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School Years: Low Vision

Maria Júlia Canazza Dall’Acqua

Departament of Psychology of Education

Universidade Estadual Paulista-UNESP

Faculdade de Ciências e Letras

Campus de Araraquara

Rod. Araraquara-Jaú, km 1


Fone: 55 0 21 16 232-0444 R.110


In the present work, the description and discussion of the development and progress of a child with grave low vision and mental deficiency is dealt with. This child did not have any exposure to any intentional stimulation process until the age of six, at which time the child underwent a training program to promote visual efficiency within a school environment.

During a school year, Alice (fictitious name) attended special class that was within a common pre-school unit, with additional tuition in an individualized environment and specifically set up for her needs. During this period various relevant questions arose, some of which will be presented in the text that follows.

Taking the program for visual stimulation developed by Barraga and collaborators as a reference for the program, applied to Alice, the intervention had particularities such as the following ones mentioned: 1) The sequenced steps of the aforementioned program were only used as a suggestion. 2) The training occurred in the actual school environment. 3) The teacher participated in the whole process undertaken by the child, even though she didn't have specific training in the area. And lastly, 4) Real possibilities were sought to be analyzed and evaluated for generalizations of stimulated functions for all other situations practically experienced by the pupil in the school environment.

Evidently, it's not possible to discuss all of these questions here. But it is important to discuss those more specific ones related to the conditions that permitted Alice to develop sufficient visual ability to capacitate her to carry out regular activities within a regular pre-school education.

Besides the flexibility and modifications in the use of the program, it seemed important also to have the same flexibility as to the selection and utilization of materials, which occurred both in the individualized tuition and in the classroom.

The suggestions presented by the program were very valuable, but it became evident that there was a need to group together all of the determinants present in the situation, such as the characteristics of Alice's abilities (for example: the distance of approximation to objects, nystagmus, absence of binocular coordination, loss of field and visual frequency, atypical fixation, etc) and the materials available in the situation, such as the programming developed by the teacher with her group of pupils. In this sense, resources that are very common and accessible on the market adjusted themselves in a more satisfactory way to the demands made explicit within the training objectives.

Faced with the diverse adaptations which were incorporated, it would be appropriate to question whether the modifications would not in fact have led to the construction of a new program with little in common with the original of the aforementioned authors.

Taking a retrospective look at the intervention experience, it seems adequate to reply that this was not the case. Even with the adaptations, the greater directives of the Barraga Program were maintained. To this end, it was sought to always investigate the circumstances in which any answer occurred, this being very much more relevant than just the registration of the occurrence or non-registration of the same answer.

Not withstanding, for the effect of comprehension, it was important to always take as reference the observed performance of the actual child, but never the comparison between her and her class colleagues or any of the other children. In Alice's case, repetitive reference to the modifications that were occurring at her visual capacity made themselves evident in a significant way, and with the same intensity, modifications of equal relevance concerning her relationship to objects, to the teacher and researcher and with the other pupils. To look, interpret, recognize and give feedback to those people with which she interacted represented acceptance and integration of the child with her peers.

In this way, the fact of going to school on a weekly basis, talking to the teacher, discussing together such as to proceed, retrospectively evaluate the exercises and help plan some strategies based on the analyses done were great advantages and very valuable.

Therefore the fact of using the same environment and even going further by sharing with the teacher all of the steps of the program in such a way as to adjust them to the classroom programming made the learning possible along with the generalization and maintenance within the children's repertoire of skills that was being worked with.

The visual training, even though indispensable, seemed to be insufficient in an isolated way, insufficient to guarantee the generalization and the maintaining of the skills. The classroom made these possibilities viable, given the mutual flow of interests existent between the two situations. Each one of them seemed to be necessary as such, verbalizing simultaneous autonomy and unity of purpose.

As time progressed over the year, the teacher was always accompanying the work that was being done individually with her pupil. On the contrary, all of the steps of the training and their objectives had their corresponding factors in the classroom, through activities, assignments and exercises that were done there.

The first difficulties to be verbalized by the teacher at the beginning of the year were with respect to two main themes: to know what the visual capacity of the pupil was and the question of the fundamentals necessary to define the teaching program.

Regarding the first of these topics, it was extremely interesting to perceive what the teacher's initial conceptions were with respect to the visual deficiency and the needs of those who share the same condition.

The designation - low vision - made her think of the child as having almost total visual deficiency. Taking this line of thought, her first attitudes were to observe the behavior of the pupil so as to define what course of action to take. The first useful information for this purpose though, began to emerge as of the moment that the need was inverted and the teacher began to intervene to be able to observe how this pupil would behave or react to that which was presented to her.

Just the fact that the teacher acted like this showed her that she could teach the child, even though lacking formal qualifications in the area. For this to happen, it would be extremely important to observe the child as a supplier of information with which to formulate orientating hypotheses with respect to decisions to be implanted and tested.

