By Katie Wood and Rachel Strubinger
From a very early age, children who are blind and visually impaired show delays. This is often because children with visual impairments and other children are not provided equal literacy experiences or chances to explore their world (Erickson & Hatton, 2007). These babies may reach their developmental milestones later than their sighted peers because vision impacts all areas of development. These delays, especially in the areas of cognition, fine motor, gross motor, and language, can have an impact on emergent literacy and pre-braille skills.
Typically babies begin to cognitively explore their surroundings at 7 months. A simple pre-braille skill, such as matching, begins as early as 22 months. Pre-braille skills should be introduced early on, as research suggests there is a direct link between the age in which braille is introduced and a child’s braille reading speed (Erickson & Hatton, 2007).
Around 6 months, infants should be able to sit with support or independently, which is a good time for caregivers to introduce concepts like turning pages and reading nursery rhymes while incorporating hand movements. Providing opportunities for movement and exploration, as early as 10 months when babies begin to take steps, will increase their awareness of their environment and help with concept development (Stratton, 2007).
Exploratory behavior can be encouraged through opportunities for exploration and tactile experiences (Dunst and Gorman, 2011). As soon as 4 months, babies begin to use their fingertips to grasp small objects. At 7 months, they should be encouraged to explore a variety of objects and textures. Giving babies chances to use these fine motor skills will help develop necessary skills for later braille reading. The use of tactile exploration along with verbal language will create successful literacy experiences.
Babies absorb communication quickly when caregivers label and use words to name. Object naming begins at around 10 to 12 months. As early as 19 months, infants are able to string two words together. Towards 24 months, they are able to use 2-3 words sentences. Modeling descriptive and age-appropriate language encourages language development and in turn emergent literacy skills (Stratton, 2007).
In conclusion, the literature in this field clearly states that children who are blind or visually impaired do not have as much exposure to language and literature or opportunities for exploration and building fine and gross motor skills as their sighted peers. This means it is extremely important to create opportunities for children who are blind or visually impaired to experience all of these things to give them these pre-braille literacy skills. For ideas and activities that can be done to help build skills in the aforementioned areas, refer to the EIVI Toolbox section of this website for intervention ideas.
Bobnar, A. (N.D.). Developmental charts for blind and visually impaired babies and children. Retrieved from www.wonderbaby.org/articles/development-charts
Dunst, C. J., & Gorman, E. (2011). Tactile and object exploration among young children with visual impairments. CELL Reviews. 4 (2), 1-9.
Erickson, K. M., & Hatton D. (2007). Expanding understanding of emergent literacy: empirical support for a new framework. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness. 101 (5), 261-277.
Stratton, J. M. (2007). Emergent literacy: a new perspective. Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness. 90 (3), 177-183.