Childhood blindness

Blindness in childhood has nothing to do with absolute blindness. Rather, this also includes children who still have a low visual performance of the sensory organ.

Blindness in early childhood

We all imagine the term blindness to mean a child who cannot see anything or recognize the objects. One could also say more pointedly that there are sighted and blind children. But can we leave this clear demarcation as it is? For rather, the term blind or blindness is a sub-concept for the field of visual impairments.

Whether someone is blind or not is decided by clear numbers. According to the Ordinance on Medical Care, a person is blind if he or she has no sight at all or if he or she has visual acuity of no more than 0.02 (1/50) in the better eye or in both eyes (Part A. 6. a of the Annex to § 2 VersMedVO). Here, the value 1/50 means that a child can recognize an object from a distance of one meter, whereas a non visually impaired child can recognize the object from a distance of 50 meters. The WHO in turn classifies blindness according to level 5 by lack of perception of light. So there are different approaches here.

(Cf. Pfau, Destatis, Kern, Wolfram & Kalcklösch, 2017).

Nevertheless, a blind child can often still recognize light/dark contrasts or outlines of people and objects. For these reasons, early intervention is also an immensely important prerequisite for the best possible development of every child with visual impairments. But if you look at the figures for Germany, you will quickly find that there are only estimates and projections for the proportion of visually impaired people in all age groups. For the field of visually impaired children there are even less reliable figures.

The ZBFS (Zentrum Bayern Familie und Soziales), for example, recorded a total of 12,397 persons with visual impairments receiving blindness benefits for Bavaria in 2020. Of these, 3% were minors, which ultimately means 372 children and adolescents for Bavaria. These figures do not include highly visually impaired people, so that this figure for Bavaria can be assumed to be the lowest minimum. (Cf. Deutscher Blinden- und Sehbehindertenverband e. V., 2022).

The scientist Prof. Dr. Renate Walthes states that in 2014 a percentage of 0.021% for blindness as well as 0.247% for visual impairment is to be applied. For the year 2021, using the same formula, which I do not currently know, that would mean approximately 111 blind children as well as 1,295 visually impaired children. Mind you, this is based on a birth rate of 524,000 children.

This then also results in a structural problem in Germany for children with blindness and visual impairment. This is because the proportion of this group is very small and thus hardly represented in everyday life. Ultimately, this poses a great challenge not only to the children and their parents, but also to educational professionals such as educators or teachers. According to Walthes, in 2014 there were only 62 early intervention centers for blind and visually impaired people in the whole of Germany, while there were a total of approximately 33,000 day care centers in the whole of Germany. (Cf. Sarimski & Lang, 2020, p. 15ff.).

Professional support for blind children

Especially for children with limitations and disabilities, the complex field of early intervention must be considered holistically. In this, the parents and the child’s environment play an essential role. Because the parents are exposed to a great mental burden in this situation.

What’s next? Do we have funding opportunities nearby? How is all this to be financed? Is there a daycare center that can handle this limitation? How do I need to redesign where I live to prevent or minimize hazards? If none of this applies, what is the next step professionally? There are many changes and challenges for the children and their parents.

This is illustrated once again in the following graphic:

Clarification of the complex (tension) environment of parents and their children
Clarification of the complex (tension) environment of parents and their children

Furthermore, visually impaired and blind children need a lot of physical closeness in order to have direct and “relatable” experiences. In addition to speech communication, this physical, tangible closeness is of existential importance, especially for blind children, who can perceive their attachment figures through closeness and explore from this secure basis.

Often, limitations in vision occur with other disabilities and abnormalities. For this so-called multiple disability, the physical proximity of a caregiver is also an indispensable prerequisite for locomotion or change of position. (Cf. Sarimski & Lang, 2020, p. 24ff.).

“The support of visually impaired and blind children is always a holistic process, which leads to family-oriented early intervention.

Targeted support opportunities for blind children

Perception and movement promotion for children

One support option for visually impaired and blind children is the targeted promotion of perception. Due to a present restriction of the sensory organ seeing, the other senses such as feeling or hearing are automatically used more intensively. Here, especially in the preschool area, perception is intensively deepened through movement. This perception promotion is called movement promotion.

