. I note this difference to punctuate my observations that parents have a much longer, more sustained, and intimate relationship with their child than do the professionals.
Yet, when blind babies and children enter early intervention programs, parents are often presented with an attitude that implies, "We know what is best for your child." This attitude challenges the natural teaching role of parents. When educators, whether intentionally or not, separate parents from the program of service, in whole or in part, then a message is sent to the parents that someone else—the blindness professional—did for their babies what they—the parents—could not or did not do. This may affect the kind of relationship that parents have with their children. Parents may develop feelings of inadequacy. They may take less initiative or be hesitant about movement activities with their babies and children if they have come to believe that the professional's role is more important.
Speaking of professionals, I can't help saying something that has disturbed me for a long time. Why do we call teachers who work with blind children vision teachers? It sounds like a contradiction in terms to me. Imagine getting a knock on your door, and when you open the door the person says, "Hello, I'm the vision teacher. I'm here to work with your blind child." I use the term blindness professional because it seems more relevant to me.
Programs of services to blind children do what they do best when they promote attunement between children and parents. The parent/child relationship is indivisible, and that is how it should be treated and respected by the professionals. Blindness professionals and other educators who appreciate this parent/child relationship will rely upon the parents as a vital natural resource. They will support parents in their efforts to establish mutually pleasing and nurturing relationships with their babies, and they will help them with accurate information about blindness.
For example, when I was studying about babies I was fascinated by something that, in some of the research, is called a voice/space event. When even very young babies hear the sound of their mommy's voice they turn toward it in expectation of seeing mommy's face. I discovered the first time I worked with a blind baby that this baby's head and eyes, although he could not see, moved in the direction of the sound of his mother's voice. This baby, too, was looking for the voice/space event.
The obvious alternative technique at this point would be to assist the baby's arm and hand to the mother's face, linking sound with touch. This common human trait of the voice/space event, which in the sighted baby links sounds to vision, has been adapted for the blind baby by linking sound to touch. The usefulness of this adaptation depends largely upon how I, the professional, present it to the mother.
First of all, I cannot be a substitute for the mother (or the primary caretaker) in this situation. The voice/space event must take place with the mother, not me. Second, if I present this to the mother correctly, she will come to understand that she, too, could have made this discovery. She will then go on and use this knowledge and the confidence she has gained from it to make her own observations, adaptations, and compensations with her baby without my assistance. This is how it should be. Professionals should not supplant the parents as the child's primary educators; they should encourage it and nurture it. This includes the role the parents should play as their child's first mobility teachers.
Mobility for children begins with play between parent and child. In the early years parents engage in a variety of play activities with their children. The importance of play cannot be overemphasized. Play is FUNdamental to being human. Fun and play are the child's form of work, of getting the job done, of acting on the world, and reaping the rewards from it. The head of the Department of Infant Studies at Rutgers University, Dr. Lorraine McCune, writes, "When play is defined to include all of the baby's freely chosen encounters with objects, a large portion of the child's waking time is playtime."
The implications of this statement for blind children are many. When blind children are restricted in the kind and amount of play they may perform, and when adults limit their free intentional movement, the context of their understanding of people, places, and things will also be limited. This will necessarily cut short their ability to reason, experiment, and create. Blind children are vulnerable to having play done to them, initiated for them, and taught to them in formal activities. Adults would be serving the blind child's best interest if they would instead put their energy into setting up the environment so that the blind child could initiate his or her own play more often. Such spontaneity is fundamental to being human, but blind children are often in jeopardy of having spontaneous experiences restricted by well-meaning adults. These principles are crucial for parents and professionals to understand as they consider their role in promoting movement and mobility in the blind child.
When children are young they are learning to identify and label the world. Blind children are no different. They need to become familiar with the world, too. Familiarization develops orientation. For sighted children, vision puts them in the action. For blind children touch, sound, and movement puts them in the action, too. You cannot label the world for a blind child by touching it for him. To be meaningful the experience must come from the child's own action.
Use of the cane facilitates self-initiated action and thus contributes to the creation of an active learner.
The skilled use of tools is a fundamentally human activity. For children, toys are tools! (Remember, we said that play is a child's work. Toys, therefore, are a child's tools.) They are skill-enhancing instruments. The handheld tool (or toy) is an extension of the body in space for all children. During play the child is introduced to objects in the world. To the child all of these objects are potential toys. Some of these objects will serve an everyday function, such as the handheld spoon, for example. A spoon is more than something you use when you eat. It is a tool of action. When we think about the spoon in this way, we can begin to understand its connection to the blind child's white cane. The cane, too, is a handheld tool of action to get a job done. The better the skill in using these tools—spoon or cane—the better the job will be done. Since we know that hand manipulation of tools develops over time from "on body" to "off body" for all children, we can then infer that the spoon is a precursor to the cane. Both tools manage space near and far respectively, the spoon being closer to the body and the cane being farther off the body. Whether banging on a plate with a spoon, or banging on the ground with a cane, the blind child demonstrates the use of movement in space.
As the child's first mobility teachers you will want to know what the cane can do. The cane is a tool that performs many functions. It can inform, inspect, explore, detect, and protect. Most of all it facilitates getting to know and moving within the world.
To illustrate, the cane is more than a windshield wiper on the world. It is the steering wheel that can be manipulated to take you in the direction you want to go. It's the headlight that gives preview of what's ahead. It's the bumper that protects from unexpected encounters. And it is the antenna that is constantly receiving sounds and resonance information from the surroundings. The cane is also the tires that adjust to the terrain and provide a smoother, more stable ride. Finally the cane is the side view mirror that gives peripheral protection whenever the traveler needs to circumvent an object.
Like the car, the cane is as effective as the driver using it. Both driver and cane user require training and must obey the laws of the road. Mostly the cane—like the car—gets you where you want to go.
This lighthearted analogy is a fun way to punctuate the varied uses of the cane. Thinking of fun, what child is not fascinated by a stick? It connects the child to the ground in a way that is fun. When walking, it seems natural to hold a stick and touch the world. Therefore, it is the most natural act for the blind child to be using a cane. Fun, play, toys, tools, self-initiated movement, canes—are you beginning to see the connections?
As your child's first mobility teachers the decision to use a cane must be made by you, the parents. You may come to such a decision in conjunction with the orientation and mobility specialist, or without such a professional. The point is, it should be your decision. Generally a cane will help facilitate a blind child's movement shortly after he or she begins walking. I have known blind children, however, who took their first steps across a large space with a cane. In these cases the child was ready to walk but would not self-initiate many steps across large spaces. Therefore, observe the blind child's movement around the event of walking. If the cane seems to promote movement, go with it. Do posture, gait, and self-assurance seem true with the cane? If yes, then it's facilitating movement.
If the child is evaluated by an orientation and mobility professional and it is decided that he or she is not ready for a cane, then ask yourself these questions: What is my child ready for—someone's arm? A pre-cane device that may be more complex to handle than the simple design of a cane? The less safe and efficient movement promoted by the so-called pre-cane techniques?
I believe the answers to these questions will lead most parents to the decision to take charge, purchase a cane, and get started. It may be a bit scary, and you may be a bit doubtful in the beginning, but have faith in your own intuition and in your child—you're a team. If the orientation and mobility specialist is on the same radio station as both of you, all the better. If not, you and your child can dance to the music. When others see what's going on, they may decide to join the dance.
It is not only okay to take the lead in starting your child with cane mobility, but it may be necessary if the alternative of inaction will negatively affect your child's self-esteem and skill development. You cannot count on the professionals always to have the right answers. Please believe me. I'm a professional, and when I think of some of the decisions I've made as a professional—based upon erroneous assumptions—I want to bury my head in the sand.
I remember my personal journey in working with blind children. When I began teaching children I used the same post-World War II techniques all mobility teachers are taught, including sighted guide, pre-cane safety techniques, and certain readiness skills. It wasn't until I happened to take some courses in infant studies at Rutgers University and I was introduced to NFB literature by parents such as Carol Castellano that my assumptions and beliefs about children and cane travel were challenged. That was really scary and threatening to me, but it was also liberating.
I will always remember Fred Schroeder's article "A Step Toward Equality: Cane Travel Training for the Young Blind Child." I shall never forget his analogy about crayons and canes. He said that keeping a cane away from a young blind child because the child wasn't ready to use it as an adult was like taking crayons away from a sighted child because the child couldn't write like an adult yet.
Like the sighted child using crayons, the blind child initially will use the cane with more exaggerated movements. This is for many reasons: postural security, balance, the newness of the tool, and the human urge to experiment. Through familiarity and maturation the cane will gradually be used with more purposeful movements and, therefore, more efficiency. Please know that the act of playing with the cane is a natural way for young children to experiment. It is how they learn about the cane and how it will work for them. This playing is not a reason to discontinue the cane for fear of a lack of "readiness." Remember, we said that play is the child's work. Therefore, do not be discouraged if the child's initial use of the cane appears to be just playing around. Some of the best travelers started out having fun with their canes.
Accordingly, do not insist upon the blind child's demonstrating mature cane skills very early. Such skills as proper adult grip, position, extension, arc, touch technique, and so forth will come in time with maturation. You will risk frustrating the child, and a negative attitude may develop toward the cane if you expect too much in the way of adult cane techniques. Expect the child to use the cane from the source of control best available to him or her—hand, wrist, arm, shoulder—given the strength and control he or she has from those sources. With growth and maturation these components of movement will expand and so will the cane techniques that work off these components.
The blind child will want to check out what is being contacted by the cane. You might notice the hand sliding down the shaft to touch the connected object, or the foot moving to check it out. This behavior is also displayed by adults who use the cane for the first time. A basic principle operating with young children is "connection before coordination." This should be accepted as a normal stage in their learning. Do not scold the child or try to prevent the behavior. This behavior will decrease as children learn more about the world around them, and as they become more goal-oriented in their travel.
Activities that are fun and enjoyable to the child also tend to facilitate sensory integration and skill development. The cane is a natural tool for these activities. For example, children enjoy banging the cane. They like hearing the echoes they can make with it. They will hold the cane in different ways, even upside down. What they are doing is exhausting all the possibilities of what they can do with a cane. This is a fundamentally human characteristic, and we should not limit such exploration as long as it does not hurt the child or another person.
Experiences in school set the stage for what will be expected of children in their adult lives. This is true for blind children, too. But, as stated earlier, blind children are more vulnerable to having their independent movement restricted by others. Most classroom teachers and aides do not know what to expect or encourage regarding the movement of young blind children. Some educators learn quickly and are very good at facilitating movement, and others are not so helpful. This should be of no surprise to us. But what is more upsetting is that some professionals in the blindness field have limiting views about blind children and independent movement. In situations such as this the parent will need to inform not only the teacher working with a blind child for the first time, but the blindness professional, too, about their expectations for their child in the use of the cane and independent movement.
Parents cannot assume that just because an orientation and mobility specialist is consulting with the school and working with their child that the child's movement needs will be promoted to the fullest extent. Even if you and the orientation and mobility specialist are reading from the same page of the same chapter of the same book, this doesn't mean that what is happening in school is what should be happening. I have often given a mobility lesson to a child in school and then have come back for the next lesson a week later to discover the cane in the same location. I knew from the condition of the cane and the tip that it had not been used since our last lesson. It is in your child's best interest for you to know what's going on. If your child is not moving about under his or her own volition, then he or she is moving about under someone else's.
Parents will need to decide what they want for the child and make it clear to the school personnel. It is that important an issue. The blind child is being prepared to believe one way or another about his or her own movement in school and the larger world. Children will either learn that they can take responsibility for their movement or not. It is that simple.
Of course, I am primarily thinking about the sighted guide. Now, sighted guide is certainly a sufficient, and sometimes appropriate, method of travel. I'm just concerned about young children's using it as their standard operating procedure for moving around. Also, I think the term implies that the guide must be sighted. One thing I have learned from this convention and other NFB conventions is that the blind certainly do lead the blind, and most efficiently, too. Some professionals now prefer the term "human guide," but I am even uncomfortable with this. It still implies that one person is leading and the other following. There are times when we all prefer to walk with someone, and it is not a matter of guiding or leading. Carol Castellano came up with a term that I like best. She calls it "paired walking." And isn't that what it really is?
To the questions of when to use the cane, how much, and where (school, home, playground, etc.), first ask yourself if the cane promotes and facilitates movement, confidence, curiosity, safety, and getting to know the world. If it does, then use it. I believe, by the way, that the cane should be used both at home and at school. (By home I do not mean inside the house in which you live. I mean all the places your family may normally go with the child—the mall, restaurants, places of worship, homes of friends, etc.) Using the cane in one setting and not the other is a limitation and sends a mixed message to the child.
