By: Carmen Willings
Since listening skills will be a major source of information for a student who is blind or visually impaired, it is important to develop good listening skills when the child is young. It is also important to continue to build on those skills as the student progresses through grades.
Assist the student in developing their auditory skills by encouraging them to do the following:
Encourage the student to reach for, move toward, and locate a noise stimulus. Choose toys or sound producers that are age appropriate. At first, a toy can be placed just outside the students reach. If encouraging a student to walk, a toy or iPod or other sound producing item can be placed in a location within the room. Make it a game that the student must find the noise source. Place it next to tokens or "rewards" (this can be tangible or simply praise) that the student receives each time they locate the sound.
Encourage the student to respond to auditory directions regarding safety (e.g., stop!). This can be practiced during games as well as during transitions, but it is very important that the student understands and responds to safety words especially if they are to travel independently on foot or in a wheelchair (for their own safety and the safety of others).
Encourage the student to identify and label a variety of environmental sounds. Although animal sounds is a favorite in preschool toys, there are many other important environmental signs that a student needs to learn. This is particularly important for students who are relying on auditory cues to orient themselves to their environment.
There are some commercially available games such as sound lotto that include a range of environmental sounds as well as children's apps. You can create your own sound matching game by recording sounds from the student's environment and also from field trips (animals, musical instruments, emergency, balls bouncing, pencil sharpener, doorbell, toilet flushing, etc.).
Encourage the student to place their body in relation to a sound. This skill can is a functional skill for orientation and mobility and for safety as well. It can be practiced in fun ways by making a game of pointing to a sound source, pointing and tracking a moving sound source and turning their body in relation to the source. Just as you would do in a game of Simon Says or change the words to a fun song. Put your back to the "sound", "put the sound on your right", etc.
Once the student has developed basic auditory and listening skills, help the student to begin deriving meaning from the sounds. Encourage the student to:
Play back the sounds that were recorded throughout the room, school, neighborhood or field trip in the community and challenge the student to recall what created the sound and where that sound can be heard. Extend the activity by encouraging the student to identify if the sound was loud, moderate or soft in its intensity.
I absolutely HATE the "guess who this is" game that many adults seem drawn to "play" with students who are blind. It usually goes something like, "Hi, Mary, guess who this is???" What a horrible way to put someone on the spot. Please know that this is NOT what I am referring to when I suggest that students should be encouraged to identify familiar voices. Students should be encouraged to identify familiar voices - not those they have only met a couple of times or have infrequent contact with (Refer to etiquette) but those they have daily or regular interactions with.
Learning to Listen/Listening to Learn by Lizbeth A Barclay is published by the American Foundation for the Blind. This text provides a systematic development of skills in listening for and interpreting auditory information. Barclay discusses instruction in listening skills at different ages and it includes a continuum chart and a checklist to use in assessment.
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