The Exceptional Child
Produced for the Educational Television and Radio Center by Syracuse University, 1969
Speaker: Howard, would you write your name on this paper?
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Speaker: And this is the arithmetic lesson for the day. Would you like to read the title?
Howard: Let's play school. Some of these answers are wrong. Do each example, write the correct answers for the ones you find wrong.
Speaker: Good. You remember when we did problems like this. Can you tell me the answer to this one?
Speaker: Can you see it? Move closer if you'd like to, so you can see the problem. Can you see it now?
Speaker: What is the answer?
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Speaker: The Exceptional Child, a child with differences. It is our hope that through these programs, we might better understand this child and help him.
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Narrator: In situations like the one we have just seen, the child with partial vision may appear slow and, in some cases, extremely inadequate, even though his mental ability is normal and his approach to life a positive one.
I'm Ed Jones, your host on these programs, and today we're going to meet some of the special problems which confront the child who is partially sighted but who has enough vision to allow this to be one of his chief means of acquiring knowledge and satisfactory relationships with others.
Probably one child in every four has a significant deviation from what is considered normal sight, dating from birth or caused by disease or accident. Fortunately, the great majority has either two-sided deviation or the visual difficulties may be so cared for by medical treatment, or by glasses, that the child's health, education or general welfare are not hindered to any important degree.
However, many partially seeing children have serious visual defects which cannot be completely corrected and which, in some cases, may keep the child from participating fully in the pursuits of normally seeing children. If the defect is severe, he may be left out of many activities which provide important avenues to a wholesome and balanced development.
Most partially seeing children are not left out completely, however. Although the amount, the quality of their participation will be limited, they can join in the most important growth activities at home, at school and in the community. Their participation, of course, will be largely determined by the nature and extent of their visual handicaps.
Those of us with normal sight will see this aquarium, for example, with a considerable degree of conformity. To a partially seeing youngster, this might be blurred. To another, the aquarium might be only partially recognizable. Many children with poor sight fail to see anything not in the direct line of vision. They may see only the center of the object. Only one edge, perhaps.
Some children are colorblind and they, of course, are limited differently than those who are nearsighted or farsighted. Others may have a defect in only one eye, curtailing their perception of distance and depth. And still others may have a combination of these problems. But even with these handicaps, the partially sighted child is really not so different. His needs and objectives are the same as those of other children.
Admittedly, there will be extra difficulties caused by his visual handicaps, some of which may lead to serious adjustment problems and limitations in the development of a full and happy life.
To help us understand these problems so that we might in turn help the partially sighted child in a more constructive and meaningful way, we have with us today Mrs. Fern Root, Coordinator of the Center for the Development of Visually Handicapped Children, Division of Education of Exceptional Children, Syracuse University.
Mrs. Root: Reading, C-minus, writing, D. This is a sample report card. Reading and writing are school subjects which may be difficult for partially seeing children. They may master them slowly. They may know the meaning of the words but the reading rate is slow. They may know how to spell the words but the writing rate is slow and they cannot keep up in a spelling lesson.
When parents and teachers understand the reason that this slow progress is due to a visual loss, suitable plans can be made. However, before a diagnosis is made of visual loss, a partially seeing child may be misunderstood. His progress in school may be slow. This worries the parents. The teacher can't understand why, when he seems alert many times, he has difficulty with reading and writing. His friends may misunderstand him because when he's on the playground, he may be able to participate in some activities in a completely normal way. Other activities, he may not be able to do at all. He may be able to run as fast as they do and they don't know why he can't hit a ball as well as they do.
A partially seeing child, in order to use the vision that he does have, may develop gestures or posture which looks strange to those of us who do see normally. It's important to know, then, as early as possible in a child's life that he has a visual loss so that plans can be made to give him a good educational situation. It's important to blueprint around ability rather than disability.
This blueprint is based on three factors. The parents and later the child must recognize the visual handicap and the extent of the limitation on his future life. They must be capable of facing these limitations, and they must be doing creative thinking about adjusting to these limitations.
It is obviously important, then, that the home is the place where emphasis on ability rather than disability begin. It is in the child's home that his needs as a child are met.
Narrator: Star and Howard are both partially sighted. But their parents have done a good job of helping them lead nearly normal lives. They share fully in the give and take of family fun, but, like any member of the family, they're given responsibilities. And they're expected to carry them out to the best of their ability.