At this time I would like to share a few words with you about vision impairment, visual efficiency, and visual inefficiency. Many visually-impaired children ambulate with general safety and independence in their homes, schools, and familiar areas outdoors. The need for the use of the cane may not be so obvious for these children. Therefore, here are some questions you might want to think about if your child has some vision:
1. Is your child relaxed while moving independently?
2. Is your child's stress level elevated in unfamiliar or congested areas?
3. Is your child's performance in street crossings and night travel age-appropriate?
4. Are your child's gait and posture negatively affected as a result of pushing vision to the point of inefficiency?
5. Are you holding your child's hand not because you want to, but rather to avoid uncomfortable or difficult-to-manage travel situations?
6. Do you think the cane may facilitate safe, effective, efficient, or confident travel?
If the answers to any of these questions are yes, you might want to give the cane a go. If you've answered yes to any of these questions and are still doubtful about trying the cane, you may have hidden negative attitudes about blindness that are getting in your way of making a logical decision about the cane. As your child's first mobility teacher, you owe it to your child to keep an open mind about the cane.
One opportunity that you have here at this convention is to observe visually impaired travelers using canes. You might think of this as your NFB Convention School, and this is your 101 course in mobility. After all, you will remember that you are your child's primary mobility teacher. Observe the confidence, poise, relaxed posture, and grace with which they move. Observe their safety and efficiency. One of the things, by the way, that I would like to do at this year's NFB Convention School is to receive a mobility lesson under sleepshades from a blind mobility instructor. So that's an open invitation to anyone here who is blind and teaches mobility.
One insight I'd like to pass on to you is something I was told by a parent who learned this by observing blind people with canes at her first NFB convention. I think it sums up many of the thoughts I'm sharing with you about vision and visual inefficiency. This parent told me she had concluded from her experience that you have your vision for what you can see, and you have the cane for what you can't. I can think of no other more truthful or basic statement than this on the issue of using a cane.
I think it's important to share a word or two with you about blind children who have developmental delays. All children observe the world through their sensory-motor systems. Vision is not essential to observe the world. The brain is an equal opportunity employer and does not negatively discriminate against the various modes of gathering information and observing the world. The five senses, like fingers of the hand, retrieve information and give meaning to the world and the child's movement. Blindness is a physical characteristic, the absence (partial or total) of sight. I do not think it fundamentally alters how humans think or adapt and compensate. We do not think with our eyes. We think with our brains. So, whether we read Braille or print, or communicate with sound or manual sign language, it is the brain that takes in the sensory information, decodes it, and processes it.
The developmental route for blind children who have added factors impacting upon their development—cognitive, physical, emotional delays—is more precarious. These children are especially vulnerable to having others do for them what they can learn to do for themselves. But, like all children, they thrive on a can-do approach. If anything, these children need more of the "learning by doing" method. Remember, the process of independence begins with self-initiated action. It is through his or her own action that the child has the chance to observe the consequences of that action, then refine it and practice it as a new skill. Children who are given the opportunity to initiate their own movements are motivated to do more, learn more.
When others do the movement for, or to, them, children lose interest in their own activity and become passive.
For example, a blind child who uses a wheelchair would have greater possibilities for independent (self-initiated) movement with a one-wheel drive or motorized wheelchair. With one hand the child could operate the chair, and with the other use a white cane for preview of obstacles ahead. This set-up, which promotes independence, would be superior to the alternative of the child being constantly dependent upon someone else both to push and to guide him. In fact, I saw someone in a wheelchair this morning who was using a cane for preview.
If you suspect that your child is delayed in development by factors other than blindness, you will need to secure reliable information and services to provide a sound menu of experiences and activities. To such a menu you can add the alternative techniques of blindness. As your child's first mobility teacher you can creatively adapt and compensate along with your child. You can promote your child's self-initiated movement, and you can expect others to respect the goals that you set for independent movement.
In Budapest, Hungary, there is an interesting program called conductive education. It's a program for the physically impaired child with cerebral palsy and other impairments that affect the child's development of independent movement. Some of these children are also blind. The program's philosophy is ortho-functional. The child learns by doing. Self-help skills are essential and valued along with academics. It is more important, for example, for a child to get to class independently and late than to get there on time because of dependency upon someone else.
The conductive education approach believes that if a child is perceived as dysfunctional, then the goals set for that child will reflect those perceptions. How we perceive children can make all the difference in the goals we set for them. It is the difference between using a promotion model versus a deficit model. The deficit model stresses limitations. The promotion model emphasizes possibilities. The independence these children are likely to achieve depends a good deal upon our expectations of them. Do we see children with limitations, or children with possibilities?
Let me give you an example of what I mean. The following sentences are from the book First Steps, published in 1993 by the Blind Children's Center. These sentences demonstrate the disturbing sighted bias and erroneous assumptions about blindness still to be found in the professional literature.
This is the first sentence of the introduction:
"The world of children with visual impairments is a very different one from ours."
My response is, "How so?" Are the authors implying that blind children are fundamentally different from sighted children? I don't believe it, and the evidence doesn't support it. We all live in the same world.
Here is the second sentence of the introduction:
"Although these children are faced with a puzzling array of sensation and information, our loving guidance can create a safe and nurturing path for them to follow."
My response is that the current research about how children learn, specifically infants, suggests that the world is not perceived as a puzzle. Rather, infants organize their sensory information to make sense out of the world. They improve upon their perceptions, adapting and compensating as they get more information. It would appear that the authors altered the data to fit their preconceived notion about blind children. The sentence implies that what is needed for learning is for blind children to follow the adults' lead instead of the adults following the child's lead. Again, this is inconsistent with my experiences and with the research.
The third sentence of the introduction reads: "Parents, family members, educators, and health care professionals find themselves drawn together by the formidable challenges of these children's infant and preschool years."
In my response I ask you to consider these definitions from Webster's of the word formidable:
1. Causing dread, fear, or awe. 2. Hard to handle or overcome; as a formidable job.
Roget's College Thesaurus lists the following synonyms for formidable: appalling, tremendous, arduous, or Herculean.
I would not choose any of these words to describe my role or the parents' role with the blind child. This is not the message I would choose to communicate with parents and other educators about what it will be like to raise or educate blind children. All parents are presented with challenges in raising children. The differences in raising blind children will necessitate at times different challenges. From my experience, probably the most "formidable" aspect of raising a blind child that parents will face is trying to get the professionals to provide the appropriate education and training that their child needs. And this is a problem with attitudes and bureaucracies—not the child and not the physical fact of blindness.
Finally, here is a sentence from the book regarding the sighted guide technique: "The intent of using a human guide is not to relieve the child who is visually impaired of his travel responsibility, but to provide the child with the skill of taking an active role when traveling with a sighted person within both familiar and unfamiliar areas."
My first response is, how can you observe your own movement off the arm of another person? This is a logical impossibility. Whose responsibility is it for the active movement of negotiating the environment? Why is it assumed that when a blind child is walking with a sighted person that he or she will be naturally guided? What is active about following another's lead? And why does the guide need to be sighted? There are times when sighted guide is appropriate, but to suggest that there's some skill in it that a child needs to learn for independence is ludicrous and false.
The subtleties of the written word hit home hard when you are the subject matter. Blind persons and parents of blind persons hear the bias in these words clearly. First Steps is written by a professional, credentialed group of authors. The Blind Children's Center provides a real service for blind children, and in many respects this book is rich in useful information. But at its core are assumptions that communicate to those thirsty for knowledge erroneous beliefs about blindness. I believe these assumptions damage blind children. History has given us enough of these harmful, false images. We do not need them dressed up in the respectability of professional jargon, then pawned off to us as modern, scientific concepts. It is time we stress a promotion model, not a deficit model, of blindness.
It has been said that "We should study right research and research the study right." Research would better serve the needs of blind children, and our energies would be put to better use, if we spent more time raising questions and debunking erroneous assumptions about blindness. Here are some questions I have:
1. What do we truly believe about the capabilities of blind travelers when professional organizations will not certify blind orientation and mobility specialists?
2. What are the vulnerable areas in blind children's opportunities to express their innate need to know and drive to move?
3. What is really essential to functioning with the cane?
4. How can the sighted guide, pre-cane techniques, or pre-cane devices be considered precursors or predictors of independent travel? Where is the research to substantiate these common assertions?
5. What do orientation and mobility specialists believe about the parent-child relationship?
6. How can the use of resonance and the broader perception of sound and space be facilitated in blind babies and older children? How do we enhance or distort its use in the type of canes we recommend and choose for them?
7. Has our sighted bias ignored the contribution to movement that the utilization of auditory object perception (echolocation) facilitates?
8. What subtle, or not so subtle, messages do we send to blind children that discourage them from moving actively in the world?
9. How do we interrupt or inhibit the self-initiating and sustaining movement of blind babies and children?
10. How do our touch and physical handling of blind babies and children affect the development of the use of their own touch? How do the touch and verbal cues that we impose upon children in a travel situation affect their abilities to figure out and solve their own travel problems?
11. What do we do to a blind child's interest in and ability with the cane when we try to teach adult skills for which children are developmentally not ready? When we delay giving them a cane in favor of a pre-cane device?
12. How are blind children's self-image and desire for independence affected when we teach them that someone else will take responsibility for their movement? When that "someone else" is always sighted?
I believe that the consequences of the orientation and mobility profession's not addressing these questions and many others will result in the increased vulnerability of a profession already in jeopardy. Meanwhile, the blindness movement has been developing its own growing body of literature based upon a different perspective—a perspective that has evolved from over fifty years of the collective experience of thousands of blind people. Here are some of my observations of the philosophy that fuels the passion and reason found in the NFB literature:
1. It's positive.
2. It assumes that blindness need not be "fixed."
3. It promotes the concept that "differences are not deficits."
4. The alternative techniques of blindness promote a "can do" approach to life.
5. It deals with issues and concerns that are fundamentally human.
What I have described to you today is what I call a pediatric perspective on independent mobility. I hope it fuels your beliefs and actions—as your child's first mobility teachers—in promoting your child's independent movement in the early years.
In summary, the need to know and the drive to move are fundamental to being human. Therefore, orientation and independent mobility is more than a way of moving from one place to another, it is a way of life. It is a way of knowing, a process of reciprocal interaction, of being with the world instead of separate from it. This process during the early years of life enables the blind child to engage with the world in an increasingly independent manner. During these early years a common thread will sew together the variety of experiences. This thread is the fundamental fact that, like all children, blind children have an innate sense of order, an inherent ability to organize their experiences, and the ability to learn from (and improve upon) those experiences. From the earliest sensory motor schemes to the formation of intentional thought and complex problem solving, the drive to want more and to make more out of what reality at any given moment appears to offer is as much the foundation of purposeful thought and movement for blind babies and children as it is for those who are sighted.
It is of particular importance that parents be provided with accurate information about blindness and this natural process so that they can better teach and assist their children to interact independently with and within the world. Together as a team—parents, child, and professionals—we engage in common goals that will facilitate the child's natural need to know and the drive to move.
The history of formalized orientation and mobility has entrenched an adult-to-adult approach, with sighted guide and pre-cane techniques being taught prior to cane instruction. This tradition can be thought of as a top-down model. In this model adults first learn the concepts, then learn the motor schemes to match these concepts. With a pediatric perspective, however, the approach will be bottom-up. (I want to acknowledge the influence of Dr. Lorraine McCune on my thinking. Her knowledge and clear thinking about what babies do and how they learn contributed much to the development of this model.) First, children learn purposeful movement, then with a solid foundation of motor schemes upon which they have learned to trust and rely, they learn the concepts. Out of the experience come the concepts, the ways of thinking about the world. With this bottom-up model, parents and other educators will explore strategies, activities, and tools—such as the cane—that will facilitate purposeful thought and purposeful movement.
This approach rejects the notion that children must have a certain maturity level before they can use a cane for movement. Maturity unfolds as movement and motor schemes become more sophisticated. The cane can assist in this process from the moment a child begins to walk.
In this bottom-up model, cane travel will not be considered an isolated set of skills. Instead, the spoon becomes the precursor to the cane. Tools to manage space that are handheld and get a task done (spoons, scoops, shovels, etc.) will be respected in this bottom-up approach. Motor skills for cane usage, from this perspective, are not a mysterious set of unique skills requiring extraordinary knowledge and specialized training. They are extensions of ordinary motor schemes and tool usage that all children may learn and parents may teach. There is also no need for so-called pre-cane techniques and pre-cane devices in this approach. In truth, pre-cane techniques are actually alternative travel techniques (which are, incidentally, inferior to cane travel techniques), and not at all necessary in any way for cane usage. The same is true for pre-cane devices. They are actually alternatives to the cane, and in no way add to a child's preparedness for the cane.
Also with this approach, parents and other educators will be cautious not to insist prematurely upon cane techniques that may be appropriate for the adult but not be at the appropriate developmental level of the blind child. Blind children need to explore, figure it out, and develop self-taught solutions that are respected by the adults in their lives.
Pediatric orientation and mobility from the bottom-up perspective respects the developmental needs of all children: security, movement, the interpreting of sensory information, communication, and autonomy. These needs are met in the day-to-day living of the child; in feeding, bathing, playing, socializing, and exploring the world. The blind child's use of the cane is simply a natural part of growing up, as normal as learning to use a spoon.