Visual perception promotion

The main goal of visual perception support for visually impaired as well as blind children is always the best possible use of existing visual resources. Even low visual performance can be a great support for children in everyday life, because especially in the area of orientation or in the usual activities to cope with everyday life, these can support the haptic and auditory perceptions. Nowadays, there are a wide variety of options for visual perception promotion. Some possibilities include:

  • Glasses
  • Everyday materials
  • Light consoles with appropriate material
  • Computer programs
  • Image material
  • Children’s books
  • Light / dark room
  • Magnifying Glasses
  • Screen reader

It is important to note, however, that targeted visual perception support must be tailored to the individual child. Here, on the one hand, one orients oneself to the child’s reactions and checks which material or action is followed by a reaction from the child? Ultimately, individual measures planned in isolation from the overall promotion are not sufficient for professional promotion. (Cf. Heyl & Lang, 2021, p. 122ff.)

Literacy | Discovering Braille

Blind children, as well as children whose vision is very severely impaired, have no contact in everyday life with literacy-promoting objects in the environment, such as texts, books, labels, advertisements, and similar objects. This distinguishes limited children very strongly in comparison to children with normal visual performance, who already have this experience in infancy. Braille was introduced for blind and impaired people. The problem here, however, is that this does not occur in the children’s everyday lives and, on the other hand, cannot be seen by the children. Thus, the children cannot link them to other stimuli.

Prior to literacy acquisition in school, what is known as emergent literacy takes place in early childhood. This plays an immensely important role especially for the pedagogical work with visually impaired and blind children, because the literary basics have to be taught by specific measures. Here, there are certain homogeneous steps with the development of sighted children. In some areas, however, there are special requirements for reading and writing, especially with regard to Braille.

Braille should therefore be introduced into children’s daily lives as early as possible and should be combined with other measures. Again, the involvement of the child’s family environment is essential. (Cf. Sarimski & Lang, 2020, p. 110ff.)

Basal stimulation in blindness

Basal stimulation is certainly a familiar term to many. However, very few people know that basal stimulation was developed by Prof. Dr. Fröhlich specifically for the early and perceptual support of children with severe physical and mental disabilities, ergo special education. The concept of basal stimulation is based on the targeted triggering of individual stimuli of the human body. The application of this method promotes in impaired children their perceptual, communication as well as movement abilities.

Advantages of the measure are an amazingly broad developmental stimulation, especially in early childhood. It serves as orientation for the children in new and changed situations and, when applied in a targeted manner, also has a stress-reducing effect.

For pedagogical measures, targeted basal stimulation is suitable by creating specific movement occasions to promote self-activity.

Basal stimulation thus follows a holistic and body-based approach. (Cf. Künnecke, 2017, p. 13ff.)

Everyday problems that are (none) for blind children

The everyday life of visually impaired children should be structured and comprehensible, as it is for all children. Often, restrictions can be mitigated or even prevented altogether through targeted measures. In private environments and daycare centers, thick lines are often placed on the floor in the middle to serve as a guide. Color changes at nodes to other rooms help with recognition due to the contrast effect. Pouring glasses or filling containers can be successfully learned by applying other stimuli. To do this, the child can lift a finger into the cup and it now feels when the cup is full. Like this, there are many everyday solutions for the children.

It becomes much more difficult if the child is to go to a specialized kindergarten. As mentioned above, there are hardly any facilities in Germany in this area, so it is always necessary to weigh up carefully, together with doctors and educators, what speaks for and against such a facility or a regular kindergarten. Here, as so often, it depends on the individual case, both for the child and for the proposed daycare center.

Ultimately, many “everyday problems” can be remedied or limited through interdisciplinary cooperation between parents, educators, early intervention centers, physicians, etc. Nevertheless, the professional support of visually impaired or blind children remains a challenge, especially for non-specialized daycare centers.

Sources

  • Deutscher Blinden- und Sehbehindertenverband e. V. (Ed.). (2022). Facts & Figures. There are hardly any reliable figures on visual impairment and blindness in Germany. The exception is the data on the incidence of eye diseases in Germany. Accessed 01.03.2022. Available at: https://www.dbsv.org/zahlen-fakten.html
  • Heyl, V. & Lang, M. (2021). Pedagogy in blindness and visual impairment (Compendium of disability pedagogy, 1st ed.). Stuttgart: Kohlhammer.
  • Künnecke, I. (2017). Education of students with severe multiple disabilities. Christy Brown School. Accessed 01.03.2022. Available at: https://www.christy-brown-schule-vs.de/downloads/Bildung of SchC3BCers_withseveremultipledisabilities.pdf&chunk=true
  • Sarimski, K. & Lang, M. (2020). Early intervention for blind children. Basics for the work with blind children and their families (bentheim, vol. 1, 1st ed.). Würzburg: edition bentheim.

Suggested Citation

Goetz, S. (2022). Childhood blindness. More than just not(see). ISSN: 2748-2979. Accessed 01.03.2022. Available at: https://krippenzeit.de/blindheit-im-kindesalter/

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