The Exceptional Child

The Blind

Produced for the Educational Television and Radio Center by Syracuse University, 1969

Statement and Disclaimer from Thomas Neuville, Associate Professor, Department of Special Education, Millersville University

Mrs. Root: This is an egg.

Eva: Crack it now.

Mrs. Root: This is an egg.

Eva: Ah!

Mrs. Root: And this is an egg.

Eva: Hey, I got it all over.

Mrs. Root: And this is a child who is blind.

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Speaker: The Exceptional Child, a child with differences. It is our hope that through these programs, we might better understand this child and help him.

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Howard: 90.

Speaker: Good.

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Speaker: The Exceptional Child, a child with differences. It is our hope that through these programs, we might better understand this child and help him.

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Narrator: This is Eva. She is six years old and she's blind. And this is Mrs. Fern Root, Coordinator of Services for Blind Children, Division of Education for Exceptional Children at Syracuse University, and the mother of three children.

And I am Ed Jones, a member of the television industry and father who's come to realize that the exceptional child is of most concern to all of us. Later in the program, Mrs. Root will show us some of the very real problems that confront the child who is blind in his quest for a happy and constructive development. It is my pleasure to be your host on these programs and today to help Mrs. Root as much as I can to bring into clearer and sharper focus the very special problems that confront the child who is blind.

The child who is blind lives in a world where color and lights, friendly faces, are often just descriptive phrases, mere words. So obvious to others, even taken for granted, but which to him may never be completely real. He lives in a world where touch and sound, his own mind and personality are his chief resources. He must reach out to feel the shape of things, and understand their relationships.

If he is to know beauty, it will be through touch and through smell and through the descriptions of others. He must listen and grow through the careful assistance of those around him. He is blind and the world and his relationship to it are not discovered through moving objects, bright colors and the visual expressions of those who love him. He's a child of differences who must understand the world and his place in it through resources that are his.

Not everything to the child who is blind is unusual, unique or sensational. But it is different. Different from what it appears to be to us. Those of us who can see are sometimes limited in our understanding of blindness by our own vision. Our feelings and considerations are distorted by beautiful sunsets, colorful fabrics, trees and flowers.

This picture, for example. Here, even in shades of black and white, we can see that here's a beautiful scene. A mountaintop against a sky. To the child who is blind, this is mountain, mountain, mountain. That is, until we translate it for him in terms that he understands.

Many children who are classified as legally blind actually do see something, however, bright light in some cases. Others may see as much as this, or what we see at 200 feet, the legally blind child can see it best at 20 feet. The partially seeing, who we met last week, see still more.

But today we hope to discover some of the problems that face the child who is legally blind, the child who perhaps sees nothing at all or perhaps some vague particles of light, or maybe even to read the headlines of a daily newspaper.

Long before blindness becomes a noticeable handicap to the blind child himself, however, it may become a very real problem to the parents. Some parents may feel guilt, rejection, or hopelessness, as seen in this attitude.

Father: But Mary, he's blind, he'll never be able to do anything. We'll have to send him away.

Narrator: Fortunately, this is not the general rule and other parents show much greater understanding.

Father 2: Johnny is blind, Dear, but even if he can't see, he still needs us and our home to grow like other children do.

Narrator: Friends and neighbors may add to the problem or may be of great assistance. Those who fail to understand may reject the parent and the child, or may smother them with pity, as in this example.

Woman: Oh, Mary, you poor thing, and your poor child. I think it's just terrible.

Narrator: Others can and do help, not through pity but through understanding.

Woman 2: Why not bring Johnny over here to play with Karen this afternoon while you do your shopping? And then perhaps next week you'll take Karen for me while I go to the civilian defense meeting.

Narrator: When it comes time for the sightless child to enter school with children who can see, the other children may fail to understand and show resentment as in this case.

Child: Well, gee, Mother, we've got a blind kid in school and he spilt the milk on my dress. It was all his fault.

Narrator: This, too, is not the general rule and other children do show great understanding.

Child 2: Mother, you know we have a blind kid in school. Sometimes he bumps into things but he tries not to. Today he helped me find a marble I dropped during recess.

Narrator: Those who do understand realize the child who is blind, is after all, a child, a little unsure perhaps, but a wonderful, inquisitive, even mischievous child with a need and an appetite for the same things that all children need. Love, security, recognition and confidence. And then they know, too, that he can learn to feed and dress himself, to do household tasks, to play, to grow and live happily and constructively.

Mrs. Root, whom you met earlier in the program, has had several years experience working with blind children and she has come to know and understand the many special problems that confront the child who is blind.

Dr. Root: Eva is a pretty secure six-year-old now. She dresses herself, she can make her own sandwiches, she makes friends easily, and she's mischievous. But before she was like this, she was a baby whose parents were bewildered with questions about what a blind child could learn to do.

First they asked for help from a home counselor and then, most important of all, they began treating her like a normal member of the family. She went with them on shopping expeditions. She had to obey the same rules that the rest of the children did. She was treated as a member of the family. The only difference was that her mother found it took a little more time to explain things to Eva because she had to have them at firsthand.