Above all I want to stress that our beliefs as parents and educators will affect what we give and how we give it, what we teach and how we teach it, and what our expectations will be for our blind children's development toward independence. These beliefs will not only affect our relationships with each other, but what our children will ultimately come to believe and expect of themselves as blind persons.
I hope that these thoughts assist you in your role as your children's first mobility teachers.
by Deborah Kent Stein
Reprinted from Future Reflections, Volume 23, Number 2, The Early Years
Our first memories are said to contain themes that remain crucial to us throughout our lives. When I think back, I find that my earliest memories all have to do with touch. For me as a blind child, touch meant seeing—seeing in the widest sense of perceiving and understanding. When I was free to touch things I was in my glory. I was fully connected and involved with my environment, exploring, making discoveries about the world around me.
In one of my very early memories I am about two years old. My father is lifting me in his arms so I can reach over the edge of a large cardboard box. Inside the box my hands find a pile of warm, wriggling bodies—soft fur, bony heads, wet noses, and curious, lapping tongues. "See?" Dad says. "Fluffy's puppies! Look!"
In another memory, I am perched on a stool at the kitchen counter while my mother prepares a chicken dinner. Patiently she shows me the cold, plucked bird lying before us. She points out the legs, the wings, the breast, and the place where the head used to be. My hands explore every nuance of poultry anatomy. This is our ritual whenever we have chicken for dinner. I get to look at the chicken.
Not all of my early recollections are such happy ones. In another memory, my cousin holds a crayfish captive in a jar. I beg to touch it, but the grown-ups say no. They insist that its claws will pinch my fingers and hurt me. Someone gives me a stick and says I can touch the crayfish with that. But I can't learn anything about this mysterious creature by probing it with the tip of a stick. I need to study it with my hands, and I am not allowed. I remember bursting into tears of frustration as the grown-ups repeated that the "Don't touch" rule was for my own good. When I heard the dreaded words "Don't touch!" my quest for knowledge was thwarted. I was cut off from meaningful experience. Intriguing portions of the world were forbidden to me, and I was forced into passivity.
Sighted children, too, hunger to engage with the world through touch, though often it is forbidden to them as well. Whether they can touch or not, they can still gather volumes of information through their eyes. The figurines on a shelf, the umbrella leaning in the corner, the heavy drapes that might provide a place for hide and seek—each new object is a source of fascination. Sighted children never stop looking and learning. Blind children need to look and learn, too, in their own way—by using their hands.
To my immense good fortune, my parents instinctively recognized that though I was blind, I had the same need as any other child to learn about my surroundings. My parents understood that my blindness need not hold me back. My experience of the world could be rich and meaningful through the sense of touch.
My parents realized that I needed plenty of hands-on experience with the everyday objects sighted children take in almost automatically by eye. When I was a toddler my mother made time in her hectic schedule to take me on a walk nearly every afternoon. She showed me split-rail fences, mailboxes, fire hydrants, lawn chairs, birdbaths, and telephone poles. We sat on the ground so I could examine dead leaves, dandelions, toadstools, and acorns. Mom even showed me sidewalks, manhole covers, and curbstones. Nothing was too ordinary for our attention. Everything was interesting and worth inspecting.
Expeditions with my father tended to be more adventurous. Sometimes he took me on walks in the woods, where we crashed through the underbrush, fended off brambles, and got our shoes caked with mud. On other days we explored the construction sites in our suburban development. In half-finished houses I learned that doors and windows fit into frames and discovered that bathroom pipes descend through holes in the flooring.
My parents had the wisdom to know that for me, as for all children, examining an object once was not enough. Sighted children have endless opportunities to look at trees and fences and bicycles. I needed to reinforce my perception of everyday things by touching them again and again. We stopped on countless walks so I could look at the mailbox—hot to the touch in the summer sun, mounded with snow in February—always the same, yet always new. The inventiveness and unflagging patience of my parents enabled me to create a vast mental library of tactile images, a storehouse of information that has endured and expanded throughout my lifetime. In addition, my parents' encouragement nourished my natural curiosity. I grew up hungering for firsthand knowledge of the world. I lobbied on my own behalf to touch statues in museums, displays on store counters, and the curios my classmates brought to school for show-and-tell. I trained my friends and teachers to remember that I needed a hands-on view.
Sight allows for distance learning, and touch is "up close and personal." But both sight and touch are spatial senses, conveying information about the shape, size, and placement of objects. Touch and sight both show us objects in relation to one another and convey the principles of cause and effect. Hearing is much more abstract. When a sighted toddler hears an unusual sound she looks around to investigate the cause. A blind child of the same age might hear a whole cacophony of fascinating noises and have no idea what sort of creature or instrument or set of actions is producing the commotion. Sound only becomes meaningful when it is understood within a context, when it is connected to events in the spatial world.
Verbal explanations of sounds are wonderful and necessary, but they don't help much unless the child already has a solid grasp of the basics. Suppose a blind child hears the roar of a bulldozer. His mother explains that a bulldozer is a great big machine that digs a great big giant hole in the ground. Unless the child knows what a machine is, and what digging is, and what a hole is, and has an idea about the relative sizes of things, none of it makes much sense.
In a way, everything I'm saying feels ludicrously obvious. Of course touch is the natural avenue of learning for a child who can't see visually. But even though you, as a sighted person, grasp this concept intellectually, you may have a hard time taking it in on a real gut level. People who are visually oriented often have trouble moving from a visual frame of reference to a tactile one. As the sighted parent of a blind child, you need to find your way across the psychic divide between visual thinking and what the research psychologist Selma Fraiberg has called "hand thinking." You need to recognize that hand thinking—forming a mental picture of one's surroundings through touch—is effective and completely respectable.
To accept hand thinking as fully valid is not as simple as it sounds. It may require you to reflect seriously on your own attitudes toward touch. Touch is generally suspect in our society. It's the only one of the senses that is consistently prohibited and maligned. To describe the act of searching or exploring with the hands, the English language provides us with the word "grope"—an ugly word freighted with connotations of clumsiness, dullness, and obtuseness.
Touch makes people uncomfortable; it's a little beyond the sphere of polite society. Touch is associated with breaking things, or even stealing. Children grow up to a steady, relentless drumbeat of "Look, don't touch! Keep your hands off!" You heard all those warnings, pounding in all those negative messages. Now, for your blind child, you have to uproot those carefully planted fears and prejudices against touch and think about it in a brand-new way.
Ask yourself some questions. How do you feel when your child explores an object with his hands? Are you eager to show him new things? Are you excited by his sense of discovery? Do you sometimes feel frustrated because he takes so long to look at an object tactilely, while a sighted child would take it in at a glance? Are you embarrassed when people stare at your child as he touches a plant, a lamp, a stack of magazines on the table? When he examines a figurine are you on edge, worrying that he might drop it? Do you let him know that you want him to have as many opportunities to touch things as he possibly can? Or do you convey the message that it slows you down to let him stop and look at things, it's awkward and a bother? One mother of a blind son told me proudly, "We've always let him touch things as much as he wants to. Even though it makes us cringe, and we want to snatch his hands away, we never stop him."
The truth is that some people will stare at your child with her exploring hands. Some may frown with disapproval. Sometimes when you ask permission for your child to touch something, that permission will be coldly and unreasonably denied. You will have to be your child's advocate, working to remove literal barriers so that she can see the things others are looking at.
I want to take a bit of a detour here and respond to a comment that I've heard from a number of parents and vision teachers. "Sarah doesn't like to touch things. When I put her hands on a new toy to show her, she pulls away." There's even a term for this in the literature—it's called "tactile defensiveness." I believe that the problem sometimes stems from the technique called "hand over hand," in which an adult takes hold of the child's hand and places it on an object in order to show the object to the child. It seems like a perfectly appropriate way to encourage exploration, but for many children it becomes an issue of control. The adult is grasping the child's hands, manipulating them, taking charge. Sometimes the adult even moves the child's hands around on the object in question, trying to point out particular features—all with the best of intentions. I know when people do this to me (it still happens, even to adults) I don't like it. I want to look at things at my own pace, in my own way. I don't want anyone else to determine where my hands should be.
Instead of bringing the child's hand to the new toy, try bringing the toy to the child's hand. With an infant or toddler, touch the child's hand lightly with the object, tell him what it is, and let him find out about it on his own. As the child learns the pleasures of exploring, he will not need much encouragement. What he will need are time and opportunity.
Sadly, I have met many blind children, teens, and adults whose basic knowledge has been constricted in horrifying ways. I think of a ten-year-old girl, a good student in school, who did not understand how to use a paper fan to fan herself on a hot afternoon. I remember a teenager who had no idea how to use a garden trowel—she had no concept of how to dig a hole. I think of a young man who didn't know that light fixtures are located on the ceiling. When children grow up with such deficiencies in ordinary knowledge, they are at a serious disadvantage in life.
By helping your child explore and learn in her own way, you will give her a lifelong gift. She will know about fans and trowels and light fixtures and tens of thousands of other things around her. She will share in the pool of knowledge that is basic to her peers. That general knowledge base, combined with her desire and ability to seek hands-on experiences, will open countless doors for her as she is growing up. She will be better equipped to take part in games with her friends. She will understand the humor of other children. She will be able to join in her classmates' mischief and to dream up pranks of her own. By knowing the world she will be part of the world, and by being part of the world, she will know the world all the more.
All children want to learn, want to reach out and explore on their own. Blind children explore by touch, and file away memories in tactile images. It's a different way of seeing, but it is seeing in the widest sense.
by Michelle Murrey
From the Editor: The lack of sight in no way limits a child's ability to learn or to perform ordinary tasks. It simply means that the child will learn in ways that do not involve vision. Although this fact may seem obvious, the shift to nonvisual thinking does not always come naturally to the parent of a blind child. In this article Michelle Murrey describes how she is learning to slow down and pay attention to sounds and textures as she teaches her daughter, Mikaela, about the world.
Raising a child in 2018 is no small task. With the onslaught of social media, wrenching political differences, and technology that changes as quickly as the weather, it is hard to decipher what is best for any child. Yet raising a child who is blind brings with it a unique set of challenges—especially if that child has been blind from the earliest years of life.
Last night, as I prepared scrambled eggs for dinner with my three-year-old daughter, Mikaela, I reflected on the difference she has made in my life since her arrival. Preparing the scrambled eggs did not happen while she played contentedly in the next room. Instead, she walked with me to the refrigerator to choose the eggs from the carton, selecting three. She carefully carried an egg, placed it on the counter, and climbed onto her stool. On the counter was a tray with a small bowl. A no-slip liner underneath kept the bowl steady. Mikaela picked up an egg, and I guided her right hand as we tapped it on the side of the bowl together. Two more times we repeated these steps, putting the shells in the sink after each one cracked and the yolk fell into the bowl.
Mikaela picked up the fork, and together we scrambled the eggs. She tilted her head ever so slightly as she listened to the slosh of the eggs and the sound of the fork scraping against the sides of the stainless steel bowl.
Before I turned on the stove, I stopped for a moment to guide Mikaela's hand gently to the stove surface. I reminded her that the smooth metal gets hot when the burner is on and that it feels different from the slightly bumpy texture of the countertop to her left. Together we cut a pat of butter, and Mikaela dropped it into the pan. We listened to it sizzle and smelled the aroma of melted butter that wafted through the air. Together we picked up the bowl and poured the eggs into the hot pan.
Mikaela listened as the eggs began to bubble. We held the long silicone spatula and began to stir. I commented on the liquid texture of the eggs as they slipped around the pan, almost weightless.
Then we rested the spatula on the counter and began to count. Twenty-eight . . . twenty-nine . . . thirty.
We picked up the spatula again, and this time Mikaela pushed it around the pan herself. We talked about how the eggs were thicker, heavier. She sniffed a bit, noticing the smell of the eggs beginning to cook.
Again we rested the spatula on the counter and counted. Twenty-eight . . . twenty-nine . . . thirty.
At this point the eggs were thick, stiff, and ready to put on the plate. "Mama, I don't want them hot," Mikaela said. She climbed down from the stool, careful to keep her hands off the hot stovetop.
Mikaela walked to her chair and said, "Come on, Mama. Let's eat scrambled eggs." I joined her at the table, and together we carefully scooped some egg onto her spoon. She touched the egg to her lips. "Too hot, Mama. I want them warm." So we waited a moment until the eggs cooled. When she tried again, the temperature was just right, so she took a bite. "Yum, Mama." Food often tastes better when cooked with our own hands, doesn't it?
That whole process took about fifteen minutes, instead of the five minutes it would take if I did it on my own. Throughout the process my busy, chatty daughter was still, quiet, attentive. We worked together as a team to accomplish the task. We respected one another, working as a unit, often hand-in-hand. Together.
In moments such as these I realize that parenting Mikaela involves a beautiful trust and closeness. We have slowed our pace and learned together what melted butter smells like and how eggs sound when the yolk hits the hot pan.
