Learning difficulties - Advice for teachers

Unlike a child with a physical handicap, you cannot see that a child is having visual difficulties, and it is therefore an easy matter to ignore the special needs of a child with visual problems. We hope that the following hints and guidelines, based on experience will be of help in the classroom management of these special children.

Wherever possible, try to be fully aware of the precise nature of the child’s difficulties. There will usually be a record available outlining just what sort of difficulties he or she is having, and identifying whether these are affecting focus/convergence skills, tracking, concentration or visual perceptual abilities. If in doubt, do contact the child’s Optometrist for further guidance.

Spectacles

If spectacles are being worn by the child, ensure you know when these should be worn, and try to ensure they are! They should be properly adjusted, particularly where the child is wearing a bifocal prescription, so that he is looking through the correct part of the lens. Needless to say, the lenses should be clean.....

Seating

The child should be seated so that where a blackboard is being used these is no need for the child to have to look to the side, or even over his shoulder to see it. In modern classrooms with children place around tables, this may not easily be achieved, but is essential. A child with slow focus skills or with tracking difficulties and perhaps also with short-term memory difficulties would only have a short period between seeing material on the board and starting to write it down. If time is take in adjusting body posture, then material will “fall out” of memory, and he will have to look up again to re-check.

Ideally therefore, he will be square-on to the teacher and to the board. It is not always wise to place such a child at the front of the class, since the perceptual change in size between large writing seen on the board from close to, and his writing at near can affect recognition and image constancy. The best location is likely to be about one-third of the way back in the class, in the centre area.

Lighting

Lighting is important, and the individual should neither be located in direct sunlight, nor in his own shadow. For preference, daylight is the best form of lighting, with tungsten lighting being preferable to fluorescent tubes. Children with visual difficulties are likely to experience undue flicker sensitivity, and a flickering tube, whilst annoying to us, can become debilitating to the child.

Health and safety regulations stipulate that in office environments flickering tubes must be replaced, and whilst the same regulations do not apply to schools, this is good working practice.

Furniture

Classroom furniture should be given some attention, since many children are sitting on incorrectly sized chairs and tables. The work surface should ideally be sloped at an angle of approximately twenty degrees to the horizontal. This ensures that the plane of the face matches the plane of reading material, optimizing visual skills. Working at flat tables creates a tendency to lean over in an attempt to achieve this, and in the process, the working distance reduces, often to only a few inches. The closer the eyes are to material, the greater the demands on the musculature become, and the more rapid is the onset of fatigue.

As a rule, a minimum working distance of about ten inches for juniors and infants, and twelve inches for senior pupils should be maintained.

Fatigue

Since fatigue is a major problem for children with visual difficulties, allowance should be made for this. A child who stares vacantly into space every few minute is quite likely to be subconsciously testing his eyes, and so long as this is not disruptive, should be ignore.

Article with thanks to Pezzimenti Optometrists

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