The only way she knows what an egg is to feel it and smell it. Many families find that they must plan special activities carefully to include all members of the family equally. Here is a family having a free-for-all play time.

Narrator: This is Bruce and his family in their own home, the most important place to Bruce. He's just learning to walk and can see bright lights and some moving objects.

Narrator: Because of illness and eye surgery when he was very young, Bruce really likes to be left alone most of the time. But his parents know that he must be urged into more activity. He must learn to play with the family and he must learn to obey some of the rules. He doesn't like to wear glasses but because he must learn to wear them, his family insists that he do it between supper and bedtime every day. Later, he'll learn to wear them more of the day.

Narrator: At first, his own little world and his parents were the only things that mattered to Bruce. He wasn't much interested in his little sister. Now he's beginning to like her, and they play together sometimes. They pile pillows on each other, and she can pull him on the rocking horse, and they yell at each other.

Bruce likes the silver dish because when he moves it, he can see the light. But his parents realize that this isn't a very creative activity and he must learn to like other things that are more active. Every night after supper, his family has play time at this house. It usually ends in singing and a bath for the children before they're tucked in.

Narrator: It's hard to catch daddy when he keeps moving.

Narrator: This is something Bruce doesn't like to do. But his parents have learned that he must be pushed a little, urged a little to do things.

Narrator: He knows that even though he doesn't always enjoy the things they want him to do, still, his parents want him and love him. They accept him, even when he doesn't feel pleasant sometimes. This family relationship is most important to Bruce now and will be for a long while.

Mrs. Root: When a child knows for sure what his home is like and what he can do with his family, then he's ready for new adventures. He wants to get acquainted with people in the neighborhood and to play with other children, to talk to the milkman, to go to the store with his mother and to go to the gas station with his father, and he may even be ready to go to a nursery school.

Narrator: This is Kathy, playing in a nursery school room. She's a year older than Bruce and has no vision at all. She's learned that this is a big world but that most of the time, it's fun and she can be comfortable in it. She can be away from home for a few hours at a time. She can be happy with a teacher or a counselor. She can be part of a give-and-take play with a group of children.

Narrator: Many blind children rub their eyes. As they become more active and interested, they outgrow this.

Narrator: Whoops! Kathy knows there can be unexpected things in the way but she also knows that she can get over them safely to catch the teacher.

Narrator: Kathy's learning how to use her hands in this game, but the most important part of it is the race to see who can say "bang" when the ring goes on the stick.

Speaker: Bang!

Narrator: Bang!

Narrator: Kathy's learned to move about quite freely by herself, but there are some things she just can't do fast enough alone. She loves to hold someone's hand so she can run. She likes to swing and slide and ride a tricycle, and she likes to jump.

Narrator: Kathy still needs home and Mother most of the time but she's a pretty secure little person who's ready to visit relatives, go to Sunday school, take trips with the teacher, or go to nursery school.

Mrs. Root: Many blind children go to nursery schools in their own communities along with the children in their neighborhood. This has many advantages to the blind child and to the children in the nursery school. The blind child learns a lot of things that he wouldn't learn if he had to depend on hearing and sound and smell. The other children in the group see things which they talk about and he learns about them, too.

On the other hand, the other children are interested in the things that he does because he has to listen more carefully and to smell and touch things, and they like to do this too, so that often nursery school teachers say that their groups have more fun because a blind child is in the group and they must all listen and smell and touch things more.

When the child begins to be school age, the parents often ask questions about what kind of education is best for a blind child. This is a thing which is not easy to settle. Many children go to state or private residential schools where they live for the academic year, and they're all blind children who attend this school. Other children may live in their own communities and go to public schools.

Narrator: Yvonne is six years old. She can see very bright lights only. She attends public school, first grade, in her own neighborhood school.

Narrator: Simon says jump up!

Narrator: This is Yvette, Yvonne's twin. She too is legally blind but has enough vision to read a book with large letters. This is a classroom in which the desks are fastened to the floor so that informal activity has to be somewhat restricted. If this were a classroom in which there were a great deal of activity, circle games, dog and the bone, ball games, these two children could still join in them.

Narrator: At telling time, Yvonne can take her turn at the front of the class. Here, she told the class about a visit to her uncle's house.

Narrator: She's a very secure first-grader who loves her teacher, and, during informal periods, laughs and talks with the children about the things they play at, in their own neighborhood.

Narrator: Excuse me. While the other children sit at their desks working independently, Yvonne has her own work to do, too. This is a sheet with Braille words on it. She reads across the line and when she finds a word that's different, she puts a thumbtack on it. One of the rows said "cat, cat, cat," and the wrong word said "dog." There.

Narrator: Later on, we'll see a lesson in which Yvonne learns to write Braille.

Narrator: Yvonne and Yvette join the reading group. Yvette joins the group in her own chair with the large book. Yvonne sits by the teacher with her own Braille book on the table. She sits by the teacher not because she's blind or because she needs any special help but because her book is so heavy. Later, when she's bigger, she can sit in the circle, too, and hold her own book.