Star and Howard accept their duties energetically and cheerfully.
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Narrator: Howard makes as much fun as anybody could out of washing the sticky pans.
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Narrator: And Star makes sure she folds the dishcloth just right to put it away, just as Mother has shown her.
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Narrator: When the dishes are done, Howard likes to do his homework on the floor. His parents know that with a reasonable amount of light, he cannot hurt his eyes by using them, and they let him work where he likes.
Howard's arithmetic book has ordinary-sized printing, it must be very close to his eyes for him to read the problems. His paper must be very close as he writes the answers. This involves a lot of bobbing back and forth between paper and book, but Howard manages very well. And most of the time, he gets the right answers, too.
While Howard studies and Mother irons in the living room, Star reads a loud to her from the school book. This is a book especially printed for partially seeing children. The type is larger. Because of the large type, Star can hold the book at what seems to us a reasonable distance from her eyes. Mother's comments and questions about the story please Star and encourage her, and help to make reading an enjoyable and rewarding experience.
Fun with other children, good relationships with the teacher, good grades, these are the reports from school on Star and Howard. When dishes are done and homework is finished, it's play time for these children. In the summer, they go outdoors and play with the neighborhood children. On rainy evenings, the boys often get out the erector set. Howard and Allen are pretty much agreed that more pieces should go on. Howard wants to put them on just right. Allen just wants to put them on.
Howard has a great deal of determination to do things neatly and well. He does his schoolwork just as carefully as he tightens the bolts in the erector set, but putting on these nuts and bolts is difficult for Howard because they're so small. Several years ago, Howard might have been urged to protect his eyes by avoiding such close work. Now we know that it's safe for Howard to try to do whatever interests him. He's not asked to do the impossible. He is encouraged to work out some way of doing whatever he wants to do.
Mrs. Root: The school, too, blueprints around ability rather than disability. A partially seeing child's school program is based on his developmental needs as a child, his special needs as a handicapped child, and upon his own particular interests, abilities and skills. There are three types of educational programs available to many partially seeing children. The special class, the resource room, and integration into a regular classroom.
In the special class, partially seeing children of a city or a school district are enrolled for the full day. These were formerly called sight-saving classes. It was thought important that a child who had limited vision save the vision by not using his eyes. We now know that we do not save sight by not using it. Most children are encouraged to use their residual vision completely.
It is important, however, to plan a school day which does not push a child into efforts of concentration or speed or close work of which he is physically or emotionally incapable. In the special class, the child has materials which make it easier for him to learn. There is a teacher who has majored in the education of the partially seeing child, and she knows how to help each individual child progress at his own rate. This kind of education is best suited to children whose eye condition is changing, or to children who have had recent eye surgery, or those who are having difficulty in adjusting to the limitations of a physical handicap.
Narrator: This is a special class for partially seeing children. These boys may not always attend a special class but for the present, at least, their visual losses, or their problems in adjusting to their losses, slow their activities a great deal. They wouldn't be able to keep up with normal children in a regular classroom.
There are only a small number of students in each special class so the teacher may give each child individual attention. She has special skills, too, which help her meet the educational and emotional needs of these partially seeing boys. For this lesson, the teacher has prepared special worksheets. The letters are easily an inch high. By keeping his eyes very close to the paper, John can read these letters quite well and paste the animals where they belong.
The worksheets, though they're specially prepared, are based on stories which children all over the United States read, stories about Dick and Jane and Little Puff. The paper for the worksheet is buff-colored, to reduce glare. This paper is just one of the special materials this teacher has available to her. Like many things in the room, it's especially designed by partially seeing children.
There are movable desks with adjustable tops and easy-to-see globes. There are colored chalkboards and large, soft chalk sticks. The room does have more light than the ordinary classroom but care has been taken to reduce glare. Shiny surfaces have been eliminated and all parts of the room receive the same amount of light.
The books these children read are specially printed for partially seeing children. These boys have a severe visual loss and they must be very close to the pages to read the page numbers.
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Narrator: When John reads, it looks as if it would be uncomfortable to have his eyes so close to the page, but this doesn't hurt his eyes. He cannot hurt his eyes by using them. It does mean that he reads slowly. He can focus on only one word at a time and so he reads much as a beginning reader does. John is not legally blind, nor does he think of himself as a blind child. Although he spends his class time with other visually handicapped children, John eats lunch in the cafeteria with his neighborhood friends. On the playground, he can join in many of the games his friends play. Socially, he's free to participate in just as much normal activity as his visual loss permits.
