Future Reflections Fall 1991

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by Colleen Roth

A child who is blind and has another disability obviously has two things to deal with; however, the primary disability is generally not the blindness. For example, the primary disability of a child who is blind and mentally retarded is the mental retardation. A child who is blind can learn the same things as other children learn by using some alternative techniques, such as Braille or typing. A child who is mentally retarded learns differently, that is, the child learns more slowly. The child may or may not learn academic skills.

In this article we are going to explore some of the educational needs of the blind mentally retarded child whose IQ is from 55 to 70. These children can generally read up to the 3rd or 4th grade level. Those in the lower IQ ranges may still be able to do basic reading. These children are classified as developmentally handicapped. You may know this degree of mental retardation (55-70 IQ range) by the name EMR, that is, educable mentally retarded. These children can learn such academic skills as reading, math, spelling, and counting. Children who function in this range can be mainstreamed for many subjects. They are often in a resource room in a public school and are mainstreamed for such subjects as music, art, and gym.

Children who are educable mentally retarded and blind should be taught Braille. They do not necessarily need to know all the rules and all the Braille II code, but they should be taught enough Braille for their needs; certainly they should learn the alphabet and basic punctuation. In this way the child could learn to write and read Braille recipes, simple directions, grocery lists, telephone numbers, and Braille tags for clothing.

If the child has some useable vision, it is possible that both Braille and print could be taught. The corresponding large print letter and the embossed Braille letter could appear on flash cards, and the child could learn both. It would probably take some time and effort but it would be well worth it. As we all know, people with limited vision sometimes lose it, or often have lifetime problems with headaches and eye strain. Again, this endeavor would take some time, but it is not beyond the reach of most children who function in this range.

It is often said that people who are mentally retarded and have other disabilities cannot learn Braille. This is simply not necessarily the case and every child should be evaluated individually. Braille can be taught to many if not most of these youngsters if patience and positive attitudes are employed.

The educable mentally retarded blind person can also learn the work skills that persons in his or her IQ range learn in the classroom. There may need to be some adaptations, but with a little ingenuity the same assignments that are given to the other members of the class can also be given to this youngster. Generally, these youngsters learn to do such things as cleaning and janitorial work. Other types of work include dishwashing and line help in restaurants. People who are blind and mentally retarded can be trained in these areas, too, and can become effective workers.

We must approach the education of the blind mentally retarded child the same way we approach the education of the mentally retarded child. The teacher of the blind can be expected to teach certain blindness skills such as Braille, cane travel, and other alternative techniques and to consult with the regular teacher about approaches and materials to use in the classroom, but he or she should not be expected to take on the full responsibility of the child's education. That job belongs to the classroom teacher, and he or she should work to make the child an integral part of the classroom.

NOTE: Mrs. Colleen Roth is co-chair of the Committee on Blind and Multiply Handicapped Children, NFB Parents of Blind Children Division. She would like to share information and ideas with other parents and teachers of blind multiply handicapped children. Her address and telephone number are: 1912 Tracy Road, Northwood, OH 43619; phone numbers (419) 666-6212 or (419) 661-9171.

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