Communication in visually impaired children

On this page is a range of articles for those who are interested in the communication skills of children who have visual impairment. When I was practising, the articles amounted to the evidence-base for my own practice. They draw on a wide range of published literature and on my extensive experience as both a teacher and a speech and language therapist. For more information about my working life, see my CV (opens in a new tab).

It is important to note that these articles have their origins in reading and other studying I undertook during my work as a teacher and speech and language therapist, spanning the period from 1974 to 2015. As I will not be up-dating the material, readers should judge whether they feel it is still useful.

My view is that the material in these articles applies to

  • infants and young children who have visual impairment
  • children, and adults, who have visual impairment and additional needs.

Unless I specifically indicate otherwise, the material applies to children, young people and adults. Therefore, I have tried to refer in the articles to “people”, rather than to “children”, “young people” or “adults”.

I also believe the material is of value to practitioners with an interest in the communication of children, young people and adults who have learning disabilities, especially to those who have severe learning disability (SLD) and profound and multiple learning disability (PMLD).

The articles are provided as pdfs which open in a new tab. A link to each pdf is provided alongside the article’s title.

A. The impact of visual impairment on early communication. Article A.
This article provides a background to the series.

B. The Key Principles of facilitating communication in people who have visual impairment and additional needs. Article B
This article introduces the Key Principles described more fully in articles 1 – 17 below. They are based on documents I wrote for use at RNIB Pears Centre for Specialist Learning.

1. The nature of communication: means – opportunities – reasons. Article 1
This is a revised version of the article which was originally posted in October 2011.

2. Providing a Total Communication approach. Article 2
This is a revised version of the article which was originally posted in October 2011. The article includes a section on signing adapted for people who have visual impairment. For more material on this topic, see Article 20, below, and the notes that follow the link.

3. Facilitating communication: the focus on meaningful expression. Article 3
This is a revised and expanded version of the article which was originally posted in October 2011. In it I refer to two papers which I had published in Mental Handicap. This was the journal of the British Institute of Mental Handicap, now the British Institute of Learning Disabilities (BILD). BILD has kindly given permission for the articles to be reproduced as pdfs and posted here as articles 3a and 3b:

3a. The focus on meaningful production. Article 3a

3b. Don’t teach – intervene. Article 3b

4. Assessing communication in a meaningful way. Article 4
This is a revised and expanded version of the article which was originally posted in October 2011. In the orginal version of this article I referred to my Communication Profile for People with Severe Visual Impairment and Additional Disabilities. This is no longer available. I have revised this item and provide it free of charge on the Profiling communication page (opens in a new tab).

5. Communicating effectively within the team. Article 5

6. The importance of forming trusting social relationships and limiting the number of facilitators. Article 6

7. Encouraging people to take the initiative – the importance of waiting. Article 7

8. Allowing people to have control. Article 8

9. Encouraging people to be active communicators. Article 9

10. Ensuring there is effective two-way communication with each person. Article 10

11. Ensuring that communication takes place in natural, everyday situations. Article 11

12. Sharing experiences. Article 12

13. Having conversations. Article 13

14. Creating a responsive environment. Article 14

15. Facilitating increasingly mature communication skills in those who are in education. Article 15

16. Providing people with opportunities to communicate and encouraging them to communicate for a variety of reasons. Article 16
This is a revised version of the original article 16, Enhancing the communicative environment and increasing opportunities for communication, which was posted in May 2012 and of the version posted in February 2013.

17. Adjusting the way to speak when communicating with people who have visual impairment and additional needs. Article 17

18. Providing an empathic approach. Article 18
The material in this article is closely related to that in Article 14, Creating a responsive environment.

19. Working on the speech sounds of people who have learning disabilities: the difficulties this presents. Article 19
This article develops a section of the Communication Policy of RNIB Pears Centre for Specialist Learning.

20. Using signing with people who have visual impairment
There is material on signing adapted for people who have visual impairment in Article 2 above. Since writing that article, I have become aware of two articles on the use of Makaton with blind children who have severe learning difficulties:

Mitha, S and Scammell, A (2006) The use of Makaton in communication with and by congenitally blind children with severe learning difficulties. The SLD Experience, Summer 2006, 7-9
Mitha, S, Whiting, M and Scammell, A (2009) Using Makaton with children with multiple disabilities and visual impairments. The SLD Experience, 54, 1, 25-28

Practitioners in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland (UK) have written guidelines for using body signing with learners who are visually impaired and have complex needs, who are working at levels P1, 2 and 3 of the National Curriculum. They are reproduced here as Article 20

You may also be interested in TaSSeLs – Tactile Signing for Sensory Learners which is designed to promote effective tactile communication with children and young people who have profound and complex learning disabilities.

21. Age appropriateness. Article 21

Communication in visually impaired children reference list
This list is available to download as a pdf: References – Communication in visually impaired children