Mrs. Root: Yvonne and Yvette can be pretty independent members of this classroom. They never could have done this without special help, however, because the regular classroom teacher wouldn't have enough time to teach them the special skills that they need. They've had the help of a Braille teacher who has come to their school for an hour or two hours a day as they needed it. She has taught them how to learn Braille and Yvette how to read out of a large-type book. She's also helped the teacher with any special materials she needed for independent seat work.

This is one kind of plan that has worked out in city school systems to help blind children who want to live at home and go to school. Another plan is that of having a resource room in which a Braille teacher has all of the blind children in that particular school come to her room as a homeroom, and they come to her whenever they need special help with learning skills and to get equipment and tools. This is a very good system for children who are capable of competing with children who see, and whose parents would like them to live at home with them.

I would like you to see a Braille lesson in which Yvonne and Yvette are learning to read. They're so intent on what they're doing that they don't even hear the noise of the other children in the room.

Mrs. Root: It is important that these children are able to function alone in the classroom so that they need no extra help and do not interfere with the other children.

Teacher: You're doing it so fast. Go ahead.

[ Children in the background ]

Teacher: That's fine. Now do you want to go down and make one – move your carriage back. Down two lines. There we are. Now let's make number one all the way across.

Mrs. Root: Yvonne is using a Braille writer which she calls "her Brailler."

Teacher: That's right. Now you do that until the bell rings.

Now let's make nice big ones, Yvette. Round and round. Fill the whole slate with that. Good. Would you like to finish with twos now?

Child: What is it that --

Mrs. Root: With this Brailler, Yvonne can write words and then read them immediately.

Teacher: Until the bell rings, Yvonne. Shall we?

Yvonne: What?

Teacher: Number sign 2. Good, that's exactly right. Now do that to the end of the line. Good. There's the bell. Now let's go down and make a line of threes.

[ Children noses in the background ]

Teacher: Good, that's it. Well, you're finished. Let me look at those.

Mrs. Root: This illustrates that it's quicker to write with a pencil than with a Brailler. Yvette finished first.

Mrs. Root: Blind children need some special help and some special equipment in their education but their basic needs as children are the same as for all children.

And what are these needs? Well, some of them are, first of all, a good close family relationship, a happy, normal one in which there's some fun and some sadness. One of the first things a child needs to know is what are the rules in this family, what are the limits. And then he needs to have freedom to explore and try things, and experiment within those limits.

He needs to be able to try things over and over until the family's probably bored with it. Opening and shutting doors and perhaps even pinching his fingers occasionally. But this is the only way he knows that he will pinch his fingers. He goes up and downstairs, and up and down and up and down, until he knows exactly how the edge of the step feels and where the last step is, and how he can start and stop at the bottom without falling off.

He needs, too, to have some consistency. He needs to know that he is free to play in the water, if this is one of the rules his mother has set, but that when he spills it on the floor, either she's going to scold him a little bit or she'll hand him a cloth and ask him to wipe it off.

He needs to be taken with the family wherever they go. Often, it seems that a child will not learn anything from a trip, well, for instance to the zoo. But from hearing other people talk about the animals, a blind child learns to know what other people think the animals are like. This helps him form a concept. He can then talk about these animals to his brothers and sisters, and to his playmates. This kind of exploring and practicing must go on over and over to make up for the lack of vision.

What a blind child grows into, depends on how he begins learning about people and things when he's a baby. He accepts himself and his lack of vision if we accept him and the limitations of lack of vision. To Bruce, his family is the most important thing. Kathy can now spend some time away from home and have fun with other people. Yvonne and Yvette know that the world is big and that most of the time, it's fun.

Narrator: Every child has his own pattern of growth. When that child has a specific handicap, such as blindness, this pattern is somewhat slower and more complicated. His lack of sight disturbs and diminishes his testing of reality. There are obstacles in his way, obstacles which it cannot see but which must be related to him in terms that he understands.

Now, the primary responsibility for the growth and development of any child rests with the parents. But, soon after birth, that responsibility is shared more and more by all of us, friends, neighbors, community. Eventually the entire nation and the world.

It is up to us to try to understand the exceptional child in his attempt to gain a more satisfactory and secure relationship in life. Today we have met some children who are blind. Bruce, Kathy, Yvonne and Yvette, and Eva. Eva's come a long way and though she is blind, she's a happy and an active child. Next week, we shall try to understand the problems as they relate to children who are deaf.

Remembering that a child with a handicap is yet a child, an exceptional life perhaps, even somewhat restricted, sometimes distorted, but one which can grow and continue to grow toward fulfillment. As we know more about children with handicaps, their growth and development, we shall be able to help more the exceptional child in his quest for happier, more secure relationships in life in the hope that if he cannot eliminate his handicap, he can effectively reduce the restrictions they cause.

A child is born, a new life begun, an exceptional life, perhaps, but one that need not be without beauty and achievement.

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Speaker: This is National Educational Television.