Before Mikaela came along, I served as foster mother to eleven other children. Though some of the children had special needs, they were all pretty typical. We had the average toys, did average things, and maintained a pretty busy lifestyle. We shopped at Target for toys and knew nothing of IEP meetings, tactile drawings, long white canes, and Braille books. With Mikaela I've had to slow my pace. I've learned to pay more attention to the smells and sounds around me and not just to rely on my vision to give me critical information, as I had with my other kids. I've learned to describe what is happening in significant detail, noting the sounds of a Mack truck versus a school bus versus a city bus. I've learned to shop for toys on the APH (American Printing House for the Blind) website or at the NFB Independence Market. And we spend our vacations in Orlando, Florida, with two thousand of our dearest friends and mentors.
Mikaela has been blind since birth. I have come to appreciate and celebrate the way she experiences the world through the tips of her fingers and the depths of her ears. She has taught me to slow down, to pay attention, and to find ways to describe many intangible parts of the world that I once took for granted—things such as rainbows, shooting stars, and the deep blue of the midday sky. Parenting Mikaela is not always easy, but it is beautiful, and for that I am grateful.
by Marilyn Winograd and Lillian Rankel
Reprinted from Future Reflections, Volume 35, Number 2, Special Issue on Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)
From the Editor: Marilyn Winograd, a teacher of the visually impaired, and Dr. Lillian Rankel, a science teacher, work together to share techniques and strategies for including students who are blind or have low vision in all aspects of science education. They have given presentations to teachers of the visually impaired and parents of blind children across the country, and they have led hands-on workshops with children of all ages and abilities. Their book Out Of Sight Science Experiments, published in Braille and large print by National Braille Press, contains thirty-two step-by-step experiments for blind children to conduct at home or as part of a science fair project. They have also co-authored numerous articles on adapting chemistry lessons and labs for blind students. More information about their work can be found at www.sciencefortheblind.com.
A two-year-old doing STEM activities? It is never too early to introduce children to science, technology, engineering, and math. By giving them subject-oriented materials for hands-on exploration, blind and low-vision children can be exposed to and have fun with STEM at an early age. Similar activities can be introduced and differentiated for children of other ages and abilities. Exposure to STEM at an early age will lead to integration and success in future classes and careers. We need to emphasize science, technology, engineering, and math to ensure that our children are prepared for college and the careers of tomorrow.
Simple hands-on STEM activities can be carried out with materials found around the house. STEM activities can be fun for the whole family and can translate into life skills as well. Simple STEM activities can be carried out by the time a child is two years old. For example, pouring water from one container into two containers, sopping up water with a sponge and squeezing it out, running toy cars down a ramp, or holding an ice cube while it melts and becomes liquid water are just a few STEM activities that are fun for young children. When children explore STEM activities at an early age, they learn that science, technology, engineering, and math can be interesting and fun play. This positive attitude can lead to academic success and potential careers later on.
In this simple experiment, you will lift a floating ice cube with a string and a bit of table salt. Soak the string in the water and lay it on top of the ice cube. Sprinkle some salt on the string where it touches the ice cube's surface. Wait for about a minute and lift the ice cube out of the water with the string, which is now frozen to the ice.
The salt melted the ice cube where the string touched it. Then the cold ice cube froze the water again, freezing the string to the ice cube.
Can you lift two ice cubes at the same time with one piece of string?
Fill a large bowl or pan with four inches of water. Take a six-by-six-inch piece of aluminum foil and shape it to form a boat. Float the foil boat on the water. Add pennies one at a time until the boat sinks.
Use a new piece of foil the same size and redesign the boat to hold more pennies. For a challenge try to make a three-by-three-inch boat and find out how many pennies it can hold and stay afloat. Have paper towels handy to mop up spills.
Can you guess what is in a plastic egg without opening it? Use some plastic Easter eggs that open up and have holes at the bottom. Put a pinch of spice or a fruit or vegetable piece in each egg and snap it closed. Onion, orange, cinnamon, coffee, peppermint, garlic, basil, lemon, and banana are some good choices. Try to identify each smell by sniffing at the holes in the plastic eggs.
Another activity is to put each fruit or vegetable in two eggs. Then match the smells in a group of eggs.
Using a bowl filled with six inches of water is a good way to test what floats or sinks. Find random objects around the house such as sticks, plastic spoons, stones, toy cars, blocks, pencils, and crayons. Examine each item and predict whether it will float or sink.
Now test your predictions. One by one drop each object into the bowl and observe whether it floats on top of the water or sinks to the bottom.
All you need is some Jell-O powder (with sugar), an empty three-ounce plastic cup, a drinking straw, a three-ounce cup half filled with water, and a spoon.
Put two spoonfuls of Jell-O powder into the bottom of the empty plastic cup. Dip the straw into the cup of water until the straw touches the bottom of the cup. Put your finger over the top of the straw to keep the water in the straw. Now hold the straw containing the water over the center of the cup containing the Jell-O powder. Release your finger so the water falls onto the powder. Wait a minute and then reach in and pick up your gumdrop! (A prefilled medicine dropper with six to eight drops can be used instead of a straw.)
First you will need a fishing pole. Use a Popsicle stick or dowel six to eight inches long. Hang a doughnut-shaped magnet from a string attached to one end. Cut fish shapes from sheets of cardboard, index cards, or paper plates. Place a paper clip by each fish's mouth. You can put a Braille or large print number on each of the fish. For a fish pond, use a plastic or aluminum pan, shallow box, or large bowl.
Now it's time to go fishing. Drop the magnets into the fish pond. Catch the fish by picking them up when the magnets stick to the paper clips.
You can put the fish in numerical order or make addition and subtraction problems with the numbers on the fish that are caught. Fish with a partner and add up the numbers on the fish you each catch. The one with the highest total wins!
For an alternative way to play this game, when initially making the fish, cut them in different sizes. The one who catches the biggest fish is the winner.
Cut a navel orange into quarters. You will also need a small pail or a large bowl filled with water and a work tray to catch water that may spill or splash. Predict what you think will happen, and then try it out.
Place an orange slice, with the peel on, in the pail of water. Does the orange slice float or sink?
Now take the orange slice out of the water and peel off the skin. Again, predict what will happen. Put the slice back into the water. Does it float or sink?
Place the orange peel in the water. Does the peel float or sink?
You just found out that the orange peel acts as a life jacket for the orange. The peel has tiny air bubbles in it that help it float. The orange segment sinks without its peel, or life jacket, because it is heavier than water.
Get a strong magnet and walk through your house, trying to find objects that will attract it. Will the magnet work through water? Will it work through paper? Will it work through cardboard or plastic? Will it be attracted to parts of your shoes?
Sound is energy that is made by vibrations. We easily can explore making different sounds. Gather items such as a wire hanger, metal spatula, and metal silverware of assorted sizes. Tie a piece of string to each item.
Have your child hold each item by the string. Tap each one with a ruler. Listen to the sound each item makes.
Touch the item hanging from the string when it is making a sound and feel the vibration. Attach a string to a coat hanger and wrap each end around a finger. Place your fingers in your ears. Then tap the coat hanger against a desk to hear the sound conduction through your fingers into your ears.
We can make carbon dioxide, the gas found in soda and our atmosphere. To start, get a one-quart Ziploc bag. Put two tablespoons of water into the bag, being careful to keep the zipper dry.
Zip the bag halfway closed. Drop two Alka-Seltzer tablets into the bag of water and quickly zip it closed. Shake the bag gently to wet the Alka-Seltzer tablets. Feel the tablets dissolving through the plastic bag.
Place the plastic bag near your ear and listen to the bubbling sizzle of gas as it forms. Feel the bag puffing up like a pillow as the gas is released.
Dissolving means that a substance breaks apart into very small particles and spreads out evenly throughout the water. Use a few plastic cups filled halfway up with water and gather some things to test for dissolving. Sugar, salt, sand, cookies, string, cereal, candy, and a powdered drink are some things to try.
Make some predictions about what will dissolve and start testing. Put a spoonful of salt into a half-filled cup of water. Stir with your fingers to feel whether the gritty salt is dissolving. Stir for a few minutes to give the salt a chance to dissolve. Has the salt disappeared?
Try some other substances. Does hot water dissolve things faster or more slowly than cold water?
How do we prepare students to think and work in a global environment? This process will not happen overnight. It begins with effective exposure, at an early age, to STEM instruction. Providing children with inquiry-based experiences in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics is the key to unlocking the world around them. Many foundational skills are taught and mastered during the early years. Through STEM integration, children gain exposure to and experience in many areas:
STEM activities encourage thinking, problem solving, observation, and a sense of exploration. Young students will not only master required skills; they will be able to unlock the doors before them and enter our global environment, proficient and prepared.
by Casey Robertson
Reprinted from Future Reflections, Volume 36, Number 1, Winter 2017
From the Editor: Casey Robertson is a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) in the state of Mississippi and an instructor in the teacher training program at Louisiana Tech University. In 2013 she received the Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award from the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). This article is based upon a presentation she gave at the 2016 National Convention of the NFB in Orlando, Florida.
I am an itinerant teacher in Mississippi, and I work for the Institute on Blindness at Louisiana Tech, so I have a dual role. I teach teachers of the blind, and at the same time I have a caseload of blind students in the public schools. We use the itinerant model in Mississippi. We often travel great distances to work with our students, from county to county and district to district.
In my teaching I work with a wide range of ages and exceptionalities. I have students who are as young as four, and I've taught Braille to a twelfth grader who never was exposed to it before.
One thing that you guys may have noticed with blind children is that sometimes they don't like to touch things, or they don't like to eat certain foods, or they don't like certain noises. Today we're going to talk about why this happens and how we can help those kids get over their fears and anxieties about touching things.
We're speaking here about blind children, but sighted children often have aversions to things, too. This isn't a blindness problem, it's a kid problem! A lot of times behaviors get labeled as blindness related when really they're about being a child.
Why do some of our children not like to touch things? Why do they touch things very lightly? You may have noticed that some kids, blind and sighted, have a very light touch; it's almost as if their arms and their bodies are floppy. Other kids are very forceful when they touch things, and you're constantly saying, "Not so hard! Not so hard!" What can parents do to help?
I bet if we took a survey in this room, everyone could tell us about something sensory that they do not like. Brown paper towels in the bathroom? I cringe if I have to dry my hands with those brown paper towels! Lines in socks? They have to be the same for me. Socks that are exactly the same except that one's thin and one's thicker, I can't do it! If you make me wear them, you might as well send me away to somewhere. My mother's here in the room, and she can probably tell you about more things I don't like.
We all have sensory things that we don't like, things we try to avoid. Most of the time our aversions don't affect us very much, but there are times when we need to address the issue. Today we'll look at what happens when avoidance becomes a problem and talk about ways we can deal with this problem in our kids.
Sensory information comes into the brain by four main pathways—the eyes, the ears, the nose and tongue, and the hands and skin. These are the four main channels that carry information from our environment to our brains so we can perceive it. Normally we process information from all of these channels at the same time; it's called sensory integration. As we touch and listen, all of that information goes into the brain at once. It's a good educational model to have students touch a thing, hear it, and say the name of it over and over. They're getting information into the brain in multiple ways at the same time. I used this multisensory method when I was a general education teacher, before I got into the field of blindness.
When the brain gets all this information at the same time, it has to decide how to respond. There's a very loud noise outside! What do I do? Some kids have trouble sorting out all the information that comes in at once. We need to teach our kids to process information and help them figure out what to do about it.
We can train our kids to respond to things in appropriate ways. Your child may be over-responsive or under-responsive to sensory stimulation. The over-responsive child is the child we call rambunctious. He or she reacts in a high-energy way to stimulation. If you give this child an object to touch, he hits it hard.
Under-responsive children are the kids who are floppy. They don't have good muscle tone—it's called hypotonia. If you ask a child like this to touch something, he just plops his hand on it and lets his hand slide down. It's as though these kids are apprehensive about touching things. They don't get the feel of an object because they touch it so lightly.
The child who is oversensitive to stimulation can easily become overwhelmed by the information coming from any or all of the senses. This oversensitivity to touch is sometimes described as sensory defensiveness. It's called tactile defensiveness when the child is overly sensitive to touch. A child may also be overly sensitive to sound, or auditorily defensive.
When we try to teach kids Braille at an early age, we often hear professionals say, "He's so tactile defensive, there's no way he's going to touch Braille right now! We need to wait a year or two." It's true that a lot of blind kids—not all of them!—have trouble touching the Braille and reading it, but that's not a reason to put off Braille instruction for a year or two! It's a reason for one of your goals to be helping the child become more receptive to various kinds of tactile stimulation.
Parents often call me in to do an independent assessment. They'll tell me that the school district recommends that their three- or four-year-old do pre-Braille before kindergarten because she's tactilely defensive and doesn't like to touch different textures. The team wants to spend two years working on having the child touch different textures before ever putting Braille under her fingers! There's no reason three- and four-year-olds should not have exposure to Braille, even if they're labeled as tactilely defensive. There are ways we can work through that.
