Early involvement service supports children with low vision

Issue: Volume 97, Number 9

Posted: 25 May 2018
Reference #: 1H9ivb

The Blind and Low Vision Education Network New Zealand (BLENNZ) provides support to students who are blind, deaf-blind and have low vision.

BLENNZ assists young children who are blind, deaf-blind or have low vision with their early childhood learning.

Coordinator Sharon Duncan says millions of incidental learning opportunities that happen by default for children with sight may need to be facilitated for children with vision impairment.

“When an infant is born without sight, they receive inconsistent and generally unverified fragments of information. If a child hears a fridge door close and they haven’t got vision, they have no idea what that sound relates to, whereas a child who does have vision picks up the concept of a fridge incidentally; you don’t have to teach it to them.”

To facilitate this learning, BLENNZ provides specialists in the form of Resource Teachers Vision (RTV). An RTV will assess the child’s functional vision and sensory development and will then work with the family to determine how best to assist the child. 

“We deeply believe that the parents are the primary educators in a young child’s life. Alongside this, we believe that during those early years the emotional support, the specialised knowledge and the resources that we can offer supplement whānau knowledge of their child, and therefore support the overall development of their child,” says Sharon.

Working with the early childhood sector

BLENNZ advocates an active learning approach where students are given the opportunity to learn to do as much for themselves as they can, and aims to set up an environment to enable the child to be interdependent.

“We tend to use interdependent rather than independent because we all need other people alongside us and we want the children to know that it’s okay to ask for help when they need it, but not to rely on others all of the time. Our role as RTV is to be there to support the child when they need it and then to step back so that we’re not interrupting their play and learning.”

As well as working with family and whānau, RTV also provide guidance to early childhood teachers and educational support workers who work with children with vision impairment.

“Teachers often need support around how to adapt the curriculum to meet the needs of the child with vision impairment. For example, the RTV might show the teacher how to make story time more inclusive for the child who is blind by producing book boxes. Book boxes contain objects that relate to the story, so while the other children are looking at a picture in a book, the child who is blind can feel some of the objects that are depicted in the story. We also show teachers how to make tactile pictures, pictures that can be felt with the fingers, and then, when appropriate, we can add braille to the books that they produce,” she says.

“The curriculum continues in the centre, and we’re adapting it to make sure the child with vision impairment is fully included in the programme alongside the other children.”

RTV facilitate the socialisation of children with vision impairment by working with other children in the classroom and early childhood staff.

“So much of social behaviour is learned through observation, so children who are blind, deaf-blind or have low vision often need some assistance to find their place in the social world because they’re missing out on those cues that we pick up visually,” says Sharon.

“It makes a big difference to the child with vision impairment to know who is around them. Some children will come and tell a child with a visual impairment if they’re about to move away from them.

“For example, a group of children might be sitting at the collage table and the other children suddenly decide they’re going to go outside. The child who is blind doesn’t know when the children have left the table, but children can learn to tell the child who is blind that they are about to go. This supports the child in a really low-key but effective way.”

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 11:25 am, 25 May 2018

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