Language and Communication for Children with Visual Impairments

This section presents information on the development of language and communication skills in young children who are blind or visually impaired.  Parents can explore strategies for establishing communication, fostering the use of language, and the use of tactile and object cues in helping the child to understand his environment.
Below is a list of topics you'll find in this section. Click on a title to jump to a specific topic.

Establishing Communication

National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness  (NCDB)
These fact sheets inform parents on all aspects of communication. Each sheet defines the topic, explains its importance, and offers tips and important points to remember; available in English and Spanish; 65pp.
Perkins eLearning Webcasts
Learn how to develop and use a Communication Portfolio for learners with deafblindness and multiple disabilities. Susan DeCaluwe explains this personalized view of the learner’s communication skills, abilities and challenges across all environments.
California Deaf-Blind Services
Many behaviors are a form of communication, and this tip sheet reminds caregivers and educators of the basics.  CADBS fact sheets are also available in other languages.  Click here for a complete list.
California Deaf-Blind Services
CDBS's fact sheet provides specific strategies and activities that create a need for the child to communicate; available in English and Chinese. CADBS fact sheets are also available in other languages. Click here for a complete list.
National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness
This article by Deborah Gleason offers a wealth of ideas to help you discover how you can make your child's world safe and understandable, and how you and your young child can share many enjoyable conversations together; available in English, Spanish, and Indonesian.
California Deaf-Blind Services
In this 6-page article, Deborah Chen outlines specific strategies for developing communication: observation, engaging the child's available senses, cues, key word signs, interrupted routine strategy, and selecting the child's first signs. (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)

Language Development

Family Connect for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments 
This article discusses vocabulary-building and the importance of teaching children with visual impairments how nonverbal behavior and body language contribute to communication.
Family Connect for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments 
This article offers suggestions for helping your child to learn about communication and language.
Family Connect for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments 
Find out about some common concerns in the language development of young children with visual impairments and learn what you can do to help.
When Worlds Collide: Assessment and Intervention for Children with Visual Impairment
Perkins eLearning Webinar (2 parts)
Join professionals from the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children in a discussion of Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). This webinar, presented in 2 parts, includes video case studies of children at different levels of communicative skill.
Mary McDonach explains the pattern of speech development in which children repeat what has been said to them.

Communication Systems

Family Connect for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments 
The articles in this section offer a wealth of information on alternate methods of communication, including symbol systems, schedules, and sign language.
This assessment tool is designed to pinpoint exactly how a child is currently communicating and to assist in creating communication goals. This user-friendly online version is aimed at parents whose children have severe multiple disabilities; available in English and Spanish.
California School for the Blind
In this article on Augmentative/Alternative Communication (AAC), Marjorie Goldware and Marsha Silver present "the issues central to communicative/cognitive development in the visually impaired/blind child with multiple impairments" and review devices that can assist in communication.
Iowa Deafblind Project
The New England Consortium of Deafblind (NCDB) Projects offers this practical guide to creating a communication portfolio. It includes sections on the family's perspective, socialization, educational practices, adaptations, sample forms, and much more; 120.pp. (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)
Project SALUTE
Project SALUTE describes the hierarchy of communication symbols, from most abstract to most concrete. Color photographs of each of the eleven symbols are included; available in English and Spanish. We present direct links to their various projects here.
Describes the hierarchy of communication symbols, from most abstract to most concrete. Color photographs of each of the eleven symbols are included; available in English and Spanish.
Project SALUTE explains object cues, a "concrete means of supporting conversational interactions and language development." Included are examples, advantages, disadvantages, and specific strategies; available in English and Spanish.
This information sheet provides a thorough introduction to tactile communication strategies, including general interaction tips, suggestions for encouraging communication, and requirements for a communication system; in English and Spanish.
This introduction to tangible symbols includes a definition, examples, considerations, and a list of advantages and disadvantages; available in English and Spanish.
This information sheet introduces touch cues, including their purpose, examples of their use, considerations, advantages, and disadvantages; available in English and Spanish.
Design to Learn
This site offers a wealth of practical information about communicating with individuals who don't use abstract symbols or a formal language system. Topics include setting up a system, constructing tangible symbols, and tips from the field.
U.S. Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) – Ideas that Work, Tool Kit on Teaching and Assessing Students with Disabilities
Charity Rowland and Philip Schweigert provide an in-depth introduction to tangible symbol systems, including their purpose, receptive and expressive communication, getting started, and monitoring progress.
Perkins School for the Blind
This webcast provides an overview of using tangible symbols to communicate.  Children who are blind or visually impaired with additional disabilities or deafblindness often need a way to augment their communication, both receptively and expressively.  Objects, partial objects, and other concrete representations are helpful tools for children in the early stages of literacy.
Perkins eLearning Webinars
Nathalie de Wit, of Perkins School for the Blind, addresses  using assistive technology devices both low tech and high tech to teach basic communication to students who are blind or have low vision with significant multiple disabilities.


Assessment help

Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

Hi my name is Alexis and I am a Master's student (SLP). I am writing in the hopes that someone could give me some more information about assessing a blind, developmentally disabled, happy 3 year old boy. He is non-verbal at the moment; however, we need to do a language evaluation. I am writing in the hopes that you can give me some ideas other than simply modifying a standardized assessment. Thank you very much for your time.

Assessment of young children who are blind

Posted by Charlotte@Perkins

Hi Alexis,

There are lots of factors to consider here.  First, it's important to keep in mind that standardized tests are not normed for children who are blind, so this will need to be taken into consideration when selecting an appropriate assessment, as well as in scoring and considering the results.  Most language assessments for young children rely heavily on images, and for children who cannot see these images, this type of assessment is obvously not valid.  While it is possible to use real objects rather than images, great care must be taken to use the ACTUAL real object and not a small plastic representation.  For example, a miniature model car will likely have no meaning for a 3-year old who is totally blind with additional disabilities, while the same child may understand what a real car is.  Because it is not possible to bring in all types of real objects, this is often a difficult way to modify an assessment.

There are a number of checklists that are often used with children with visual impairments.  This page offers some details about some that are widely used:

Good luck!


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