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2nd Workshop
Training of Teachers of the Visually Impaired in Europe

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10. Report on theme 3: Social and emotional developments

By Mrs Barbara Raybould



(Information provided by the facilitators: Sytske Brandenburg and Maryam Mildenberg)

The development of social skills by blind and visually impaired students, edited by S. Z. Sacks with L. S. Kekelis and R. J. Gaylord- Ross.

Chapter 1: The social development of visually impaired children: a theoretical perspective.
S.Zell Sacks.

The importance of explicit training in social skills for visually impaired children is emphasised in this article. The authors state that it is important to know which social skills are considered appropriate, to examine the applicability of theories of social development to blind and visually impaired persons and to evaluate the importance that these theories attribute to interactions with peers. With this information one can begin to develop strategies to effect positive changes in social behaviour. Three models for defining social skills are presented: the trait model, the molecular or component model and the process or systems model. A discussion evaluating five theories of social development: (psychoanalytic, social identification, critical periods, social learning and cognitive structural) concludes that they may not be adequate to explain the social development of blind and visually impaired children. These theories are discussed in detail and evaluated in the importance each attaches to interactions with peers and to their usefulness in helping blind and visually impaired children to develop social competence.

The visual feedback, received within social interactions, in facial expressions or gestures, is not perceived by visually impaired children and the imitation or modelling of successful social behaviours is equally difficult. It is argued that the social development of visually impaired children is dependent on a variety of experiences during their formative years, requiring the support and facilitation of parents, educators and other children.

The conclusion of these discussions is that specific strategies to train blind and visually impaired children in social skills are as important as is experiential learning for the children's social development.

Chapter 2 Peer interactions in Childhood: The impact of Visual Impairment
L. S. Kekelis

This chapter discusses the effects of visual impairment on interactions with peers in early childhood. Interactions with peers give children unique opportunities to develop and refine skills that are important for social development and acceptance by their peers. Visual information is important in the acquisition and refining of skills that are critical for positive social interactions. Children who lack these skills are often ignored or rejected by their peers when mainstreamed with sighted children. However, there are few reports on the integration of visually impaired students in mainstream and the impact on social skills. This chapter examines social interaction among sighted children to identify factors that contribute to social competence in childhood and identifies environmental factors that affect children's interaction and acceptance by peers. It is important for those who work with visually impaired children to know about the development of social skills and the importance of peer interactions. This knowledge will enable them to identify problems early enough to avoid long term deficits in social skills.

The author states that one cannot expect that the development of sighted and visually impaired children will be identical or that environmental factors will affect the interactions of both groups in the same way. They say that the understanding of normal development is beneficial to work with blind and visually impaired children. Social interactions in childhood are examined, including how children deal with conflicts, how they gain entry to peer groups and how they respond to their peers and the different strategies that 'popular' and less 'popular' children use. Also examined are the personal characteristics that influence social standing such as physical attractiveness, academic and athletic capabilities and gender. Visually impaired children are at particular risk in mainstream educational programmes because visual information plays such an important part the development of the social skills necessary for acceptance by the peer group. In peer interaction the visually impaired children need extra attention in the development of play skills, language skills, social skills, motor skills and academic competence. Besides these skills, the contextual variables affect the interaction between blind and visually impaired children with their sighted classmates in mainstream programmes. Programmes to train visually impaired persons in social skills have targeted adolescents and adults but those who work with younger children are now modelling the approaches used. In this chapter some training methods are reviewed and direction for future studies are provided. The authors state that it is imperative that in-depth, long-term ethnographic studies of visually impaired children's interactions with their peers are conducted along with the study of the many factors that influence these interactions

Social skills: luxury or necessity? The importance of directed attention for
social skills during adolescence. Text of lecture S. Brandenburg

Adolescents with a visual impairment need additional social skills like asking for help, rejecting help and how to react to remarks about the handicap. Social skills are of great importance in adolescence because the quality of the development in this phase depends so heavily on relationships with peers. The adolescents with a visual impairment need extra social skills. In addition they are more at risk in having poor social skills as a result of the disabilities in daily-life. In particular, they do not wish to be seen as 'different'. .
In paying attention to social skills, the motivation of the adolescent, the attitude of the teacher, the integration in daily life and in lessons and the special supporting methods are all important. At Theofaan, a training based on the Goldstein method is used, based on the social learning theory and is used for both 'normal learning' and 'slow learning' students. Skills dealt with in the training include introductions, starting a conversation, being criticised and how to deal with feelings such as expressing anger or disappointments. These social skills are taught by a trainer to a group of 2 to 4 pupils following a fixed, described method. The evaluation of the training of a small group suggested some gains in social skills and further exploration of the method is suggested.