I want to share a story with you about the very first blind student I ever had. I was a general education teacher with a degree in gifted education. After eight or nine years I went into the blindness field. I went to Louisiana Tech, which is one of the top programs in the nation for teachers of blind students. I started my very first job, and when I showed up on my first day the principal said, "I'm going to walk you down to the room where this little girl is." She opened the door to the special ed room and said, "This is the special education teacher, and this is your Bella. We'll talk later." And she closed the door.
There was a little balled-up bundle of a child on the floor. She was six years old. She didn't walk. She didn't talk. She didn't eat solid food. When the principal closed that door I thought, "Oh, my! What do I do!"
So I grabbed my cell phone and called Dr. Ruby Ryles, who is kind of a guru in the blindness education field. I said, "Hello! This kid's not reading Braille! She's not walking, she's not talking, she's not eating. She's pretty much in a fetal position on the floor. You didn't teach me about this! What do I do?"
She said, "You're a teacher. You've got to figure it out." [Laughter]
In the process of teaching this little girl, I had to get past being scared. Then I had to figure out what was going on. Bella was six years old and she weighed twenty-five pounds. When I started working with her she would not touch anything except her bottle and a sippy cup. She crawled around the room, but she didn't want to touch anything except the floor.
She was the only student I had for the first semester. I spent the majority of my time with her each day. It took me half a year to get her up and walking. She could swing. She loved to swing because her parents would put her on a swing to occupy her while they did yard work or things around the house. Swinging was the number one motivator I had to get her to start touching things.
My mom loves to sew. I went to the fabric store and picked out about ten different textures of fabric. Mom and I sewed squares of fabric together and made Bella a blanket that she could carry with her everywhere. It came to school with her, and it went home with her every day. In the beginning she would only touch one square of that blanket, a square that was smooth. She would hold the blanket by that one square. She wouldn't touch the blanket anywhere else or let any other part of it touch her.
Touching that one smooth square was all I needed her to do at first. Bit by bit, as we worked together, she began to touch other squares of the blanket. We had put lots of things on it, from rough burlap to a zipper and buttons—a whole palette of textures. We worked up to two textures that she would touch, then three, until finally she had the whole blanket. It became very much a friend for her.
Bella is an example of a child who was under-responsive. She was floppy, had low muscle tone, and was very reluctant to touch things. The number one thing we can do for the under-responsive kid is to get him up and moving. If Bella's parents gave her something and she didn't like the feel of it, they quit. They tried giving her baby food, and she didn't like it, so they quit giving it to her. If they gave her a cup instead of a bottle, she screamed—so they quit. She just stayed in one part of the house doing nothing. She was under-stimulated, had very weak muscles, and she didn't want to touch anything.
If there's one thing I hope you take away from this presentation, it's that all kids don't like certain things. In most cases, if a sighted child doesn't like to touch certain things, we make him touch those things anyway. But when it's a blind or low-vision kid, we tend to assume their aversion is a blindism—a behavior that's somehow caused by the blindness.
The schools generally don't like to push issues dealing with texture. They know that children tend to act out when you try to get them to touch things they don't like, and that's disruptive in the classroom. So the teacher is likely to stop and not to persevere. The child is labeled tactilely defensive, and everybody assumes there's nothing to be done.
My niece, Emily, is the first blind person I ever knew. We didn't know she was blind until she was five or six months old. She was a sensory kid—not because she's blind, but because she had sensory issues. If you put her feet on grass, she'd climb you like a monkey! She would scream and climb you! We had to take it in small pieces. We'd put her feet on the grass, she'd scream, and we'd give her something she liked as a distraction. We'd do that for a short time, take her away from the grass, and then go back later and try it again. When you introduce something to kids over and over, they become better at handling it.
For my niece it was the same with Walmart and the grocery store. It took a team to go to the store with that one small kid! Before I knew her, I used to see kids acting out in public, and I'd say to myself, "Why can't that parent handle that child?" Emily proved me wrong with everything I ever thought I knew about kids. We'd take her to the store; it would be loud in there. She'd scream, and we'd have to take her out. We had to keep reintroducing her to that experience. At the time I thought it was because she's blind. Well, now she loves to shop!
Regarding tactile defensiveness, let's look at the who, what, and why, and let's look at what not to do. Occupational therapy (OT) is a field that gives professionals a lot of training in this area. Teachers of blind children usually get none. What we know is what we learn through our own research when we're trying to help a particular student. The blindness field teaches a lot about kids who are blind—whether or not they need Braille or mobility training and how to teach them blindness-related skills. We learn hardly anything about kids with multiple exceptionalities. I don't call it multiple disabilities; I call it multiple exceptionalities. To me exceptionality is a friendlier term. It doesn't have the negativity that can be associated with disability. Anyway, I'd like to see much more sharing of ideas between blindness professionals and occupational therapists. Sometimes an occupational therapist feels unable to help a blind child because she or he doesn't have any experience with blindness. The OT will sometimes try to say it's up to the TVI to work with the blind child on sensory issues. But the OT needs to work with the TVI to help the child.
When you work with a child who has a lot of tactile defensiveness, first you need to determine some things the child really likes to touch. Most of these kids like things that are really soft, or some things that are really hard. They don't like things that are in between. In my experience, these kids are more likely to prefer hard things. So find out first what the child likes, and emphasize those things. Give her lots of practice with those things. You want the child to be comfortable, to be less fearful than she was when she came in. This helps you build a trusting relationship. If I see a kid for thirty minutes every day, and all she does when she's with me is touch things she doesn't like, she's not going to like coming to me very much! She's not even going to like the sound of my name when they tell her, "It's time to go see Miss Casey!" So you give the child lots and lots of practice with things she likes, and slowly you introduce things she doesn't like, one at a time.
Some of the things we can use with these kids are Play-Doh and Silly Putty. They're not going to like it at first. But the more you introduce it to them, the more they get to accept it.
With Bella and some of my other kids, I use things they like as a way to introduce them to things they don't like. I found out that Bella loved to play in water. She would pat the water and splash the water. Once she became mobile, we couldn't keep her out of the toilet!
I set up a water and sand table, and I filled it full of water. Into the water I put whatever objects I wanted Bella to touch. In the water she might find a rock—she didn't like hard things.
I knew Bella liked to swing, so I went to the hardware store and got them to cut me a link of chain. It felt like the chain of the swing that she liked to swing on, and I'd put that into the water. We'd work on having her find the rock or the chain link. When she found the thing I asked her to find, her reward was getting to play in the water for a longer time.
Feeding was another area where we did a lot of work. Bella wouldn't eat any solid food whatsoever. She had only been given liquids such as milk and apple juice. She wouldn't even tolerate the textures of pudding or applesauce. For about six months I went home every day with pudding or applesauce spit all over me! It was gross, but we had to keep reintroducing those foods to her.
One of the first things I put in the water was a spoon. Bella had never held a spoon before. First she got to where she would touch it. Then we worked on having her hold the spoon outside of the water.
Some kids like soft things, such as a bag full of cotton balls. You can fill a paper bag with cotton balls and put an object with a texture the child doesn't like down in the bag with the cotton balls all around it. Have the child find the object. If she likes soft things, you can hide something hard in a plastic container full of feathers. You can get feathers from an art supply store. You tell the child, "Find the rock," and have him reach into the bag of cotton balls or feathers to find it.
For Bella I got a small swimming pool. Off season you can get them at the dollar store really cheap! Take a blow-up swimming pool and fill it full of dry beans. Let the child get in and play with them. It's going to be messy—if you're a clean freak like I am, you just have to get past it! We swept up beans every afternoon. You can start off soft and move to hard, or start off hard and move to soft, depending on the child. With Bella I moved from beans to rice. You would not think there's much texture difference between a pinto bean and a grain of rice, but for some of these kids the difference is very big. After a couple of weeks we took the rice out, and I filled the pool with uncooked macaroni noodles.
Once Bella got used to the texture in the swimming pool, I put in objects for her to find. She would pick them out. This activity also encouraged movement, which helped improve her muscle tone. Her improved muscle tone encouraged her to explore, and exploring encouraged her language. Once a child has experiences to talk about, she starts to gain language skills.
One of the things that occupational therapists use with some kids is called deep pressure. Deep pressure can be very calming for some children. Wearing Spandex or tight exercise clothes under regular clothing can have a calming effect, but other kids might hate it. It's trial and error until you find out what works best for a particular child.
Some kids are helped by wearing seamless socks and moccasins instead of shoes. The less uncomfortable he is, the more the child will be encouraged to move around.
Some kids love vibrating toys. If the child is scared of the vibration, let her have control over it. The American Printing House for the Blind (APH) sells lots of vibrating toys that are controlled by switches. The child pushes a big button to turn the toy on and pushes the button again to turn it off. Some of these toys may be available through APH quota funds, so talk to your child's teacher of the visually impaired before you purchase anything. An alternative is, again, to go to your local dollar store. You know those little handheld back massagers that vibrate? The dollar store has those. The button lets the child feel that he's in control of his environment. The more control he has, the more he can understand that things aren't just happening to him at random.
You're not going to find an aisle at Walmart that says TOYS FOR BLIND KIDS, but a lot of the toys they sell can easily be adapted or just used out of the box. They have toys that vibrate when you squeeze them, and at the end of the vibrating they make a little musical tone. Those toys are perfect for kids with sensory issues. If you lay the vibrating toy on the floor out of arm's reach, the child can hear it or feel the vibration. That will encourage the child to move to the toy.
The dollar store sells little sand pails like the ones you take to the beach. You can fill the pail halfway with water or sand and put an object at the bottom for the child to find.
You want the child to feel just enough discomfort to work through the process of getting used to something he doesn't like. However, be careful not to go too far too quickly. You don't want the child to be crying hard or acting as though he's in pain. You don't want to scare him. A bit of discomfort is okay, even necessary. But never force the child to touch something! I remember hearing about a little boy who was always forced to hug people. After a while he wouldn't hug anybody! Introduce things gradually, and the child will learn to tolerate them, maybe even like them.
At home you already have built trust with your child, so you can introduce touch in a much less threatening environment than the school can. Your child doesn't have the same level of trust with her classroom teacher or TVI that she has with you. If you start to incorporate these methods at home, it's easier for the teachers at school to do it, too.
Once the child can tolerate touching something, don't stop there. Encourage him to pat the smooth, foamy ball or hold a ball of Play-Doh. Build upon the skills the child has gained. We call this scaffolding. "You touched the Play-Doh today, and I'm so proud of you! Let's see if you can hold it tomorrow." The child might not hold it tomorrow, but introduce it again the next day. Keep working your way up.
With the child who is under-responsive to touch, occupational therapists do what they call heavy work. Heavy work involves activities that encourage the child to move, help the child build muscle tone, and burn off the stressful energy they build about objects and textures. Lack of movement causes the child's muscles to be weak. Sometimes the child's brain doesn't know what to do with sensory input, and the child may have trouble with movement or posture stability.
An older child can help raise and lower the flag at school. She can carry items from one class to the next. I've heard a lot of parents say, "My child should not have to carry his Brailler. The aide should carry the Brailler for him." However, carrying a Brailler is a good example of a heavy workload activity. I'm not talking about carrying it a long distance, from one building to another. But moving it from one part of the classroom to another part, that's fine!
Sometimes the brain knows what the child wants to do, but it can't relay that desire to the muscles. For instance, a blind child wants to ride a bike. Because he has never seen anyone ride a bike, he may not understand what to do with the pedals. You have to physically show him what to do with his body.
A couple of weeks ago we had a BELL Academy in our state. We taught the kids to do the Cha-Cha Slide. If you're not familiar with this dance, the music gives directions such as "Step to the right" and "Hop forward" and "Turn around." We thought this would be a great way to begin teaching cardinal directions. Once we did it for a day or two, we could say, "Step to the east," "Step to the west," or "Hop to the north." But these kids, who had never seen anyone dance, looked uncoordinated. We found we had to move their feet to the right or left. We also let them feel our legs as we went through the movements to help them train their brains to do the actions of the dance.
One of the things that works well with kids who have sensory issues is pushing a toy shopping cart. All of the push toys that they sell for sighted kids work the same way for blind kids. Nowadays they make the wheels very slick, so for some kids I put Velcro on the wheels. The Velcro makes the cart less likely to slide out from under the child, and that bit of resistance also helps build muscle tone. Pushing a laundry basket around on the floor is also good for toddlers and preschoolers. Kids can also push toy vacuum cleaners along the carpet.
We don't have snow in Mississippi except about once every couple of years. It's freakish enough that we shut down everything when we see a snowflake! Our kids don't have experience with shoveling snow. But if you live in a place where snow happens, let your child have a toy shovel so she can dig in the snow that's out there.
You can buy a pack of exercise bands really cheap at a sports store. Have your child put the band on his arms and pull his hands apart. He can feel that the band is floppy when his hands are together and that it gets tight as he pulls his hands away from each other. If you have an open-minded teacher at school, you can hook an exercise band around the bottom of your child's chair. He can push it like a gas pedal while he's doing his work.
