Future Reflections Winter 1987, Vol. 6 No. 1

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(Editor's Note: The following material is from a portion of the booklet, Guide lines For Teachers And Parents of Vis nally Handicapped Children With Add itional Handicaps; a publication of the Royal National Institute for the Blind (RNIB) of London, England.)

Interpretation Of Sounds

We need to help our children to be able to interpret the sounds in their everyday suroundings. So often multi handicapped blind children react with distress to unexpected sounds or sounds of a certain pitch. We want them to learn to make use of enviromental noises to enrich their lives.

It is important to remember that continuous background noises such as radio, tape-recorder, television and record player hinder the child's growing ability to hear, locate, interpret and discriminate everyday sounds. It will be essential for him to be able to do this as he develops physically and intellectually. The child's first experiences of sound disa±minat±Dn will probably be his reaction to mother's voice, if she talks to him as she attends to his basic needs of feeding, changing, cuddling, and so on, or to voices of his family. Then he may react to sounds of meal preparation or caring routines.

As he develops, a blind child has no opportunity to observe how sounds are pronounced. Nevertheless, he must be given chances to experience what is going on. Throughout the day he should be in a position where he can hear his mother going about her routine household chores and wherever possible hear her verbalizing about her actions.

Let us stop to consider the sounds involved in a feeding routine. Dish chinking, tap running, gas or electric stove switched on, pan clanging, mother's footsteps, drawers or cupboards opening, cutlery jangling, pouring of liquids, stirring, "glugging" of liqirid in a bottle and the running of a tap. If the child lies or sits in the kitchen and mother talks as she moves and acts, she is giving him a chance to associate with sounds and events. We are not suggesting that he will actually understand the words at this point.

In the same way one might stop to consider the richness and variety of sounds associated with bathing or getting ready to go out, getting ready for bed, changing and so on, At this stage all these routines should be considered educational ones for many reasons, one cf which would certainly be a growing ability to interpret sounds.

This approach should be continued throughout the child's life. As he grows beyond the baby stage, he should be helped to build up a "sound" vocabulary. Comments might be made as e.g. a car stopping outside, the sound of steps on the path or stairs, a key turning, a door opening and Daddy's voice is heard.

Continue to build on this by helping his awareness cf rain falling, wind blowing, feet and toes splashing in puddles, rain running down drain pipes, birds chirping, dogs barking, a car moving off, a car braking, an ambulance siren, an aeroplane or helicopter overhead, the telephone or doorbell ringing, the toilet flushing; sounds of different surfaces, leaves, grass, pebbles, tarmac, flagstones, sand, etc. The list is endless.

An intelligent blind child at 4+ was observed rummaging through some toys. Amongst them were two identical cartons, one containing sugar, one salt. He shook and enjoyed the sugar-filled carton, but when he picked up that filled with salt, he became quite distressed and rejected it with a violent throw. This was returned to the box several times and each time he handled it, his reaction was the same. This shows that extremly fine sound discriminations are able to be made by a small child. How useful this kind of ability might be in reading (phonics) and mobility (self preservation). All children should have the opportunity to experiment with a variety of materials to discover sound potential, e.g.

(a) Sand, water, small pieces of wood, small metallic objects, buttons, bottle tops, chains, sugar, salt, peas, lentils, rice, coconut, coffee, polystyrene chips. These substances can be sifted, put into to tins, jars, and other containers to be shaken or rolled to compare sounds.

(b) Pieces of, or objects in, metal, wood, plastic, cardboard, sandpaper, paper, rubber, felt, hose-pipe--used with actions to shake, bang, scratch, rub, blow, press, tear, roll, drop or slide. These can also be experimented with together to produce more sounds.

(c) Different kinds of brushes will produce a fcesh variety of sound, if used in conjunction with the above or with various fabrics, corduroy, velvet, hessian, tweed, etc.

(d) Drop buttons on to a drum: they vibrate nicely.

(e) Help the children to become aware of their own body sounds, i.e.slapping in different parts of the body, blowing, stamping, clapping, blowing rasberries, knocking knees, kissing, burping, blowing nose, sneezing, "plopping" cheeks, brushing hair and teeth, tapping teeth, lip play, rubbing hands, snapping fingers, humming, Indian call sounds, sniffing, gnashing and grinding teeth, squeaking feet, heavy breathing, panting, whistling.

Draw attention to these as he pro forms them by imitating and giving the sounds names. Familiariry with environmental sounds lessens fear. Encourage him to explore a room with the express intention of discovering sound potential in furniture and other objects, by tapping, banging, scratching, rubbing, pulling, sliding, etc. Most people are aware that when they wake in the night and hear sounds which they cannot identify, they become anxious, perhaps fearfuL Maybe the children we know, with their meager knowledge of sounds, experience the same apprehension and fear before they learn to recognize and differentiate them.

Where a child cannot be mobile of his own accord, make sure he is put in a variety of different positions in the room, so that he can explore with his hands wherever he is. Also give all children the opportunity to find sound potential in everyday materials in various parts of the building, i.e. a small dark hallway, a lino-tiled kitchen, a carpeted lounge, outside in the garden, in an echoing entry, or by listening to the passing traffic from an upstairs window.


The ability to locate the source of a sound and to orientate oneself in relation to it, from the viewpoint of direction, distance and speed, is important in progressing toward independent mobility and self-preservation. Games to train a child to do this:

(a) While he is sitting have him reaching out to the sound of a musical box, rattle, squeaker, etc., to develop hand/ear cx»ordination.

(b) When he is mobile, call him from different parts of a room to " Come".

(c) Roll an Electronic Bleeping Ball for him to follow. Develop a game of playing with the ball, patting it along the floor or hiding it.

(d) Sound a "Tinkly" ball or tambourine from a short distance and expect him to come to find you.

(e) Call from different rooms in the house, upstairs, downstairs, etc., also outside.

(f) Locate the sound of a ticking clock.

(g) Construct a simple square pen from the sides of four large boxes. The child can sit inside to drop or throw a ping-pong ball, listen to it bouncing, then try to retrieve it.

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