A survey of children's first understanding of being visually impaired.
Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, Mar-Apr 1994 J.N.Erin, A.L.Corn.

This article describes the ways in which some visually impaired children begin to know about themselves in relation to their visual impairment. At an early age and at a basic level of understanding, children who are visually impaired realise that their vision is different from that of others. This article reports on a survey of 32 parents' recollections of when their children first demonstrated an awareness that they were visually impaired.
The study is presented as a pilot effort to study the process of children growing to understand their own vision differences.
Parents are recognised as being the most accurate resource about first experiences and of their child's growing awareness of their visual impairment. The emotional reaction of parents to their child's statements or questions is discussed. The article finishes with the hope that by discovering how children begin to learn about their visual impairment, parents and professionals may be better able to help them answer for themselves, what life will hold for them.

Looking sociologically at family coping with visual impairment. Journal of Visually Impairment & Blindness, Mar-Apr 1994 H.L.Nixon II.

Coping with visual impairment is both a social matter and a shared experience. 'Coping' is embedded in networks of social relations, and success in coping with impairment may substantially affect and be affected by social relations in networks involving family members.
This article provides an overview of relevant sociological perspectives and knowledge about major social aspects of family coping with visual impairment. It emphasises the importance of seeing visual impairment in social or sociological terms as a family coping matter. Special attention is given to the importance of the social structures and dynamics of families as social networks, the social construction of impairment experiences by families, family social support relations, and the visual impairment of older family members. The aims of the article are

It suggests questions for further study including the impact of differences in social and cultural background on how families cope.
The author states that the coping process is complex, dynamic, on going and is different under different conditions. It is stated that further research is needed to clarify and document variations in the social and sociological aspects of family coping with visual impairment.



Leo Delaet, Belgium
Winnie Ankerdal, Denmark
Helga Weinlader, Germany
Eva Tatarkova, Slovak Republic
Griselda Tubau, Spain
Sytske Brandenburg, The Netherlands
Maryam Mildenberg, The Netherlands
Solveig Sjostedt, Finland
Barbara Raybould, United Kingdom


Have we learnt to learn as a group?

The structured format in which we worked was difficult at times and participants had very different styles of learning, ways of expressing themselves and there were strongly expressed feelings of people trying to impose, if not their views, a particular way of working. We constantly attempted to extend individual and group knowledge, to challenge opinions and attitudes and to constructively use the tensions that arose constructively by constantly asking why did you do/say/think that.

We learnt to work as a group of TEACHER TRAINERS, not just teachers of the visually impaired, going beyond that role into the next level of just how you would teach teachers to develop their skills in this vital area. This was the next stage from sharing our scientific interests, from exchanging simply how we do things to how we can share and spread this knowledge on a consistent basis throughout Europe. In doing so we transformed our shared knowledge and created new knowledge that could be used by teacher trainers all over Europe, which was not language or culture specific.

We learnt how to use different methods, for example a conversation in front of witnesses on how to deal with mannerisms. This was a successful working method, new to most group members which enabled them to think more deeply about a difficult subject and to come to conclusions based on their own and others arguments, sometimes by having to defend an opposing view.

We overcame barriers of different approaches, attitudes and languages with honesty and good humour. Some members were determined to stick absolutely to the stated aim of the session, others wanted to explore issues more generally and a consensus was eventually reached after an open discussion.



Session 1

Introductions in the group were made using blindfolds and each participant outlined their job/experience/interests and said what their personal goals were and what they hoped to do in their own institutions when they returned from the Workshop.
The range of experience in the group included psychologists, headteachers and advisors. All were involved as teacher trainers in a range of higher education institutions.
Participants emphasised the importance of fostering the social and emotional development of children with a V.I.
There was a discussion of the simulation method (using blindfolds ) and the importance of non-verbal communication especially gesture and eye contact and the importance of practical instruction and example in developing social skills.

The group discussed Mason's competencies for teachers of the V.I. asking the questions:

The issues of social and emotional development needed to be made explicit and expanded upon. Points raised included the distinction of roles of specialist teachers and of itinerant and mainstream teachers. Inclusion was a vital area where the training in social skills was crucial to a child's success.
Sexuality and sex education should be mentioned specifically as well as the ability to construct programmes to develop interpersonal and social skills.

The group asked the following questions.

Session 2

There was a group discussion on grouping the areas raised and discussed in the previous session and how those would be put into a module on social and emotional development.