Jumping or bouncing on a trampoline or an old mattress helps with movement and balance. Sitting in a beanbag chair is also a great activity.
I've never been in a school that had many supplies, so if I can make something rather than buy it, I'll make it. You don't have to go out and buy Play-Doh, you can make your own. You can find recipes on the internet. You can buy something called therapy putty, which is a bit more resistant than Play-Doh. It's very good for kids to work with, and you can buy it on Amazon for about twelve dollars.
You can also buy sensory blankets, but they're very expensive! Some are weighted, and some are textured. As I said, my mom made one for Bella. You might be able to contract with someone to make you one. Maybe one of our affiliates would like to start making them as a fundraiser. We could sell them at convention. To make a weighted blanket, put small weights in before you sew it all together. Just use small weights; you don't want to go too heavy! And I want to mention that you must never leave a child under a weighted blanket for too long. Once she goes to sleep, take the weighted blanket off of her. Some kids get lung fatigue, so they shouldn't sleep under anything heavy. Just use the blanket to help the child get to sleep, and then remove it.
One thing I want to emphasize before we stop today—it's really important to start exposing a child to different sensory experiences when he's very young, as a baby and toddler. In those early years sensory issues have not become entrenched, and it's much easier to deal with them. If your child has sensory issues when he starts school, he may well end up being diagnosed as having additional disabilities such as autism. I'm sure if I'd been blind when I started kindergarten, I would have been labeled as having other disabilities, too, because of the sensory issues I had at that time. Having sensory issues isn't necessarily a disability; it's just something that needs to be worked through. You may not be able to work through all of the issues before your child enters school, but you can get a good head start.
by Mary McDonach
Reprinted with permission from www.wonderbaby.org
From the Editor: To the parents and teachers of blind children, persistent echolalia can be a maddening problem. In this article Mary McDonach of Paisley, Scotland, looks at echolalia from the child's perspective and discovers reasons for this perplexing behavior.
The word echolalia is derived from an ancient Greek myth about a nymph named Echo who could only repeat the last words stated by other people. Unrequited love left her heartbroken, and she pined away until only her voice remained. It's a cautionary tale about love and loss. You may think it's an old story with little relevance today, unless your blind child constantly repeats everything you say or seems to get stuck repeating one word or phrase over and over. In that case, you may have your own little Echo on your hands.
Does this conversation ring a few bells? It's a real-life example from my own real life!
Parent: Which story would you like tonight?
Child: What story am I wanting?
Parent: That's right. Which story are you wanting?
Child: What story am I wanting?
Parent: Yes, what story are you wanting?
Child: What story am I wanting?
Parent (now exasperated): What story am you wanting. I mean ... never mind. No stories tonight!
That really is a cautionary tale!
It is thought that as many as 80 percent of young blind and visually-impaired children exhibit echolalia in their speech patterns. Echoing is an excellent way to learn and practice language skills, and it is part of language development in most children, blind or sighted. However, in sighted children the period of echolalic speech tends to be relatively short. Blind and visually impaired children, on the other hand, seem to find this behavior more useful, so for them it has a more extended life.
The uses of echolalia are many and varied. For blind and visually-impaired children it can function in some ways that sight does for other children. Here are some examples.
Who's There? A sighted child simply looks around to see who is in a room. Your blind child does not have this option, but he/she has the same interest in finding out. A young child lacks the verbal skills to get this information in an unobtrusive way. Repeatedly asking questions that may have no bearing on what your child is trying to find out can seem odd to older children and adults. However, when we consider that your child's question will elicit some form of response from the others within a room, it is more readily understandable as adaptive behavior. Frequent repetition of the behavior can be seen as the child's way of staying informed about who is there and who has left.
Who's Where? Getting people to respond will also help your child know where others are in relation to himself/herself. Notice how in the following example everyone at the table engages with Tommy in some way in response to his echolalia:
Mum says, "Dinner time, Tommy. Yum, yum."
Tommy says, "Dinner time, Tommy. Yum, yum."
Mum interprets correctly that this is Tommy's way of saying that he heard her.
Tommy, now sitting at the dinner table with his siblings, says, "Dinner time, Tommy. Yum, yum."
His older brother says, "That's right, Tommy."
Tommy says, "Dinner time, Tommy. Yum, yum."
Older Sister says, "You've already said that. Stop saying that."
Tommy says, "Dinner time, Tommy. Yum, yum."
Baby Sister says, "Yum, yum."
Tommy says, "Yum, yum."
Older Sister says, "Mum, make him stop doing that."
Baby says, "Yum, yum."
Mum pulls her hair out, strand by strand.
Basic Connections: A sighted child will make a primary connection with others by using eye contact. Although eye contact is not possible for the blind child, he/she has the same need as the sighted child for that initial connection with other people. Echolalia gives him or her the semblance of this contact. It is not necessary for the speech to do anything other than provide connection. The child may not understand a need for speech to be relevant, as echolalia does the job of mimicking frequent casual glances.
Conversations and Social Connections: At this stage the blind child's understanding of language (called receptive language) is greater than his or her ability to express things verbally (called expressive language). Your child may want to get involved in the conversation of others, but may not have the ability to initiate or continue discussion of appropriate subjects. Echolalia can give the blind child the opportunity to seem to be involved in the conversation before his/her verbal abilities allow it. This behavior provides the child with a feeling of inclusion in the social aspects of conversation that would otherwise be fulfilled through eye contact and body language. Ironically, though the blind child seeks social inclusion through the use of echolalia, he/she is increasingly seen by others as different.
In addition to echolalia, pronoun confusion is apparent in the speech of many blind children. This confusion serves to multiply the child's apparent detachment from the group. Breaking away from these speech patterns can be very difficult, and what started as a transient developmental stage can become a rigidly performed habit.
It is crucial to your sanity as a parent that you remember that this too will pass. Every child at some point exhibits idiosyncratic quirks of behavior. Showing your child that there are easier, more practical ways to use language is the most effective way for you to spend your time. Gentle, persistent guidance may be difficult when your child is repeating for the thirtieth time something that was inane the first time around, but it will pay off in the end. Your effort is not about preventing him or her from speaking, and neither is it about exerting your dominance or control. On the contrary, this is about providing a path for your child to explore language and expand his/her abilities. You are guiding your child to behave as an ordinary, social person and eventually a well-rounded, socially aware, and happy adult.
Here are some tips to help you cope with your child's echolalia and encourage him/her to move on to more expressive forms of communication. Read through these suggestions and try the ones that seem the best suited to your situation. Remember that all kids learn at their own pace and react in their own ways, so be patient and don't give up! There is no quick fix. It is important for you to know and accept at the outset that giving your child an alternative to what currently works for him or her will take patience, commitment, and time.
Build a Language Bridge. Language is your child's bridge to the world. His abilities with language will come directly from those around him. Make language work for both of you by providing him with a commentary on his world that grows with his understanding and abilities. The more expressive the language he is exposed to, the greater will be his ability with words—perhaps the most useful tool to give any child.
Be sure to explain to your child in very descriptive language what is going on around him. Who is in the room and what are they doing? What are the sounds he is hearing? A nice game to play is "I hear a ..." This game builds on the child's desire to repeat a single phrase, but it also requires her to think and fill in the blank. Sit outside and listen. Have your child tell you what she hears. Help her out by saying, "I hear a motorcycle . . . I hear an airplane . . . I hear the leaves rustling in the breeze." Encourage her to listen and label sounds herself.
Explain the unspoken language of sighted people. Your blind child needs an understanding of what people do and why they do it. Describe the nonverbal language of others, giving detail about the smiles, nods, and gestures that complement other people's speech. Help your child emulate this nonverbal communication where appropriate. It will bridge what might otherwise be perceived as a gap in his or her social behavior.
Model the correct response to a question or situation. Sometimes a gentle nudge in the direction of appropriate responses is all your child needs to act correctly. Positive feedback will help him remember what he did right, so he can use a variation of the behavior the next time. Success breeds success. Here's an example:
The kindergarten teacher says every morning: "How are you today, Tommy?"
Every morning Tommy replies: "How are you today, Tommy?"
Standing behind Tommy, his mum whispers in his ear: "Tommy's fine and he had a big bowl of cereal for breakfast." This is the correct response if Mum were answering the teacher, but she's offering it to Tommy. Now he has a choice. He may still say what he usually says, but one morning soon he may give the correct response.
In another example, the teacher says, "How are you today, Tommy?" Then she says, "That's a question, Tommy. I'd love to know if you are feeling well or grumpy or sad or happy."
Tommy now has the answers to her question and a better idea of the parameters to follow. In addition, even if he is echolalic, he is more likely to repeat her last word, "happy." "Happy" can be interpreted as a positive and appropriate response to her question, so he's winning already!
Simplify your speech. When your child is very young and just beginning to speak, it's a good idea to keep things simple. That way, when he does repeat what you've said, he's actually correct. For example, you may say, "Bye bye, sweetheart," instead of, "Bye bye, Tommy." When he repeats, "Bye bye, sweetheart," his language will actually sound correct. Also, since blind children tend to have a hard time with pronouns, it's a good idea to drop them, at least until your child has mastered other language skills and is ready to move on to pronouns. You may feel a little silly saying things like, "Mummy is going to pick you up now," or, "Tommy sounds tired," but it will help Tommy know who you are talking about without having to decipher all those difficult words like you and me.
Don't ask unnecessary questions. When you ask a question that you don't really expect to be answered, you're placing needless pressure on your child. Instead of saying, "Are you ready for a bath?" you could say, "The bath is ready!" or, "Tommy's bath is ready." Either way, you're giving your child a phrase that he can repeat and learn as the signal that he's about to take a bath. Besides, what if he did answer your question and said no? You'd give him a bath anyway, so don't leave yourself open to debate!
Play up your child's strengths. If your child is good at repeating words and phrases, harness that power to teach him to talk on his own! Let him copy your phrases while you slowly phase out your words and encourage him to fill in the blanks. This is a great way to help your child to gain control and take ownership of his language. Here's an example:
Mum rolls a ball to Tommy and says, "Tommy has the ball!"
Tommy, holding the ball, says, "Tommy has the ball!"
The next day, Mum rolls the ball to Tommy and says, "Tommy has the —“
Tommy, holding the ball, says, "Ball. Tommy has the ball!"
The next day, Mum rolls the ball to Tommy and says, "Tommy has the —“
Tommy, holding the ball, says, "Ball. Tommy has the ball!"
The next day, Mum rolls the ball to Tommy but doesn't say anything. Tommy, holding the ball, says, "Tommy has the ball!" At this point Tommy gets lots of hugs and kisses for saying something on his own!
Don't be tempted to ignore your child's echolalic speech. Any speech is an attempt to communicate and deserves a response from you. Whatever the quality of the content, your child needs to know that his efforts are valued.
Find a speech and language therapist who motivates and inspires you and your child. Advice from a trusted professional will be an invaluable asset. This is a long-term issue, and there are no magic wands. It's a bit like guerrilla warfare; you'll have to be ever vigilant, ever ready with the correct word or phrase (or sometimes just an understanding cuddle) to save the day. Remember, it's no fun for your child either. Start today and help your child move toward freedom of expression. (And just think of all the great arguments you're going to have when he's older!!!)
by Melissa Riccobono
From the Editor: Melissa Riccobono is the mother of three children, two of whom are blind. In this article she draws upon her experience as a mother and as a blind woman to address a very timely issue, the matter of avoiding or dealing with unwanted physical contact.
When I worked as a school counselor, I used to give personal/body safety lessons to elementary-school students every year. Of course, these lessons were not meant to scare children. They were intended to help children learn that their bodies belong to them, that they have the right to feel safe and respected, and that they can say no and leave a situation when they do not feel comfortable. I emphasized that any touch that makes a child uncomfortable is a reason to communicate displeasure, no matter where the person is touching his or her body. I also emphasized that everyone is entitled to his or her personal space, and that those boundaries should be respected. Although I am no longer a school counselor, I try to teach my own children these same lessons. I also help with lessons on personal space in the National Federation of the Blind Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (NFB BELL) Academy in Maryland every summer.
At times I wish I were better at practicing what I try to teach. As a blind adult, I am frequently grabbed, pushed, or pulled when I am out in the world. For the most part people touch me because they truly want to help me. Sometimes they are afraid for my safety—even when I am perfectly in control of the situation and am not in any danger. Sometimes they want to direct me somewhere (even if it is not where I want to go), and they try to pull me there because they cannot find the words to give me verbal directions. When I assert myself, as politely as possible, to make the touching stop, I often get a very angry response. "Well, excuse me! I was ONLY trying to HELP you! I guess next time I'll just leave you alone!"
The issue of uninvited touch presents me with quite a dilemma. Do I allow something to occur that makes me uncomfortable, or do I speak out and risk offending someone? If I don't speak out, what message do I send to the person who touches me, or to my own blind daughters?