Little by little the preconcieved ideas of this teacher were being modified and substituted by information derived from the facts. The diagnostic elaborated for Alice's case indicated that the child had limited long distance vision but that her short distance vision could be exploited. This was the first aspect discussed with the teacher. It was necessary to understand that long distance vision and short distance vision could present very different possibilities between themselves and that as such, they must be worked on, developed and utilized in accordance with these characteristics.

Alice needed to have incentives for her to exercise her visual functions and more importantly to interpret the information, which were derived from these experiences.

But what seemed more important was to analyze the limitations that were forthcoming from the diagnosis in conjunction with the teacher. At that moment, with the available resources and the capacity to inform that the child demonstrated, only that initial data was available. It would be fitting for the stimulation to bring to light a greater comprehension of Alice's behavior and difficulties with regard to her vision.

Gradually, it was understood that visual field, visual constancy and binocular vision are related aspects, but can be compromised in a distinct way and that more so, the environment, by means of variables such as the quantity of light and the size of the materials interfere in the response quality.

In terms of the pupil's visual capacity, the teacher began to learn to interpret Alice's behavior and to take from this the information that would be significant so as to establish some teaching objectives.

From this experience, it seemed perfectly possible for the teacher to diversify her knowledge through the in-service actions developed incorporating notions relative to the visual area. Even so, in Brazil, this would be a very efficient procedure, given the need and lack of human resource forming instances.

In this way, in relation to the fundamentals necessary to define a program directed to developing visual functions, the question of concepts regarding visual deficiency once again clearly appeared. Initially the teacher imagined that Alice would preferentially use touch and that the ability to distinguish visually would be exclusively dependent on the size variable. All that she would want to show her (pictures or objects) would necessarily be large.

The most adequate stimulus for presentation such as distance, position, illumination, background, contrast, clarity and definition of details, colors, quantity of repetitions and exposure time were some of the variables incorporated gradually into the planning. In this way, this teacher who had fear of that which was "new", who believed that she knew nothing, by her own will to learn began to create in a very abundant way, going from the information that was made available.

The other aspect to be saliented is that over the course of the school year, while there was a need to avoid getting distracted from attending the specific needs of Alice, the teacher also took into account more general demands, common to all the children and that equally needed to have her attention.

Even though she was the only pupil in the group that needed vision training, it was not the intention of the teacher to make her an exception. For this reason, the eminently visual work was developed in an environment that was optimal for this purpose, seeing that that which took place in the classroom was directed at refining and maintaining the acquisitions already achieved. The assignments that were proposed in the classroom, as permissible, were equivalent to those solicited from the rest of the children, even though done with material adapted to her necessities.

As the process took its course, the distances between the two situations - the individualized one with the researcher and the collective one in the class room with the teacher - began to diminish, especially when the objectives were concentrated in the visual-motor area. In this way, with the progress obtained in the individualized situation going on to more complex training, the teacher began to involve herself more and more with what was going on. And without a doubt, it was one of the reasons that not the acquisitions but the generalizations of the behavior had occurred in an efficient way within the possible organic and physical limits.

Therefore, any analysis, even though it be functional, done at the beginning of a training task of people with low vision must have its initial characteristic contributing to provide information to be taken as its starting point, never as its finishing point.

To have made an intervention in the schooling system seems to have been a correct decision. Having said that, this approximation alone seemed to be insufficient for the utilization of visual functions in the most diversified situations.

The heterogeneity of skills, materials and ways of implementing them could not be reduced to the intervention strategy itself and this in turn being mere technicism.

From the experience gained with Alice and her teacher, it seems that in principal, any teacher who doesn't have formal training in the area of teaching people with visual deficiency could receive a child with low vision into her common class room, on the condition that she have minimally sufficient information to guarantee a rational proposition and graduated objectives for the tasks to be developed.

This could be a strategy to try in countries like Brazil to maintain children with low vision in the common classroom or special classes, depending on the need.

It would be important that the municipalities took up the responsibility to give special attention to pre-school aged children, strengthening bonds between establishments that give pre-school educational services.

The intervention undertaken with Alice, a child with severely reduced visual capacity and mental deficiency, showed the benefits of redirecting attention to the pre-school years which are very important moments in which difficulties are not always noticed by parents nor by teachers. Therefore it would be fitting for service providers to take up the role of organizing the tuition of these ones to give them the greatest benefit possible.

One other point to be remembered is regarding the necessity that the area of visual deficiency has, which is the necessity to amplify knowledge within this area. And "to amplify" entails producing and making known knowledge in all regions of the country because the need for this is widespread. Timely initiatives, even though of excellent quality, have not been sufficient to influence the more general needs of the population as for such it would be necessary to count on well defined public social policies.

The responsibility for the visually deficient lies with society in general and in particular with the school. These entities need to provide the appropriate conditions so that the visually deficient may use and benefit in the most ample way, and that through these means they might interact normally with the people about them.

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