Mrs. Root: When a partially seeing child has learned to read at a near normal rate and when he has accepted his handicap so he is not unduly upset at having to ask for help or at being different from some of his classmates, he may be enrolled either full or part-time in a regular classroom. If he is enrolled in a resource room, he stays there a part of the day and has special help with subject matter in which he needs more practice.
Many children are enrolled in regular classes and have no help from a special teacher. The special teacher may have suggested the placement and may have helped the classroom teacher in orienting to the problems of a partially seeing child, but the child is on his own in this classroom.
Education with normally seeing children has a great many advantages to a partially seeing child. Since he will eventually have to live in a seeing world, he learns young what the demands are. He is challenged to achieve. He picks up ideas and concepts from seeing children, and he knows fully what his own limitations are.
Narrator: This is Roberta's class, a fourth grade in a public school. Roberta has a moderate visual loss and can participate in all the activities without special help. She must have, of course, sit near the blackboard. When Roberta joined this class, a resource teacher for partially together children spent some time with the classroom teacher. She explained the extent of Roberta's visual loss and the few limitations she would encounter. If necessary, she could have provided special equipment or counseling to Roberta or the teacher but in Roberta's case, no help was needed.
The teacher is introducing new words for a reading lesson. Roberta takes her turn at the board to point out the vowels in the new words and to tell the teacher the rules for pronouncing them. Roberta functions as a seeing child in this classroom. However, before it was discovered she had a visual loss and needed glasses, school was very difficult for her. She also has a cleft palate which added a speech impairment to the difficulty of participating in school.
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Narrator: Roberta's book has ordinary print. She has no difficulty in reading it at a comfortable distance.
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Narrator: The story is about a rabbit who was lazy and Roberta is anxious to talk to the teacher about what she's just read. Roberta's teacher has not had special preparation for work with partially seeing children but has been given an orientation to Roberta's needs. She's been assured by the resource teacher that Roberta will be able to participate in class activities with near normal speed and efficiency, and she's found this to be true.
Happily, Roberta's functioning effectively in the regular class and will come to enjoy the many rewards such a normal situation can provide. At recess time, Roberta takes her turn as a class member and leads the line to the lunchroom for milk and cookies.
Mrs. Root: The community in which he lives may be a very important factor in helping a partially seeing children develop his abilities. In his neighborhood, he's more or less on his own. He doesn't have Mother or teachers there who understand his problems, who can explain his limitations, or who can help him find suitable activities.
The child and the community share responsibility for how well he learns to adjust. He knows what he can do if the neighborhood children and their parents can accept him for what he is, a child with some limitations but with some unique abilities, and with a great need for just normal, ordinary play.
He can be comfortable, then, and he can help the other children understand what he can do and when he needs help. He can learn to sit out some activities without feeling self-conscious. He knows that he can't play Jack Straws with his friends but that when they play Button-Button, he can join. When they play ball, he may ask someone to hit the ball for him but he can do the running to first base. When they square dance, he will join eagerly but sit out their talks about stamp collection, though he will listen carefully and learn from them.
Learning about himself and his community takes a child a long while since a partially seeing child must base his choices not only on his interests and abilities but on his visual capacity. He must have many opportunities for learning, opportunities for safe trial and error.
Narrator: This Cub Scout group takes up a good deal of Howard's time. It's an especially worthwhile activity for him. Here he joins other boys in group work and group play without undue concern for his limitations. Learning to work and play with his fellow Cubs will help Howard a great deal later on, when he takes a job and when he joins in community activities as an adult. But as a young and growing boy, Howard is an eager member of this group.
The Cubs take turns leading the Cub Scout oath, and today, Howard has his chance. He accepts the responsibility eagerly. Through the Cubs, Howard has come to learn what's expected from him in the community. He learns what he can do and what he can't do. He knows what other people can do and how they feel about him.
Howard can join in most Cub activities quite independently. But making turkeys out of cork and paper turned out to be a difficult thing. It's hard to see the cutting lines unless they're traced in dark crayon. And he can't see what the other boys are doing, or the model turkey across the table. This takes special help from the den mother.