If people would stop to think about it, I hope they would realize that it is inappropriate to push or pull someone or to grab a person without permission. After all, few people would behave this way toward a person who can see. Why should the rules of courtesy be suspended regarding someone who is blind? However, people do not often seem to consider these points. They expect me to be grateful for something which, in any other context, would be considered offensive.
For a number of reasons blind children experience more than their share of touch from an early age. For one thing, adults want very much to keep children safe, and their safety concerns often are magnified around a child who is blind. When they think that the blind child is too close to a step or an obstacle, they are inclined to grab him and snatch him out of harm's way. In addition, when time is short the adult may feel that it is easier to guide the blind child to a destination than it is to let the child find it independently. Finally, when an adult wants to show a blind child how to perform a task, the adult is likely to grasp the child's hand and manipulate it through the necessary motions.
As a parent I, too, want to keep my children as safe as I can. I know how important it is sometimes to get to places quickly. I appreciate when someone wants to show my blind daughters something or to help them practice a skill. Touch may be involved in all of these situations, but it can lead to future problems unless it is thought through carefully.
Blind children who always have an adult hovering close to them may become passive and unwilling to explore. Children who are not allowed to move freely may fail to develop vital travel skills. They will not learn to respect the personal space of others because their own personal space has seldom been respected. Adding to this set of problems, blind children who are touched in ways that they do not like can feel helpless and angry. Young blind children need to learn that their bodies belong to them. They need to learn to respect the personal space and boundaries of others, and they need to learn how to assert their desire for personal space and independent movement.
Parents and teachers of blind children can do a great deal to encourage and support this vital learning. It is my hope that through teaching and support, blind children will become more comfortable and confident to assert their rights, and everyone will learn from their example as they grow. Here are some points to keep in mind.
Allow some time every day for your infant to explore. Although there are certainly times when your baby needs to be in a playpen or crib so you can do things around the house, time on the floor is essential for exploration. Encourage your child to roll, crawl, and walk to you by calling her. Hide favorite noisy toys in various parts of the room and make a game of finding them.
Encourage your child to use his cane when he is outside of the house. It may be difficult at first, and the cane may seem like just one more thing to carry. But the more your child has a cane in his hand, the more he will associate his cane with travel, and, most important, the more he will begin to recognize that he can use his cane to learn about his surroundings.
Even if you need to take your child's hand for safety reasons—while crossing the street or when walking through a crowded store—have her use her cane in her other hand. The cane will still help her have some control over the travel experience.
Slowing down is so much easier said than done, but it is one of the greatest gifts you can give to your child. Try picking out one day a month as a "slow day." During the slow day, allow your child truly to take her time and explore a familiar or unfamiliar place. This leisurely exploration will help her gain skills and ask questions, and it will help the two of you build great memories.
Provide opportunities for all types of body movement. Allow your child to jump, run, gallop, skip, dance, tumble, swing—even to fall. All of these movements build confidence and build an understanding of space. If you find that your child is reluctant to move, make sure you address this with the team of professionals who work with her to find strategies to increase these skills.
Enroll your child in gymnastics, swimming, skating, dance, or other movement activities. There are many techniques which can be used to ensure that your child gets the most out of these classes. Reach out to blind adults and other parents of blind children, or comb past issues of Future Reflections for ideas. You certainly do not have to reinvent the wheel!
Help your child grasp the concept of personal space. Often blind children feel they that need to get close to others in order to communicate with them. In some cases, children with low vision need to be close so that they can see a person. Children are often curious about others, and they want to touch them to learn about them. Some children are very affectionate as well; they want to give and receive hugs. Sometimes blind children touch others because they want to make sure the person is still there. It is important to understand all of the reasons behind these behaviors.
Adults are often overly tolerant of a blind child intruding into his or her personal space. Because the child is blind they do not want to hurt his feelings. Nevertheless, blind children, like all children, need to be taught to respect the personal space of others.
Let your child know when she is standing too close to someone, and ask her to back up a couple of steps. Encourage slightly older children to imagine that every person is surrounded by a bubble. Explain that no one should enter your child's bubble, and your child should not enter another person's bubble without permission.
Encourage adults and other children who interact with your child to hold her to the same standards. Tell others it is all right to tell your child he is standing too close.
Help your child learn to ask permission before she touches someone else. "I love your necklace; would it be all right if I touch it?" "I hear beads rattling in your hair. May I please touch them?" Encourage others to have your child ask permission before she touches.
Give your child words to use when he wants to know if someone is still close to him or to find out what someone is doing. "Are you still there?" is a perfectly appropriate question. If your child is asking it over and over, however, talk to him about other ways he can know whether someone is still nearby. These might include listening carefully and asking another question to see if he gets a response. Ask adults and other children to let your child know before they walk away whenever possible.
When I was in school, teachers often taught me to do things by using the hand over hand method. An adult would put her hand over mine and try to guide my hand through the motions of the task she wanted to teach me. Today most teachers of blind children recognize that hand under hand is a much better approach.
First, tell the child you would like to show him something. Invite him to put his hand on top of yours. In this way the child can get the information, but he remains in control. He can pull his hand away at any time.
If you want a blind child to touch an object, bring the object to the child's hand. If the child is old enough to follow verbal directions, direct him to the object with words. If the child is having great difficulty finding the object, ask if you may take the child's hand and place it on the object.
Make sure you let your child know what you are about to do before you touch her. This seems like common sense; no one likes to be surprised by a touch they are not expecting.
Encourage others to ask permission before they touch your child. Emphasize that they should ask permission before attempting to guide your child somewhere.
Help your child learn that his body belongs to him. Let him know it is okay to ask someone who is trying to guide him to give him directions instead of taking hold of him. In order for this method to be effective, you need to work with your child on concepts such as left, right, straight ahead, in front of you, and behind you so he can understand and follow the directions he is given.
If your child wants to be guided somewhere, make sure he is comfortable asking to take the guide's arm instead of having the guide take hold of him.
It can be very tricky for your child to assert himself without seeming rude to others, especially to adults. Role play with your child. Help him come up with language that both of you are comfortable with. Also, help him come up with language to explain how a person can be most helpful. ("May I please put my hand on yours so I can feel what you're doing?" "Could you please let me know next time before you touch my shoulder?")
In order for blind children to be successful, they need to be confident travelers and strong self-advocates. They also need to be socially aware. These traits and abilities will help them understand that their bodies belong to them.
by Deborah Kent Stein
"I am soooo happy that I did it!" said first-grader Cameron Gooden when his mother asked him what he thought of the Nationwide Braille Readers Are Leaders Contest. "It was so much fun!" Cameron was the first-place winner in the K-1 grade category, and his parents and teachers were thrilled by his achievement. "We were very surprised to learn that he took first place," his mother wrote. "His school is also very proud. The principal included a statement about Cameron winning the competition in the daily announcements, and they are honoring him at the next school board meeting. Since the competition his Braille reading has become more fluent."
For twenty-nine years the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) and the National Federation of the Blind (NFB) hosted Braille Readers Are Leaders (BRAL), a national competition for K-12 students who read Braille. After the BRAL contest was discontinued, the NFB of Illinois decided to sponsor a statewide contest in 2013. Response to the Braille Readers Are Leaders of Illinois contest was so positive that Illinois teamed with Minnesota in 2015-2016 to offer BRAL LOL2 (for Land o' Lincoln and Land o' Lakes). The 2016-2017 competition included all of the Great Lakes states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York.
In the fall of 2017 the NFB of Illinois, in conjunction with the National Association to Promote the Use of Braille (NAPUB), extended the opportunity to NFB affiliates throughout the United States. Each affiliate that chose to participate in the Nationwide Braille Readers Are Leaders contest contributed one hundred dollars to cover prizes, postage, and other expenses. Sixteen states chose to take part, and eighty-one students from twelve of the participating states actually submitted reading logs at the close of the contest period.
In order to take part in the contest, students counted the number of Braille pages they read between December 15, 2017, and February 1, 2018. Students competed within five grade categories: K-1, 2-3, 4-5, 6-8, and 9-12. The top three students in each grade category won cash prizes. In some cases an honorable mention was also awarded. The first-place winner in each category received $25. The second-place prize was $15, and the third-place and honorable mention recipients won $10.
In addition to the prizes based on the number of pages read, several participants received Kelly Doty Awards of $25. The awards were given in memory of Kelly Doty, a longtime member of the NFB of Illinois who was a dedicated promoter of Braille. The Kelly Doty Awards were given to students who faced special challenges in order to become proficient Braille readers. Such challenges included, but were not limited to, having disabilities in addition to blindness or being an English-language learner.
When the reading logs began to come in, we received many wonderful letters from parents, teachers, and students themselves. "As a parent [I believe] reading for the simple joy of it is power," wrote Alison Tarver, whose son, Nicholas Tarver, was the second-place winner in the grades 6-8 category. "Having opportunities to promote reading with rewarding contests is a wonderful way to motivate children to connect and fall in love with reading!" She went on to explain, "Before this contest Nicholas would read mysteries and comedies. When he started reading for this contest I challenged him to read other types of books, and he discovered that he really enjoyed reading nonfiction. What a remarkable discovery! I think he read at least twelve nonfiction books for this contest." Rachel Bodek told us, "Even though my son didn't win a prize, the contest really motivated him to do more Braille reading. We'll try again next year."
Through our email exchanges with parents and teachers, we learned the stories of many of the contest participants. Thirteen-year-old Holly Connor of St. Louis is intensely involved in community theater. When she has down time backstage, she keeps busy by reading novels on her electronic Braille device. Soon after his family emigrated from Ecuador, Alan Bunay unexpectedly lost most of his sight. Undaunted, he set about to learn English and Braille.
Jonah and Isaiah Rao also face the challenge of learning both Braille and the English language. The boys were adopted from China in August 2017. "Both boys have embraced this huge change in their lives and really are doing super!" wrote their mother, Monica Rao. "We are blessed to have them as our sons!"
The top reader in the entire contest was Maria-Luisa Monteiro-Oliveira, a ninth grader who read a whopping 10,297 Braille pages! We learned that Maria-Luisa's mother began reading to her when she was a baby, and Maria-Luisa developed a consuming love of reading. When she entered school her teacher of the visually impaired transcribed an average of four books a week into Braille to keep up with her reading needs. "Luisa enjoys getting lost in the worlds she explores in the books she reads," wrote her TVI, Jackie Mushington-Anderson. "As she got older, it became necessary to teach her how to download her own books. We just could not keep up with her demands. She currently uses her Braille Sense U2 to access Bookshare. However, she still prefers hardcopy Braille."
Among the titles that Maria-Luisa read for the Nationwide BRAL contest were Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell and Les Miserables by Victor Hugo. When she received her check for first prize she wrote, "Thank you very much. I really did not do anything differently. It is great to get money for something I do anyways."
Not every student could win a monetary prize, but each student who submitted a reading log received a package of small gifts related to Braille. These included Braille slates and styluses, Braille calendars, Braille playing cards or tactile Tic-Tac-Toe sets, and adhesive dots for labeling items at school and around the house. We extend our warmest thanks to National Braille Press and Seedlings Braille Books for Children. Both organizations donated gift certificates that the students could use toward the purchase of their own Braille books.
Packing and mailing eighty-one padded envelopes filled with gifts was an impressive task, but Illinois Federationists Bob Gardner, Lois Montgomery, and Pat Olson rose to the occasion. Their dedication to this project embodied the love, hope, and determination that are hallmarks of our NFB philosophy.
Nationwide BRAL brought out a spirit of competition in most of the students who took part. For some it also fostered a sense of solidarity with other Braille readers across the country. Nicholas Tarver expressed this idea when he wrote, "It is so cool that kids from all those states were reading along with me. I wonder what they were reading and how many pages they read."
Below is a list of all of the 2018 Nationwide Braille Readers Are Leaders winners. Congratulations to every one of them!
First place: Cameron Gooden, Carterville, IL
Second place: Ander Mielke, Havre, MT
Third place: Kenji Torihara, Chicago, IL
Honorable mention: Anastasia Marinos, Burr Ridge, IL
First place: Aisha Safi, Chevy Chase, MD
Second place: Preston Rose, Eagan, MN
Third place: Anna Sayles, Peoria, IL
Honorable mention: Ely Giraldo, Staunton, VA
First place: Jonah Rao, Columbia, MD
Second place: Isaiah Rao, Columbia, MD
Third place: Karli Copes, Oak Grove, LA
First place: Holly Connor, St. Louis, MO
Second place: Nicholas Tarver, Many, LA
Third place: Anthony Spears, Mattoon, IL
First place: Maria-Luisa Monteiro-Oliveira, Marietta, GA
Second place: Marie Presume, Staunton, VA
Third place: Kaelyn Kinlaw, Staunton, VA
Kelly Doty Awards
Alan Bunay, Spring Valley, NY
Miracle Douglas, Peoria, IL
Isaiah Rao, Columbia, MD
Jonah Rao, Columbia, MD
Aisha Safi, Chevy Chase, MD
Nicholas Tarver, Many, LA
by Kim Cunningham
The NOPBC board would like to invite you to attend our 2018 national conference this summer. Our conference is held in conjunction with the convention of the National Federation of the Blind, which takes place July 3 to July 8, in Orlando, Florida. If you are a teacher, a professional, or the family member of a blind or low-vision child, you will not want to miss spending this week with other families from across the United States, along with 2,500 blind and low-vision adults. It is our goal to teach you and your family what it means (and what it does not mean) to be blind by providing numerous workshops, activities, and opportunities for mentoring.