Areas included:

Ideas for grouping of areas suggested in the brainstorm included

Child-centred system directed teacher directed
What does the teacher need to know KNOWLEDGE
What does the teacher need to be able to do SKILLS
What must the teacher be prepared to respect ATTITUDE

Group 1 discussed the child-centred areas

Knowledge required of the teacher includes

Group 2 discussed the system centred areas i.e. everything around the child

Group 3 discussed teacher centred issues concerning attitudes.

Teacher training should include an exploration of teacher's own attitudes towards disability, the development of autonomy and dependence, knowledge about oneself and ones reactions. Skills needed included how to communicate with the child, the family and others concerned and also the capacity for honest self-reflection.

Body language was discussed at length, including whether it was inborn or learnt. 70% of non-verbal communication centres on body language.
Questions included:

We have to teach blind children about sighted body language. Blind boys need to know just how physical sighted boys are with each other. Teachers need to have the ability to talk with parents openly and constructively about their feelings of guilt, sorrow and inadequacy. Teachers need to develop the ability to discuss sensitive issues without judgement.

Session 3

The group shared with each other methods/resources/materials they use in the training of teachers. Methods used were described in the areas of knowledge, skills and attitudes.
One member brought a box of materials that he uses to teach teachers to support children in the expression of feelings and emotions. An example was the 'box of feelings'. This has instructions and suggestions to adapt the materials for partially sighted children. It contained pictures, puppets on sticks relating to four major feelings. The pictures tell a story which can be used to explore the child's feelings or made into puzzles or games. The original material can be bought and then adapted with tactile or brightly coloured material.
There is a general lack of ready prepared material leaving teacher trainers and teachers to devise and make their own. There is an Australian programme for the teaching of social skills for pupils with visual impairment, devised by Gallstein.

Other colleagues have prepared role play games with instructions in braille or large print, to enable children and young people to learn how to act and how to operate in certain circumstances but some may feel these activities may be too morally prescriptive. One colleague shows her students videos of the pupils doing a range of adventurous activities such as sailing and skiing. She also organises a computer 'camp' with 20 sighted students and 25 blind or partially sighted students on. During this residential experience, she talks explicitly and honestly to them about mannerisms, saying that they may be acceptable when relaxing but not in a restaurant.

The group was open about their practice and all felt that it is important to educate and advise children about what they can't see and don't know. The controversy around the use in teacher training of simulation spectacles and blindfolds was briefly discussed. A Spanish video used for the development of social skills for children with V.I. in mainstream, involving families, school staff and the community, was shown. The short video is shown with questions before and after to explore issues around integration and inclusion. In Spain, children have been integrated into mainstream since 1990 and all children are placed in mainstream provision.
Other colleagues have used videos, some with aggressive questioning, to stimulate teachers and other adults to question their own attitudes about children with a V.I. in mainstream. Video materials were used in a variety of ways, to promote reflection, to encourage people to speak openly, to articulate and express attitudes or to focus on aspects of social skills which were not right so that the pupil could discuss them when alone and in a supportive situation with the teacher. A colleague uses role-play to enable colleagues to get to know each other and to be more aware of each other's attitudes and feelings. Colleagues take it in turn to be the parent/child/teacher/observer. The incident method was discussed when children and their siblings are able to talk openly about their experiences and explore each other's viewpoints.

Colleagues discussed their individual needs for more information/training and for possible outcomes of these sessions. Some had specific requests, for practical information and not theory. An extended discussion took place about feelings, emotions and their interpretation and expression. It was viewed as essential that students needed to be able to recognise, express and deal with their emotions. We know that children with a V.I. lack knowledge about the expression of emotions in gesture and facial expression. Many children experience acute feelings of frustration, failure and fear of becoming even more severely visually impaired. Body language was thought to be very important. Teachers need to be aware of their own body language and to be able to teach visually impaired children about the role of body language in social and emotional relationships. Questions were asked as to whether body language was universal, what cultural differences there were and whether there is a gender difference. The importance of supporting parents in recognising and responding to subtle signs such as a blind baby 'stilling' in response to the mother's voice was highlighted. This lack of reaction could be interpreted negatively if the reason behind it is not explained, which is that the child is concentrating on auditory clues. The role of the teacher in communicating about emotional issues with the child and parents is very important.

