By: Carmen Willings
Vision helps to provide information about nonverbal communication and also helps provide meaning to language. Students with visual impairments need many hands on experiences with real objects paired with auditory labels and descriptions and a rich literacy environment (print and/or braille depending on the student's unique needs).
The toddler years are typically the time of great language development as children begin to make connections and verbally label and identify objects. Children who are blind or visually impaired will not have the same opportunity to casually observe and make connections with gestures and materials in their environment. Unless the student was intentionally taught through direct experiences paired with language, their language development will undoubtedly be delayed.
To encourage the student to develop language, it is important for the student to be exposed to good language models in a active learning environment. The following strategies can help a student develop their language skills:
Model appropriate language
There are language problems that are common among children with visual impairments. They are verbalism, echolalia, difficulty with pronouns and frequent questioning.
It is common for a student to talk about people, objects, and events without having the understanding of the concepts. This is because they haven't had the experiences related to the topic, but have heard others talk about the said topic. Having a vocabulary or language without the understanding is called verbalism. It is the ability to talk about a subject without the concepts or understanding related to it.
If the student isn't provided with many hands-on experiences, the student will have difficulty understanding concepts and will not have a foundation to build upon. As stated in Guiding Principles, provide the student with many hands-on and concrete experiences with real objects.
Many students who are blind or visually impaired learn to talk by echoing or copying phrases or sentences even if they do not understand it. They may echo what they just heard, or have delayed echolalia where they repeat language heard earlier in association with a particular subject or event. Speech and Language Pathologists can evaluate and determine if the student needs support and assistance in developing their language comprehension.
Again, using concrete experiences can help a student understand language and using a consistent schedule can help a student feel structure and organization allowing them to anticipate the activities. Help expand on the students language and model language. For more information on Echolalia in children who are blind or visually impaired and strategies to minimize it, refer to the article written by Mary McDonach in the Winter 2011 edition of Future Reflections.
Many students with visual impairments ask excessive questions. which can be inappropriate to the conversation or inappropriate within the social context. Frequently this can be a learned way of initiating interactions or to check that the person is still nearby. Students need to learn when it is appropriate to ask a question, and when they need to listen for an appropriate time to ask it. Students who ask questions for comfort and reassurance of another persons presence should be encouraged to express their feelings directly rather than through questioning.
Students who are blind or visually impaired also can have difficulty sustaining conversations. They can tend to focus on their own interests and not appear to have an interest in others. Students may need explicit instruction in participating in conversations. This is a skill that can be addressed by the Speech and Language Pathologist or from the schools guidance counselor where skills can be modeled and practiced. For suggestions refer to social interactions.
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Due to the nationwide shortage of vision professionals, it can be challenging to locate personnel. Announce a job vacancy on the Job Exchange of Teaching Students with Visual Impairments, an online listing of jobs specific to the visual impairment field.