Emotions of A Sight Impaired Child and the Benefits of Mainstreaming for All of the Children in the Classroom
by Dave Melanson
A sight-impaired child who is mainstreamed from the very start of school has many advantages, the major one being that they are introduced to children who are not sight impaired. These children, like the sight-impaired child are just beginning to learn about the world around them and its differences and diversity. It is thus both important and critical that the sight-impaired child be allowed to adapt and feel that they are a vital part of the kindergarten classroom. I believe that most kindergarten children tend to accept differences and diversity much easier as they have not had the chance yet to develop opinions and stereotypes or intolerance for others who may not be the same as they are.
It is very helpful if you as a teacher see some of the problems a sight-impaired child is facing. As an example, during the first few days of school the sight-impaired child may be isolated from the others. The child may go off into a corner and sit alone and be aloof from other activities that are going on in the classroom. A sight-impaired child will often do this because they cannot see what is going on around them. If they are new to the classroom or school, and particularly if they are an only child and are all of a sudden going to school on a daily basis where there are other children, lots of noise, and sometimes fast movement, it is very hard for these children to feel comfortable these first few critical days in the classroom.
Allow me at this point to make a brief reference to the book Under Dead Man's Skin Discovering the Meaning of Childrens' Violent Play by Jane Katch, a K-1 teacher who wrote an interesting book on the daily activities of her classroom and discussed the exclusion of certain children by the others in different types of play activity. Although Jane does not discuss sight impaired children in her book specifically, she does discuss the competitive nature of children, how they were all trying to be better than the others in their class so they could be recognized as "being cool" or popular. Jane concludes that exclusion, violence, and bullying can actually occur as a result of the bully's own fear of not being liked or their own experiences in the past...how they were treated by other children.
In the case of the sight impaired child, the fact that they must use their other senses-mainly hearing-to know what is going on around them, often causes them to put up an artificial wall around themselves as a form of protection. They will feel as though they are in their own separate world which is nurturing to them and frightening to venture from. You as a teacher can make this child feel included from day one, helping them to know that they are a part of the group and that their difference is very important. I have had several teachers from the Teachers.Net chatroom tell me that students in their kindergarten and first grade classes are very competitive, that they like to refer to their class as "a community." These teachers have set up rules that state that anyone who does not share and work within the spirit of the community environment is not following the policy of the classroom.
I believe one of the major problems is that if children learn at a young age that it is all right to be competitive and constantly trying to be better than everyone else, this attitude follows them even when they become adults and on into the workplace. These attitudes are unfortunately very hard to change once someone has been conditioned to believe that this is acceptable in our society.
In closing I would like to encourage every teacher who may read this to remember: You have the ability to make the school year a great success for a sight-impaired child. If the child has a positive experience in your classroom, that experience will stay with them for years to come, and you will be remembered in a positive way by that student. Please remember that you can make a real difference and have a positive influence in this student's life with a little caring and compassion, helping him have a successful and productive school year during which both of you learn from each other.
I have developed several audio tapes from previous seminars I have given on the topic of mainstreaming and integrating sight impaired children. I am willing to sell these tapes for $10 U.S. each. If there is any school district that is interested in purchasing a tape, please contact me:
702 Riverview Ave
Verdun Quebec Canada H4H 2C1
About Dave Melanson...
Dave Melanson is located in Montreal Canada. He has four years experience presenting seminars and sensitization training to elementary schoolteachers on mainstreaming and integrating visually impaired and blind children into the regular classroom. During the past 2 years he has begun to branch outside of the Montreal area and is now covering other Canadian Provinces as well as the U.S. When giving seminars Dave brings with him a briefcase of 10 pairs of simulator glasses, each allowing the wearer to experience a different type of visual impairment.
Dave will provide a tape of a previous seminar to any school district interested in booking a presentation in order to demonstrate the topics he covers with regard to integration and mainstreaming a sight impaired or blind child.
You may contact Dave for more information by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone: 514 7683264. Dave can also be found in the Teachers.Net chatroom many evenings during the week, logged on as Dave/Montreal.