The Visually Impaired Child in the Early Years of Their Education
by Dave Melanson
In the early years of a child's education it has often been said that these are the developing years when the child is slowly being introduced to the transition from being used to a "sheltered home life" to the concept of a regular daily routine of leaving the home and being subject to a set of norms and expectations that will prepare them for their life ahead. In the case of the visually impaired child, these years are very critical as this is the time that will depend on whether the sight impaired child will be sufficiently prepared for leading an independent and productive life in later years.
Active participation in class activities for the sight impaired child is very important it is important that the child be given the opportunity to equally become involved in the verbal and active participation activities on a daily basis in the classroom. This will allow the other children in the class to become accustomed to how to assist the sight impaired child and also will teach them at a very young age tolerance and acceptance for other people. In many cases after speaking with kindergarten and first grade teachers who have a sight impaired child in their class they have often mentioned that the other children tend to over protect and smother the sight impaired student, the teachers have expressed some concern to me that if they allow too much smothering the child will not learn to do anything independently. The secret is to find a descent balance between allowing and encouraging the other students to always be there to help the sight impaired student while at the same time control and limit the smothering. You as a teacher would want to be able to do this by explaining to the other students that you appreciate their kindness and concern toward their classmate and emphasize that importance very strongly while also trying to explain that the student must learn to do some things on their own as well.
Several years ago a young kindergarten student here in Montreal who was sight impaired took the school bus on a daily basis and every morning would board the bus and walk down the aisle looking very closely into the faces of the kids sitting on the bus to try to recognize who was sitting there, the children were slapping his face and making comments such as "you look funny to us" or "get out of here leave me alone you are strange". This had quite an impact on this boy it was hurtful and very humiliating for him, the school staff where he attended tried to deal with the issue and eventually got it under control, however it is instances like this in a sight impaired child's early school life that can leave scars and can consequently affect their academic performance as well.
I can remember as a student when I was in gym class for example and we would have a game of sport that involved 2 team captains the 2 captains would be responsible for choosing who was to be on their team, inevitably the captains would choose their friends and people they knew would be good for their team I was continually being left to the very last and the teacher would say "alright now who is going to take David" the 2 captains would look at each other and both would not want me and were often not afraid to say so, at this point the teacher would appoint me to a team and this would lead to anger and frustration from the captain of that team, if that team lost the game they would come after me and say that they lost because I was too slow and because I had been on their team.
I look back on all this now and laugh as I am writing this it is bringing back these memories and I now realize that this did help me build character and make me a stronger person, but at the time this was very hurtful and humiliating for me. I would not want to see other sight impaired children of today go through some of the things I went through 25 years ago as a student, I believe that times have changed and that there are answers and solutions to many of these problems.
In closing I want to add that you as a teacher can make a difference and set a good example by including the sight impaired child as much as possible in the daily routine of your classroom. Remember that this student will have very positive memories of you as their teacher if their experience in your classroom was a positive one that was welcoming and accepting
I have developed several audio tapes from previous seminars I have given on the topic of mainstreaming and integrating sight impaired children. I am willing to sell these tapes for $10 U.S. each. If there is any school district that is interested in purchasing a tape, please contact me:
Email: [email protected]
702 Riverview Ave
Verdun Quebec Canada H4H 2C1
About Dave Melanson...
Dave Melanson is located in Montreal Canada. He has four years experience presenting seminars and sensitization training to elementary schoolteachers on mainstreaming and integrating visually impaired and blind children into the regular classroom. During the past 2 years he has begun to branch outside of the Montreal area and is now covering other Canadian Provinces as well as the U.S. When giving seminars Dave brings with him a briefcase of 10 pairs of simulator glasses, each allowing the wearer to experience a different type of visual impairment.
Dave will provide a tape of a previous seminar to any school district interested in booking a presentation in order to demonstrate the topics he covers with regard to integration and mainstreaming a sight impaired or blind child.
You may contact Dave for more information by e-mail at [email protected] or by telephone: 514 7683264. Dave can also be found in the Teachers.Net chatroom many evenings during the week, logged on as Dave/Montreal.