Have you ever thought about how people learn? As I have written on previously (for instance, in the blog Explore an Orchard with Your Child Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired), and as you have no doubt witnessed in your own learning endeavors and when teaching your child(ren), individuals learn when they are able to make connections. People aren’t blank slates on which we simply download or impart information; individuals understand concepts (both concrete and abstract) as they interact with and experience them. Keeping in mind the importance of making connections, let’s consider literacy for individuals who are blind or deafblind.
The process of emergent literacy begins at birth (Erickson, 2007) and, according to the JVIB article Literacy in Early Intervention for Children With Visual Impairments, consists of the development of language comprehension, print concepts, alphabetic knowledge, environmental awareness, phonological awareness, and motor development. Whew! It’s easy to panic, thinking there’s an immense amount of training to be done when a child isn’t accessing the components “incidentally”.
But instead of “training” or “work” to be done (ahem, information to be downloaded or imparted), may I encourage you to think in terms of intentionally giving your child opportunities to make connections. The former-mentioned components of emergent literacy occur as one actively engages with the environment and makes connections between that which they interact with and language. For example, your child meets a slobbery, fluffy pup with eyes, ears, and a mouth similar to one’s own. Your child makes the connection between the concept of a dog and language (the word “dog”, whether spoken, heard, or signed) provided to them. Later, your child makes the connection between the word “dog” and symbolic language (a picture of a dog, a dog figurine, or the printed or brailled word “dog”). A parent and teacher cannot command or force the connections; every individual will develop individualized connections at their own rate. For instance, while you may be visiting a neighbor in order to introduce your child to a dog, the child may not form a connection regarding the dog and may instead form a connection between your house and the neighbor’s—they both have a couch—and what a fantastic connection they have made! [It’s humbling, isn’t it—how little control we have!]
Now, regarding the dog, as your child understands the concept, the canine character in “Clifford the Big Red Dog”, “Good Dog, Carl”, or the middle-grade novel “Chester and Gus” is meaningful, as is learning to braille “dog”. Yes, as your child’s world (concepts and connections) expands, their emergent literacy (that is, their foundation needed for making sense of reading and writing) expands.
Let’s look at resources which provide additional ideas and insight into developing emergent literacy for individuals who are blind or deafblind—in other words, advice on supporting your child in making connections.
- FamilyConnect’s Engaging Young Children Through Active Learning shares how to encourage your child to actively explore the environment.
- FamilyConnect’s How to Adapt Your Language When Your Child Has No Visual Information: Communication and Blindness shares how to adapt your language to help your child with sensory impairments fill in any “missing pieces.”
- Paths to Literacy’s Overview of Multiple Disabilities and Deafblindness shares how to utilize your child’s routines to build literacy skills.
- Literacy for Children with Combined Vision and Hearing Loss shares strategies for early emergent literacy.
- National Center on Deaf-Blindness: Literacy shares how to think of literacy beyond just reading and writing.
- FamilyConnect’s Touch and Read: Early Tools of Literacy for Your Child Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired shares Kay Ferrell’s advice on making literacy accessible.
You have what it takes to support your child as they explore their world and make meaningful connections.