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Preschool Program Gives the Blind a Head Start

September 01, 1985|MARGARET HABERMAN | Associated Press

NASHVILLE — Blind children often have to cope with a second handicap, for they rarely receive preschool help in developing learning skills. However, a professor wants to change that with a teaching program he hopes will become a national model.

The program focuses on skills of orientation--sensing where one is in the environment--and learning to move about in those surroundings, said Dr. Everett Hill, assistant professor of special education at Vanderbilt University's George Peabody Teachers College.

"Many blind kids have delayed development because they don't move around well in their environment," Hill said. "It's better to prevent delays early than spend time later on rehabilitation when a child is 18."

Such training traditionally has involved only adults and school-age children because preschoolers are not ready to use canes, cross streets or use public transportation, Hill said.

Smooth Transition

The program also is geared to help the children make a smooth transition to day care or school and help prevent them from being placed in special education classes, said project coordinator Deborah Cochran.

Hill said the staff is working on the first draft of a curriculum they hope to use with students this fall and then field test in a number of selected sites around the country.

Cochran said blindness and other visual problems in infants have increased with the higher survival rate of low birth-weight babies.

Classroom Instruction

Eleven children currently are enrolled in the three-year program. Classroom instruction began in January with four children enrolled for 3 1/2-hour sessions four times a week and home visits every other week. The seven other children receive weekly instruction at home.

Braille and large-print labels help the children find their way around the classroom, which has toys and a loft built by one of the student's fathers to help teach the difference between up and down and over and under.

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