University of Edinburgh

Issues and Strategies for Visually Impaired Learners

Tuesday 7 March 2006

The Effect of Visual Impairment on Early Development

Mary Lee, Royal Blind School, Edinburgh

Communication and Language Development

  • Lack of eye contact/mutual gaze affects bonding process.
  • Facial expression/body language not available.
  • Joint attention delayed.
  • May develop unusual mannerisms.
  • Word meanings based on individual experience.
  • Echolalia.

Gunilla Preisler

  • Comparative study of children who are deaf and children who are blind.
  • Comparative study of children who are blind with those who are normally developing.

Movement and Mobility

  • Fear and apprehension;
  • Lack of motivation / no reason to reach out or crawl;
  • Spatial awareness delayed, has to be learned through action;
  • Orientation - need time and repetition to build mental map.

Lilli Nielsen

Importance of not manipulating the hands of a young person with visual impairment.

Cognitive learning

  • Lack of imitation;
  • Fragmentation of experience;
  • Lack of incidental learning. Need to teach a lot more that others take for granted;
  • Concepts learned may be different because use different means of perception;
  • Generalisation more difficult;
  • Time implications.

Michael Brambring

  • Assessing Developmental Differences in Blind versus Sighted Children, ICEVI European Conference (2005)
  • Difference between deficit-oriented approach and adaptive-compensatory approach.
  • Different paths and different tempo of development.
  • Necessary to examine which strategies sighted and blind use to acquire each individual skill.
  • Sighted learn under visual control and feedback conditions.
  • Blind have to solve same tasks cognitively, eg; find two objects the same, from a choice of five (26/42 months).

Brambring's study split the developmen tal differences into 4 domains.

  • Manual and daily living skills
  • Gross motor skills
  • Social interaction
  • Language

Found differences between developmental domains and also within.

The greatest delays were in manual and daily living skills, the least delay was in the language domain and some showed developmental advantage.

Variations within domains are so great that only a precise observation of each individual developmental skill will reveal the impact of congenital blindness on its acquisition.

Need to know more so that we can promote development at the right time.

Reasons for variations within domains required an analysis of the task:

  • Beating a drum rhythmically with two drumsticks
    Mastered: 11 months sighted; 37 months blind
  • Wipes mouth or nose with cloth
    Matered: 16 months sighted; 23 months blind
  • Names three objects correctly when asked
    Mastered: 22.5 months blind, 24 months sighted
  • Acquiring the possessive promoun 'my'
    Mastered: 19 months sighted, 36.5 months blind


  • Expectations may be diminished;
  • Passivity increased;
  • Child becomes dependent.

'Learned helplessness'

  • Must find strategies that enable VI to become active participants in own learning.
  • Importance of allowing independence.

Development of 7 blind infants - no additional disabilities (Preisler 1994)

  Blind development Ordinary development
Birth Main interest in mother and other care givers. Main interest in mother and other care givers.
3 months As above Increase in exploration of objects - not yet sharing interest with another.
6 months Majority of time spent in interaction without objects - primarily concerned with establishing emotional bond and sharing feelings. Self-driven exploration of objects which acknowledge others' interest, approval, disapproval.
7-8 months Some exploration of objects with mouth and hand - parents interpret infant's actions towards objects. Sharing person to person to object awareness. Pointing and referential gestures used.
9 months Interaction primarily about 'you' and 'me', plaing with hands, singing songs or just 'talking'. More engaged in activities with objects. No referential gestures but intentional communication from infants through vocalisation, repeated body movements. Difficult to interpret by parents. Highly imitative phase for infant. First words emerging.
12 months Give and take games - primarily with sounds, but some with objects. Infant beginning to assert self as separate individual.
15 months Exploration of functional aspects of toys. Beginning to classify objects and experiment.
18 months Involved in activities where external world was included. First words and simple pretend play with real objects emerging.  
2 years Development of speech allowed shared reference to objects.