Future Reflections Winter 1988, Vol. 7 No. 1

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Guide for Parents of Visually Impaired Children

by Eileen Scott, James E. Jan, and Roger D. Freeman
Review by: Doris Willoughby

"There was a little girl, and she had a little curl Right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good, she was very, very good, But when she was bad, she was horrid."

This nursery rhyme entered my head as I reviewed this book. Most of the book is indeed 'Very, very good." However, certain important ("horrid") problems cause us to place strong cautions upon the use of this book.

First, the good aspects:

In most respects the book's approach is positive and encouraging. It offers a great deal of specific, practical advice on day-to- day needs and activities for blind infants and young children. It generally does well at analyzing the real causes of difficulties, and helping the reader to do so. This includes pointing out that attitudes toward blindness, rather than the blindness itself are often the real problem.

It has good ideas on many common problems, such as mannerisms. The book emphasizes that parents can make good choices for their children, and should not regard "professionals" as all- knowing. It also emphasizes that blind children are children, like other children.

It offers helpful thoughts about multiple handicaps. There are good suggestions about developing the child's use of the hands.

The major problems with this book are as follows:

The chapter, "What About School," gives outmoded ideas about Braille. It presents Braille as slow, difficult, and a last resort. It says that kindergarten is too early to start Braille. This is false. Actually, Braille is a good alternative which can be read quickly, easily, and competitively. Braille can, and should be started at the same time (preschool and kindergarten) and proceed at the same pace as for print reading. It should also be taught whenever a child with some vision finds print reading difficult and laborious.

Although the few remarks about cane travel are quite positive, there are several places where it should have been mentioned but was not. These omissions give the incorrect impression that a child should not use a cane in the situations given. For example, under the subheading "Orientation" in the chapter "Play School and Kindergarten," there are a number of good suggestions for helping the child learn to get around at school. However, remarks such as the following clearly imply not using a cane:

They should be allowed to take the odd bump from an out- of-place chair without everyone getting unduly upset, but it is helpful if the other children learn to keep the pathways reasonably clear....As the child gradually becomes familiar with the location of the equipment--he or she will...move around quite independently. In unfamiliar territory, of course, the child will have to take someone's hand.

Actually, if a child of this age does learn to use a cane, he or she need not expect others to keep pathways clear, and can indeed learn to walk alone (under proper supervision, as any child) in unfamiliar areas.

It overemphasizes the difficulty and "differentness" of blind children categorically, in several ways. For example, it states more than once that blind children usually dislike fuzzy toys. (We would say that some blind children dislike fuzzy toys.)

The chapter on "The Infant" asserts that a child typically "has not yet learned that hearing the parent's voice means he or she is there" until "near the end of the first year." In our experience, children seem to identify the voice with the parent long before the end of the first year.
Similarly, the book overdoes the idea of "special teaching" being essential for blind infants and young children. We would say that blind children learn as others do, but that the exact method of learning may be somewhat different.

In several places, it is stated that learning is much easier if the child has partial sight. This is not accurate. Learning depends on general ability and on opportunity, not the degree of vision one has. If sight does not work well for a task, another method should be used; this does not mean the task becomes more difficult.
Sometimes, however, it is difficult for the sighted parent to learn to employ these methods simply because the techniques are unfamiliar and because parents have been conditioned, like everyone else in our society, to believe that vision is essential for everything.

Although, as described, there are a number of undesirable comments in this book, they are relatively brief in comparison to the helpful advice. When a problem or need is explained, the book generally makes truly helpful suggestions on what to do about it.

This is the second edition of Can't Your Child See? A Guide For Parents of Visually Impaired Children. The authors are Canadian. The book is published in the United States by Pro-Ed of Austin, Texas (Copyright 1985,1977).

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