Childhood blindness has nothing to do with absolute blindness. Rather, this also includes children who still have poor visual performance of the sensory organ.
blindness in early childhood
We all think of blindness as a child who cannot see or recognize objects. One could also say, more pointedly, that there are sighted and blind children. But can we leave this clear demarcation as it is? Rather, the term blind or blindness is a sub-term for the field of visual impairments.
Clear figures are used to decide whether someone is blind or not. According to the Supply Medicine Ordinance, a person is blind if they have a complete lack of sight or if their better eye or binoculars have visual acuity of no more than 0.02 (1/50) (Part A. 6. a of the Annex to Section 2 VersMedVO). The value 1/50 means that a child can see an object from a distance of one meter, while a child who is not visually impaired can see the object from a distance of 50 m. The WHO, on the other hand, classifies blindness as level 5 due to the lack of perception of light. So there are different approaches here.
(Cf. Pfau, Destatis, Kern, Wolfram & Kalckloesch, 2017)
However, a blind child can often still recognize light/dark contrasts or the outlines of people and objects. For these reasons, early support is also an immensely important basic requirement for the best possible development of every child with visual impairments. But if you look at the figures for Germany, you quickly realize that there are only estimates and projections for the proportion of visually impaired people in all age groups. There are even less reliable figures for visually impaired children.
The ZBFS (Center for Bavarian Families and Social Affairs), for example, recorded a total of 12,397 people with visual impairments who received blind allowances for Bavaria in 2020. Of these, 3% were minors, which ultimately means 372 children and young people for Bavaria. These numbers do not take into account people with severe visual impairments, so this number can be assumed to be the lowest minimum for Bavaria. (See German Association of the Blind and Visually Impaired, 2022)
The scientist Prof. Dr. Renate Walthes states that in 2014, blindness accounted for 0.021% and visual impairments for 0.247%. For the year 2021, using the same formula, which I currently do not know, this would mean approximately 111 blind children and 1,295 visually impaired children. This, mind you, with a birth rate of 524,000 children.
This results in a structural problem in Germany for children with blindness and visual impairments. Because the proportion of this group is very small and so hardly represented in everyday life. Ultimately, this not only poses great challenges for the children and their parents, but also for the pedagogical specialists such as educators or teachers. According to Walthes, in 2014 there were only 62 early intervention centers for blind and visually impaired people in Germany, while there were a total of around 33,000 day-care centers throughout Germany. (See Sarimski & Lang, 2020, p. 15ff.)
Supporting blind children professionally
Especially in the case of children with limitations and disabilities, the complex area of early support must be viewed holistically. The parents and the environment of the child play an important role in this. In this situation, the parents are exposed to a great deal of mental stress.
What’s next? Do we have funding opportunities nearby? How is all this going to be financed? Is there a day care center that can deal with this restriction? How do I have to rearrange my place of residence to prevent or minimize dangers? If all of this is not the case, what is the next step in your career? There are many changes and challenges for the children and their parents.
The following graphic illustrates this again:
Furthermore, visually impaired and blind children need a lot of physical proximity in order to be able to have direct and “connectable” experiences. In addition to voice communication, this physical, tangible closeness is of existential importance, especially for blind children, since they can perceive their attachment figures through closeness and explore them from this secure basis.
Visual impairments often occur with other disabilities and abnormalities. For this so-called multiple disability, the physical proximity of a reference person is also an indispensable prerequisite for locomotion or a change in position. (See Sarimski & Lang, 2020, p. 24ff.)
“The support of visually impaired and blind children is always a holistic process, which leads to family-oriented early support. ”
Targeted funding opportunities for blind children
Promotion of perception and movement for children
One funding option for visually impaired and blind children is the targeted promotion of perception. Due to an existing limitation of the sensory organ of sight, the other senses such as touch or hearing are automatically used more intensively. Here, especially in pre-school, perception is intensively deepened through movement. This perception promotion is called movement promotion.
