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Gordon Dutton’s Blog 26

  • Is there a link between language and looking?
  • If we want our children to do well in life we need to bathe them in clear, meaningful, fully understandable language...
  • ...the children then start to become independent, and more self reliant.

Is there a link between language and looking? If so, can it be used to help children with visual impairment 'see' better?

Say the word 'banana'.

What does this conjure up in your mind, the appearance, the consistency, the taste, the smell, the shape, or what a banana feels like? Or all of these?

Simply the word banana has no doubt brought about a wide range of thought processes for you, and has made you imagine a range of sensations all related to 'banananess'.

So if a single noun has this effect, what do all the other descriptive words (in any language) do to your ability to imagine an item, a scene or a situation?

Language has given mankind an amazing tool. A tool to transfer information through sound, through sight (print) and through touch (braille).

During my career as a paediatric ophthalmologist, I have seen many children with visual impairment, or even no vision at all. It gradually became obvious to me that the children with the most successful outcomes had parents who focussed on their communication with their children. It then dawned on me, that the reason was that they labelled each experience their children with low or absent vision were having, with clear simple consistent words. Also, as I listened to them talking to their children, it became obvious that they were talking like the radio, and everything they said could be understood by someone without vision.

The penny dropped.

If we want our children to do well in life we need to bathe them in clear, meaningful, fully understandable language, linguistically labelling each and every experience with clear consistent salient words.

This led me to do exactly the same for my three (sighted) children. Each of whom has done well.

I've watched as parents of children with no sight and no language, whom I've taught to adopt the self same language strategies for their children, have implemented this approach. The outcome has been remarkable. Not only do the children start to thrive. They begin to progressively gain greater language skills themselves. They start to navigate better because each item they encounter is no longer meaningless, it gains meaning, becomes understandable and can then even be sought out.

Next the children then start to become independent, and more self reliant.

So, in my experience, to answer both questions in the title. The answer is a resounding yes to each of them

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