Howard can do many things alone but he must learn to accept the times when he can't, and he must wait patiently while the den mother prepares things for him. The other boys want help, too, and they may get a little impatient when Howard needs so much. He learns there are times when he must wait his turn.
This is a hard lesson to learn, but he's a happy and secure child and he can take it in stride. It's a lesson he can learn comfortably in this group. The boys and den mother like him and the den mother understands his needs. She's had no special training to work with partially sighted children. Through experience, she knows having Howard in the group sometimes takes extra planning. But she knows, too, that individual differences exist in all the boys, and several of them sometimes need extra time and some special help. She expects Howard to keep up with the other boys, but Howard knows he should be unafraid to ask for help when he really needs it.
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Narrator: Home and school are comfortable and well-regulated places but partially seeing children need the extra stimulation of groups, such as this. Some of the Cubbing activities are well-planned and some are defined but they all contribute to Howard's total development.
Star, too, has a community activity. Hers is the Brownies. Here they're making scrapbooks to send to children in hospitals. They cut out strips from the funny papers and paste them in notebooks. Star cuts well and can follow the lines easily. Her only difficulty is being sure she pastes the pictures in right-side up. This is a thing a child with perfect vision would do automatically.
Howard and Star illustrate how hard it is to assess the amount of vision a child has. Both children had cataracts at birth. Both have had surgery and both wear glasses. They're each classified as partially seeing children with the same amount of vision. But in many activities, it seems that Star has more usable vision. It may be that the areas of clear vision in her eyes are in a more useful location.
Like Howard, Star is learning that this is a place where she's liked and where the extra time she needs can be given gladly. She learns all the fun of playing with other children. She shares activities with them in a completely normal way. She doesn't feel left out. She's included in the things that all little girls like to do.
Star is proud of her Brownie uniform and the things she does well in the Brownies, and she knows her fellow Brownies like her and accept her as she wants to be accepted in the community.
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Mrs. Root: Some partially seeing children have a great deal of useful vision and their lives are very little altered. Their choices remain quite free. Other children have severe visual loss and their lives are limited. Their choices critically restricted.
No matter what the extent of the visual loss, it is not the physical handicap alone but the child's adjustment to it that determines his future happiness. In making this adjustment, a child is influenced first by his family. If they understand that they must accept him as he is, they know that he needs affection, fun, responsibility, discipline, and a little extra time and attention to make up for the loss. Then, the school plans a program which provides him the same fund of knowledge and the same learning experiences as other children. And they provide it in ways which make it easier for him.
Later, the community must provide a comfortable atmosphere in which a partially seeing child may learn to get along with other people his age, to contribute to the life of the neighborhood, and to join in activities in which he's comfortable. These, then, are ways in which a partially seeing child's life is blueprinted around ability rather than disability.
Star and Howard, visually handicapped children, understand from daily experience at home that there is useful work they can do well. Roberta's education has been carefully planned to take advantage of a high degree of useful vision and to provide normal childhood experiences. Howard feels accepted in his neighborhood Cub Scout den where he is expected to meet the regulation requirements for badges.
Howard is making an extremely good adjustment to his handicap. He has a normal relationship with his brother and sister. He does well in school. He likes to play with the neighborhood kids, and he's capable of playing independently sometimes.
Narrator: Every child has his own pattern of growth. When a child has a specific handicap, such as having partial sight, his attempts to satisfy his needs and take his place with others in the community will be hindered by extra difficulties in proportion to the severity of his visual handicap.
However, too many of us overemphasize the disabilities of the exceptional child and forget that the more important relationships in life are usually attainable not in spite of the handicap but because of the child's abilities.
It is up to all of us to help the exceptional child utilize these abilities toward the accomplishment of a fuller and more constructive life, for our happiness is in part dependent on his. Next week we shall try to understand the relationships of the child who is blind.
Remembering that a child with a handicap is yet a child, an exceptional child with a life that may be restricted, sometimes even distorted, but one which can grow and continue to grow toward fulfillment. As we know more about the growth and development of the child with the handicap, we will be able to help the exceptional child more in his quest for a happier, more secure relationships in life with the hope that if he cannot completely eliminate his handicap, he may effectively reduce the restrictions they cause.
A child is born, new life begun, a life which may be exceptional but need not be without beauty or achievement.
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Speaker: This is National Educational Television.