Visual perception promotion
The main goal of visual perception promotion in visually impaired and blind children is always the best possible use of existing visual resources. Even low visual performance can be a great help for children in everyday life, because they can support haptic and auditory perceptions, especially in the area of orientation or in the usual activities to cope with everyday life. Nowadays, there are many different ways of promoting visual perception. Some possibilities are for example:
- everyday materials
- Light consoles with the appropriate material
- computer programs
- children’s books
- Light/dark room
- magnifying glasses
- screen reader
It is important to note, however, that the targeted visual perception promotion must be individually tailored to the child in question. On the one hand, one orientates oneself on the reactions of the child and checks which material or which action the child reacts to? Ultimately, individual measures planned in isolation from the overall funding are not sufficient for professional funding.
(Cf. Heyl & Lang, 2021, p. 122ff.)
Literacy | Discovering Braille
Blind children and children whose vision is severely restricted have no contact with objects in their environment that promote literacy, such as texts, books, labels, advertisements and similar objects, in everyday life. This distinguishes children with disabilities very much from children with normal vision, who already have these experiences in infancy. Braille was introduced for blind and disabled people. The problem here, however, is that this does not occur in the everyday life of the children and, on the other hand, cannot be seen by the children. The children can therefore not link these to other stimuli.
Before the acquisition of written language at school, so-called “emergent literacy” takes place in early childhood. This plays an immensely important role, especially for educational work with visually impaired and blind children, since the literary basics have to be conveyed through targeted measures. There are certain homogeneous steps in 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 become part of children’s everyday lives as early as possible and should be combined with other measures. Here, too, the integration of the family environment of the child is indispensable.
(See Sarimski & Lang, 2020, p. 110ff.)
Basal stimulation in blindness
The basal stimulation is certainly known to many. However, very few people know that the basal stimulation of Prof. Dr. Fröhlich was specifically developed for the early and cognitive promotion of physically and mentally handicapped children, i.e. special education. The concept of basal stimulation is based on the targeted triggering of individual stimuli in the human body. The use of this method promotes the perception, communication and movement skills of children with disabilities.
The advantages of the measure are an amazingly wide range of developmental stimuli, 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.
Targeted basic stimulation is suitable for pedagogical measures by creating specific movement opportunities to promote personal activity.
The basal stimulation thus pursues a holistic and body-related approach.
(See Künnecke, 2017, p. 13ff.)
Everyday problems that are (none) for blind children
As with all children, the everyday life of visually impaired children should be structured and understandable. Restrictions can often be mitigated or even prevented entirely through targeted measures. In the private sphere and day-care centers, thick lines are often drawn in the middle to serve as orientation. Color changes at junctions to other rooms help with recognition through the contrast effect. Pouring glasses or containers can be successfully learned by using other stimuli. To do this, the child can lift a finger into the cup and it can now feel when the cup is full. Just like these, there are many everyday solutions for the children.
It becomes far more difficult if the child is to go to a specialized kindergarten. As mentioned above, there are hardly any institutions in Germany and so you always have to weigh up exactly what speaks for and against such an institution or a regular kindergarten together with doctors and teachers. Here, as is so often the case, it depends on the individual case, both for the child and for the planned day care center.
Ultimately, many “everyday problems” can be resolved or limited through the interdisciplinary cooperation of parents, educators, early intervention centers, doctors, etc. Nevertheless, the professional support of visually impaired or blind children remains a challenge, especially for non-specialized day-care centers.
- German Blind and Visually Impaired Association e. V. (Ed.). (2022). Numbers and facts. There are hardly any reliable figures on visual impairment and blindness in Germany. An exception is the data on the frequency of eye diseases in Germany. Accessed 3/1/2022. Available at: https://www.dbsv.org/zahlen-fakten.html
- Heyl, V. & Lang, M. (2021). Pedagogy for blindness and visual impairment (Compendium Pedagogy for the Disabled, 1st edition). Stuttgart: Kohlhammer.
- Künnecke, I. (2017). Education of students with severe multiple disabilities. Christy Brown School. Accessed 3/1/2022. Available at: https://www.christy-brown-schule-vs.de/downloads/Bildung von Sch %C3% BCler_innen mit Severe Multiple Disabilities.pdf&chunk=true
- Sarimski, K. & Lang, M. (2020). Early support for blind children. Basics for working with blind children and their families (Bentheim, Vol. 1, 1st edition). Würzburg: edition bentheim.
Götz, S. (2022). childhood blindness. More than not seeing. ISSN: 2748-2979. Accessed 3/1/2022. Available at: https://krippenzeit.de/blindheit-im-kindesalter/