The use of visual concepts by blind and sighted children



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The present study was designed to investigate the similarity between blind and sighted children in usage of visual terms and general language usage as a function of age and intelligence. A second purpose was to provide information concerning the relative contributions of linguistic and sensory contexts in the development of language. The literature survey revealed that theories concerning the blind generally posited marked deficits in their cognitive development. They further asserted that the usage of visual terms by blind children represented a meaningless exercise with negative consequences for personal and intellectual growth. The available experimental evidence failed to substantiate these assertions. As an alternative to the previous conceptualizations assuming the primacy of sensory experience in language development, linguistic experience was cited as an important factor in normal language development. It was also cited as a means by which the blind could overcome their sensory deficit and achieve comparability to sighted Ss in at least the use of visual terms. It was hypothesized that differences between blind and sighted children in use of visual terms and general language use would appear only among younger children, and that the differences would be less pronounced for the more intelligent blind children than for the less intelligent. Subjects were 13 blind and 13 sighted children at each of two age levels, from 6 to 10 years and from 11 to 15 years of age. They were measured on a paired comparison task involving their preferences for visual-perceptual, other-perceptual, and functional response terms; on a semantic differential task requiring the assignment of a set of visual and tactual adjectives to a set of largely visual concepts; and on a word association task made up of primarily visual words. Intelligence was estimated from the Vocabulary subtest of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, and teacher-rated academic achievement data were obtained on a subsample of the younger blind Ss. Results generally confirmed the experimental hypotheses. Only on the word association task did the blind Ss fail to perform comparably to sighted Sis by the older ages, and the free association procedure used, in contrast to a controlled association procedure, was deemed inappropriate as a means of testing the capacity of blind Ss to perform in accordance with sighted Ss. Other findings showed that in their usage of even highly visually-based language older blind and sighted Ss were indistinguishable. Among younger blind Ss, similarity of language use to sighted Ss for rare visual concepts, and a tendency toward preference for visual terms was negatively related to intelligence and academic achievement, while the usage of most visual language was positively associated with intellectual and scholastic performance. Among older blind Ss, intelligence was related only to greater similarity to sighted Ss in language use involving rare visual concepts, this in a positive manner. The results were interpreted as indicating that for younger blind children a concentration on nonvisual environmental aspects was adaptive, enabling them later to expand their understanding to include more of the visual aspects. Familiarity with some visual concepts was seen as legitimate among the blind, even at the younger ages, without negative consequences for intellectual and scholastic performance. It was concluded that the sensory deficit of the blind was offset by linguistic experience, producing a nondetrimental facility with visually-based concepts comparable to sighted peers. Two experiments were proposed to investigate further the degree of similarity in language development between blind and sighted children. A reappraisal of theories and educational practices concerning the blind was called for, giving greater recognition to the impact of linguistic experience in language development and to the legitimate abilities of blind children to acquire and use visually-based language appropriately. Also suggested was a greater use of blind populations to investigate language development generally.



Blind children, Children with disabilities, Education, Language arts