Ways of training and supporting teachers in obtaining information about feelings and emotions was discussed. Insight into the emotional problems of blind children was seen as an important area of knowledge. The open discussion of the emotions surrounding blindness or partial sight, of how parents and children feel, of how they mourn the loss of sight, how they adapt to that loss, will support the teacher in being able to work effectively with the family to promote the successful social and emotional development of the child.
Parents may consciously or unconsciously give or do not give the child 'permission' to feel and many emotions are hidden. Many adults have prejudices or misconceptions about blindness. There may be problems in coming to an agreement about what is realistic to expect of a child in emotional terms and what is not. Teachers should know on a theoretical level about how to deal with emotional issues and need to have a good understanding of attitudes and feelings and how to support the process of socialisation of VI children and young people.

The knowledge gained in initial teacher training of the social development of sighted children is used together with the knowledge of the effects of the visual impairment on this process. The skills teachers need to have include the ability to recognise or interpret the feelings/emotions of the child, the ability to discuss those feelings in an appropriate way and at an appropriate level and the capacity to communicate with the child about that interpretation or expression of their feelings. The courage to ask children and young people directly about their feelings and the knowledge to be able to support and help them were vital in enabling teachers to be effective in their role of supporting emotional and social development. The ability to be able to give feedback to the child about his or her behaviour was important and formed part of the process of instruction in social skills. The skills needed to evaluate all aspects of a situation and the necessary sensitivity are important facets of handling a group of individuals in a formal setting. An important subskill is to be aware of what is going on and how to communicate and react to it. Observation skills are important, as is the ability to look objectively and then to be able to discuss, honestly and positively, those observations with the child.

The teacher is a role model for children and can offer examples in the way that the teacher deals with or expresses their own feelings. The teacher must be able to express and articulate emotions. Sometimes those feelings may not be positive and the honest expression of those feelings might hurt the child. However there must be a balance between the authentic expression of feelings and the need to adjust that expression in particular circumstances. Children have a great awareness if an adult is 'acting'. The teacher should be able to cope with difficult emotions and to show sensitive and sensible ways of responding to and handling difficult emotions such as anger. The teacher should be prepared to express a range of emotions including disappointment, hurt as well as pleasure, acting as a role model to teach children how to cope with their feelings. The teacher should know about and be able to use a range of strategies and methods to help children in their social and emotional development.

There was a detailed discussion on mannerisms or 'blindisms' and a range of views were expressed. The working method of a conversation in front of witnesses was used successful. The issue of whether to 'tolerate' or actively discourage mannerisms such as hand-flapping or rocking was debated in a lively and thought provoking way. Two main participants started the discussion and had to argue a point of view which was not necessarily their own and the rest of the group had to take up a position supporting one side of the discussion. The group explored their attitudes towards mannerisms and it was pointed out that some accepted activities such as jogging on the spot could be interpreted as strange or unusual behaviour! Mannerisms could be viewed as an important part of expressing oneself and that clapping or handflapping gives the child a real feeling of making their own personal environment and providing some sensory stimulation within that environment.

The question was asked whether the child should be taught to give up mannerisms altogether or whether they should be taught that they could do them in certain acceptable situations. In the VI teacher training do we support the students in an honest and open discussion and exploration of the subject or do we give a normative directive that mannerisms or stereotypical behaviour should be discouraged at all times?
One argument was that blindisms are an integral part of being blind and to seek to eradicate them was making a judgement against blind people. Trying to eradicate them might cause unacceptable stress. They should be respected as a means of self-expression. The opposing point of view was that blind people should be expected to behave like any other person and that most people want to be treated as 'normal' and to be socially accepted. Mannerisms gave the impression that the blind person also had learning difficulties. Mannerisms such as rocking would give a potential employer a wrong impression. Children and young people with a visual impairment needed to be taught not to display these mannerisms and to view them as bad habits, that would have a deleterious effect on them.

The expression of these views provoked a very lively discussion between the two main participants and the rest of the group entered the discussion by passing written points to them to be aired. This technique was successful in enabling participants to articulate and explore opposing and controversial views, with which they did not necessarily agree, and to examine in detail attitudes and opinions that they had not deeply explored before. The technique moved on the discussion rapidly into a deeper phase in which views and preconceptions were challenged and had to be justified to the group. Group members felt that this would be a good teaching method to use with teachers in training so that a full and honest exploration of controversial issues could be made and positive attitudes, relevant knowledge and skills increased. All agreed that it was an important area to include in a module for teachers on social and emotional development and that this type of analysis was an important tool for developing the required knowledge, skills and positive attitudes.

