Cand.ed. Gro Elisabeth Aasen
Title of dissertation:
Language and activity among children and adolescents with congenital blindness. an observation-based study.
This thesis is written within the field of special needs education regarding children and adolescents with congenital blindness and varying degrees of additional difficulties such as autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Focusing particularly on echolalia, the thesis is concerned with how unconventional utterances expressed by children and adolescents with congenital blindness and ASD can be understood, and the effect augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) – using tactile symbols and schedules – can have for children with blindness in a heterogeneous sample.
The thesis is article-based and consists of two subprojects with a total of four articles. For both subprojects data collection is longitudinal and has been undertaken in pedagogically organized activities and situations. Data consists of transcriptions of observation of natural language use and occurring behavior in the sample. Article I is a theoretical description and discussion of echolalic language in children who are blind. The function and development of echolalia are discussed and incorporated in a discussion of language development in individuals with blindness and individuals with ASD. Article II describes and discusses the immediate repetition of something a conversation partner has said – the occurrence of echolalic and unconventional utterances expressed by a child with congenital blindness and ASD. The study substantiates that echolalia is not a set of meaningless imitations of sound, but is probably personally meaningful from early language development. In Article III, the effect the use of tactile symbols has on six children and adolescents with congenital blindness and ASD difficulties is examined. All the children followed requests to act more often when tactile symbols were used than when they were only verbally encouraged to take action. In Article IV, the use of tactile schedules among seven children and adolescents who are blind is described and evaluated. The results show that all the children were active and used several strategies when reading the tactile schedules, both reading strategies they had been taught and their own strategies. The children showed interest in the schedules. This was most likely due to their interest in the events that the schedules provided information about. It was possible to find examples of achievement relating to child behavior or developing forms of behavior, which indicated that the children had achieved a generalized use of tactile schedules and that the schedules could cover functions such as increasing predictability, promoting a sense of agency and being used as an aid to promote communication.
The characteristics of children and adolescents who are blind that are observed in the thesis, point to the need for a thorough understanding of each individual and the use of AAC aids to compensate for sensory loss so as to promote activity and mutually beneficial interaction and communication between pupils and teachers.
Studies were conducted by The Department of Visual Impairment, Statped Southeast, Norway, in collaboration with the Faculty of Educational Sciences, Department of Special Needs Education, University of Oslo, Norway and The National Autism Unit, Oslo University Hospital, Norway.