Our theme this year is "Tools in My Toolbox." Just as a carpenter has many tools, so does the blind and low-vision person. We want to share how blind and low-vision students are successful in their personal lives and in the classroom and how each person uses his or her tools in different ways, at different times.
The National Federation of the Blind and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children know that blindness is not the characteristic that defines your child's future. Every day we raise the expectations of blind people, because low expectations create obstacles between blind people and our dreams. Blind children can live the lives they want; blindness is not what holds them back.
Most toolboxes include basic tools such as a hammer, pliers, a wrench, a screwdriver, and a saw. Imagine trying to put something together without a screwdriver or cutting a piece of lumber without a saw. Without the right tools, your work will be slow and laborious. We want to help you build your child's toolbox and build your child's confidence. Blindness tools such as Braille, a long white cane, Nemeth code for math, Braille music, magnification, and technology (along with many others) are critical for independence. If your child qualifies for services as a legally blind student, then your child's weakest sense is his/her vision. Vision will be the weakest tool in your child's toolbox. Yet there are those who believe your child should use vision in order to complete most daily tasks, even if other alternatives might be more efficient. This notion is similar to someone believing that a screwdriver is the best tool for cutting a piece of wood. In the NOPBC, we believe learning all the tools will enable students to grow into successful adults with options for how to live the lives they want. My own daughter's toolbox is full of tools for her to pick from. She may not use each tool in the same way as another blind or low-vision person does, but she has the ability to choose which is best for whatever task she is doing. She no longer relies on unreliable vision.
My husband and I both use a hammer for different reasons and in different ways, but we still know how to use a hammer. Braille is like a hammer. Some students will use it for everything, and some dual-media students will use it along with large or magnified print. If your child's toolbox doesn't include Braille (or a hammer) he or she might find it difficult to keep up with work in the classroom. The other students might be hammering away while the blind and low-vision student is hammering with a screwdriver.
If your child's toolbox doesn't include a long white cane, he or she won't enjoy the freedom of traveling independently where and when he or she wants. By building your child's toolbox, you will build a better future for your child.
We are excited to share our workshops with you and your family, and we hope to encourage you all to learn about the tools for independence. Our Youth Track program will give students ages eleven to eighteen the opportunity to socialize and learn about independence from other students. Our NFB Kid Camp will also be hosting a National Federation of the Blind Braille Enrichment for Literacy and Learning (NFB BELL) Academy for children ages three to ten. The BELL program will introduce them to the skills of blindness from blind and low-vision adults.
Last year our young blind and low-vision students sold "Megan Bening" angel pins in memory of NOPBC Board Member Jean and husband Al Bening's daughter Megan. Over $5,000 was raised! Technology was a big part of Megan's life, and we hope to keep Megan's spirit alive by giving others what she loved. We will be holding drawings for various pieces of blindness technology purchased with money raised through our NOPBC Megan Bening Memorial Fund. This drawing will be held during our Family Hospitality evening, July 3.
Also we are gearing up to provide even more Braille and Twin Vision books for our annual NOPBC Braille Book Fair. During the book fair, on the evening of July 5, families are given the opportunity to choose books free of charge and have them shipped home courtesy of our UPS and Wells Fargo volunteers. We are thankful for the numerous Braille books already donated by families and professionals from across the United States. We are also thankful for the monetary donations that enable us to purchase even more Twin Vision books. Braille rocks!
The NOPBC board and I look forward to meeting everyone in beautiful Orlando, Florida, this summer! Please visit our website to register: http://nopbc.org/2018nopbc
For more information about the 2018 National Convention visit: https://nfb.org/convention.
Sense-sational Adventures in Summer Science (SASS)
Contact: Fred Wurtzel, email@example.com or Donna Posont, firstname.lastname@example.org
Location: Camp Tuhsmeheta and University of Michigan/Dearborn
Dates: July 29-August 5, 2018
Sense-sational Adventures in Summer Science presents the Subtle, Sublime, Sonorous, Symphonic Science of Sound. Would life as we know it be the same without sound? Can plants hear? Could bees pollinate without sound? How does sound affect our health? Can humans use echolocation as bats do? What is the difference between sound and noise? If any of these questions interests your blind children or students, they will enjoy the 2018 Sense-sational Adventures in Summer Science (SASS) program. This year's program will begin in the outdoor splendor of Camp Tuhsmeheta (Camp T) for three days, followed by three days in the more urban environment of the University of Michigan/Dearborn campus. At Camp T. students will investigate how nature makes and uses sound and how sound affects the environment. In Dearborn, students will explore how humans have invented ways to change, amplify, preserve, and entertain with sound. Students will have the opportunity to express themselves with sound. Come in creatively clanging, brilliantly banging, whispering or whirring, silently stalking, or humorously humming, and join in the subtle, sonorous, symphonic science of sound!
ISLAND 2018 Conference
Contact: Cary Supalo, email@example.com
Conference dates: September 14-15, 2018
The 2018 ISLAND Conference will be a forum for discussing issues pertaining to blind students studying the sciences. Abstracts for presentations will be accepted until June 30. Pre-registration for the conference will open in July 2018.
No Barriers Summit New York City
Dates: October 5-6, 2018
The No Barriers Summit NYC is an intimate, collaborative, and interactive experience that will involve 1,500 members in a barrier-free environment. Events include the 24-hour Questival, a scavenger hunt that takes participants throughout the city. Among the available programs is the No Barriers Youth and Educator Track, where students and educators learn to give people tools to break through barriers, unleash individual and collective potential, and have a positive impact on the world. Braille, large print, audio description, ASL, ramps, and carts will ensure that everyone has full access.
Megan Bening Memorial Fund Technology Giveaway
The Board of Directors of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC) is pleased to announce the exciting details of the first Megan Bening Memorial Fund Technology Giveaway. Technology valued at more than $10,000 will be given away to blind and low-vision children at Family Hospitality Night on July 3 at the 2018 NFB national convention.
2017 Touch of Genius Prize
The 2017 Touch of Genius Prize for Innovation was awarded to Innovision, a company from India that created the refreshable Braille display called BrailleMe. BrailleMe will offer an affordable option for getting Braille into the hands of as many blind people as possible. The unique engineering design produces quality Braille at a very low cost. The BrailleMe uses a magnetic actuation with only one moving part to raise and lower Braille dots, simplifying the manufacturing process and eliminating many possible sources of failure. The Touch of Genius Prize, valued at $20,000, is sponsored by National Braille Press and the Gibney Family Foundation. Honorable mentions for 2017 went to Lighthouse for the Blind San Francisco for improved developments in TMAP, software that produces tactile maps; and American Printing House for the Blind for Braille Blaster, a free Braille translation software to help get more Braille textbooks to children.
2018 Braille Challenge
Braille Institute has announced fifty finalists in the 2018 Braille Challenge, the only international reading and writing contest in Braille for students who are blind or visually impaired. Students in grades K-12 compete in such areas as reading and writing proficiency and interpretation of tactile graphics. On June 15-16 the finalists and their families will gather on the campus of the University of Southern California for an event filled with learning, camaraderie, competition, and fun. The top three finalists in each age category will be recognized at a special awards ceremony. A list of the 2018 Braille Challenge finalists can be found at the webpage listed above.
Survey on Technology Use
Are you the parent of a child with a visual impairment? A team of researchers at the University of Washington and Creighton University would love to hear about how your child uses both access and mainstream technologies and the barriers he/she encounters. Fill out the quick screening survey at the link above to determine whether you are eligible to participate in the study. Participants will receive a gift card worth $15.
National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC)
Founded in 1983, the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children is a national membership organization of parents and friends of blind children reaching out to each other to give vital support, encouragement, and information. NOPBC has about three thousand members in all fifty states and Puerto Rico. As a division of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), NOPBC draws upon the resources and expertise of thousands of blind adults who can serve as mentors and role models for blind children. The NOPBC website provides a list of contacts state by state.
Hadley Institute for the Blind and Visually Impaired
700 Elm St.
Winnetka, IL 60093
The Hadley Institute offers free distance education courses for parents of blind children. "Early Independence" presents information on orientation and mobility, daily living skills, and social skills for parents of children who are developmentally between ages three and six. "Finding Your Way" helps parents select games and activities that reinforce the O&M skills children learn in elementary school. "Parenting Children with Multiple Disabilities" is designed for family members of children with visual impairment who have one or more additional disabilities. It offers ways to promote learning at home, in school, and in the community. Course materials are sent in the medium of choice: Braille, audio, large print, or online.
Wonderbaby.org is dedicated to helping parents of young children with visual impairment as well as parents of children with multiple disabilities. The website contains links to a vast selection of articles on such topics as adoption, advocacy, communication, feeding and eating, sensory activities, sleep solutions, and much more. The site is frequently updated with ideas for accessible games and projects.
Good Toys for Blind Kids
With little or no adaptation, blind children can play with many of the standard toys found at a regular toy store. This list is made up of recommendations by parents who suggested mainstream toys their children enjoy. The age categories are those suggested by the parents, and do not always coincide with those given by the manufacturers.
NFB Independence Market
Contact: Ellen Ringlein, 410-659-9314
The NFB Independence Market offers a number of games and educational toys for children ages three and up. These include Shut the Box, Tactile Turn-a-Cube Puzzle, and the Beeper Box, a device that can be used in games and O&M activities.
Fat Brain Toys
This company specializes in toys appropriate for children with neurological conditions. Most of the toys offered here can be enjoyed by blind children, including those with additional disabilities.
Future Aids: Braille Superstore
33222 Lynn Ave.
Abbottsford, BC, v2s 1c9
The Braille Superstore sells a variety of print/Braille flash cards, audible balls, and Braille puzzles.
Perkins School for the Blind
This site lists a variety of articles and other resources on toys and play for young blind and low-vision children.
Lekotek centers offer therapeutic play-based family sessions for children with disabilities, structured to help children learn and thrive in a world that presents them with many complex challenges. Lekotek centers around the United States offer toy lending libraries, toy evaluations and ratings, and more.
An offshoot of the National Lekotek Center, AblePlay reviews toys on the basis of their accessibility for children with disabilities.
International Accessible Playground Directory
This site lists approximately 1,200 playgrounds designed to be accessible to children with mobility impairments, sensory integration disorders, and other disabilities. Visitors are encouraged to share information about playgrounds they have visited.
Just Enough to Know Better: UEB
by Eileen Curran
National Braille Press
Now in a new, revised UEB edition, this primer is for parents who want to know enough Braille to help their blind son or daughter learn to read. It's fun ... it's easy ... it's a self-paced workbook that teaches you just enough Braille to know better.
ReadBooks! Because Braille Matters
National Braille Press
ReadBooks! is a national children's Braille literacy program that encourages families with blind children to read books together. National Braille Press distributes attractive Braille book bags to families with blind and visually-impaired children, ages birth to seven, across the United States and Canada. The program strives to foster a love of books at an early age, to support families of preschool blind children and help them spread the word that Braille is an effective method for reading and writing, and to promote an early expectation of personal achievement through literacy. Each book bag contains an age-appropriate print/Braille book in English or Spanish, print/Braille alphabet card, a tactile graphic or flag, a copy of the pamphlet Because Books Matter, and other age-appropriate items.
Braille children's books can be obtained from many sources. Here are some of the possibilities.
American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
American Printing House for the Blind
Braille children's books for purchase
Online collection of 500,000 titles for all ages that can be downloaded to a computer or Braille device
Braille Library and Transcribing Services, Inc.
517 Segoe Rd, #200
Madison, WI 53705
Free lending library, books for purchase, and transcription service
Braille books for purchase
National Braille Press
Braille children's books for purchase; sponsors Children's Braille Book of the Month Club and Great Expectations series
National Library Service
Extensive lending library of Braille and recorded books for all ages, including hundreds of print/Braille titles
Seedlings Braille Books for Children
P.O. Box 5924
Livonia, MI 48151
Braille books for purchase, from board books to young-adult novels; the Angel Program provides two free titles per year
Temple Beth-el Sisterhood Braille Bindery
7400 Telegraph Rd.
Bloomfield Hills, MI 48301
Contact: Earl Remer, 248-851-1100
Free Braille titles for children grades K-6; appreciates donations of money or Braille paper
Xavier Society for the Blind
248 W. 35th St.
New York, NY 10001
National Catholic lending library, with books for loan or purchase