Examples of good practice in this area were shared, including the example of a summer camp in which issues such as mannerisms were discussed openly with the children and their opinions sought. It was felt that an important role of the specialist teacher was to help the child find their own position on the issue by giving them information and advice. They needed to know about the sighted community and how they reacted to mannerisms and about the 'blind' community and how other blind children reacted. The goal should be to enable the children to develop strategies to cope with the intolerance of others and to develop their own sense of self worth and self-confidence.

During the feedback to other groups there was a very valid challenge made as to whether the group had considered the needs of children and young people with multiple disabilities as well as visual impairment. The majority of discussion had centred on working with children and young people who had the communicative ability to articulate, analyse and discuss their feelings and emotions. However, it was recognised by the group that children with MDVI were equally if not more needful of support in their social and emotional development and that this was also an important part of a module for teachers of the VI.

Session 4

The final session involved a discussion on the Workshop and on what had been achieved.
Mason's proposed Standards for teachers of the visually impaired provided a starting point. The group felt that there was very little in those Standards that was explicit about the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to support VI children in their social and emotional development. Much was implicit but needed to be drawn out and the knowledge, skills and attitudes needed by teachers of the VI in the area of social and emotional development needed to be spelt out with clear goals. A brainstorming session raised many suggestions and these were then 'grouped' into areas relating to whether they were child-based, teacher-based or systems based.
The outline of a possible module for teachers of the VI on social and emotional development was produced by the group, following lively and thought provoking discussion. It was felt that this module was equally valid for use in teacher training institutions across Europe.

The input of a range of teacher trainers, from a range of backgrounds and different experiences resulted in an agreed core of knowledge, skills and attitudes needed by a teacher of the VI in the area of social and emotional development. Cultural and language differences and barriers emerged but were discussed and resolved, helped by the fact that all participants were able to express themselves well in English and were supported by other members if they felt that their understanding of a point was not complete.

The working method of a conversation in front of witnesses was used to good effect. The group felt that the computer Internet search for information on social and emotional development was not very successful. However, group members were introduced to Harry Svensson's website and its many links. The group agreed that they had developed their thinking and knowledge of the subject of emotional and behavioural development. They would go back to their institutions with different points of view and with extended knowledge and understanding gained from the other European countries represented in the group. It was said that teachers and teacher trainers usually concentrated on resources or material issues when they met together but in this workshop, some challenging discussion had taken place on the feelings, emotions and attitudes which were vital to the development of teacher's skills in supporting social and emotional development in children with VI.

Criticisms of the way of working were discussed and there was a range of views. One group would have preferred a more unstructured programme without the emphasis that was placed on the outcome of the preparation of a possible module for teacher trainers. It was agreed that it had been beneficial to go into subjects such as mannerisms in greater depth as there were only rare opportunities to discuss these issues deeply, particularly in an international setting. It was interesting for the group to note that training in the development of social skills was not included in the curriculum for teachers of the VI in Slovakia, although everyone agreed they were of great importance.

The readers were agreed to be very useful and would provide continuing support for practitioners. Additional information disseminated by the facilitators was also well received.
The group felt that other aspects of the Workshop such as the session with the European Agency for Special Educational Needs and the opportunities to meet and talk with colleagues from all over Europe were also of key importance in sustaining and developing European co-operation and joint learning.


We identified necessary additions to Mason's 'Standards for teachers of the visually impaired' that explicitly detail emotional and behavioural issues.
We reached a shared European understanding of what is important to us, concerning the standards and competencies required in the field of social and emotional and communicative development.
We shared and generated new ideas in the brainstorm
We created an outline of a module for post-graduate teacher training for teachers of the visually impaired in the area of social and emotional development. This was based on the knowledge, skills and attributes required of those teachers and as teacher trainers, we need to give to them.

Knowledge, skills and attitudes needed by teachers of the visually impaired


Prior knowledge needed (and assumed) before the course

Knowledge to be gained from the course


The teacher should come out of the course with



What changes will we make so that our students and their students will benefit from this Workshop?

We need to integrate what has been learnt into our experience and share it with colleagues in our own institutions, nationally and across Europe. We will exchange e-mail addresses and use e-mail to keep in touch with our colleagues and to continue lively discussions. We will use the Internet to carry on what we did not have time for, sharing knowledge, concrete experiences and working methods with others in this field and attempting to ensure that this is not just done in the English language but also within groups of colleagues with the same first language. We will work to have more emphasis placed on the development of social emotional and communicative skills. We will use information and communication technology more, to share and disseminate information, to continue the working dialogue set up at the Workshop and to increase and extend our own knowledge in the field of emotional and behavioural development. We will use the European Agency for Special Educational Needs website, the new website to be set up with the ICEVI and websites such as Harry Svensson's.



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