When Vision Is Unreliable: The Role of Play in Supporting Children

When Vision Is Unreliable: The Role of Play in Supporting Children

Selen Akay, Junko Kanero, Nihan Alp
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-6684-5068-0.ch012
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Play holds an important and irreplaceable role in children's lives and development as it allows children to learn essential skills varying in nature and difficulty such as reading, arithmetic, and social skills. Children with neurodivergent conditions such as blindness, color vision deficiency (CVD), cortical visual impairment (CVI), and developmental dyslexia (DD) are unable to take advantage of their vision, a vital sense for navigating through the environment designed by and for typically developing (TD) individuals. These children are often not provided with tools and activities sufficient to learn and live at ease along with their peers. When they are in hospitals and other clinical settings, the struggles can be further amplified. This chapter discusses how these conditions affect young children and introduces various playful learning activities and interventions that can assist their social and cognitive development.
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Play is unarguably an essential part of children’s social and cognitive development. Children gain tremendous amount of skills and knowledge from free play, structured play, guided play, and many other playful activities. Children with visual impairments (VIs) have a serious disadvantage in learning from play because not only hospital visits and at-home treatments can significantly reduce their opportunities to play with their peers and others, but also because most common playful activities, whether physical or digital, are designed for the majority – typically developing (TD) children who do not have difficulties in understanding visual information. Humans are highly visual creatures, and visual perception is fundamental to our daily activities, such as reading, writing, navigating around, and recognizing things and people. Even a small impairment, whether in the structure of the eye or the function of the visual system, can make daily tasks significantly difficult. The struggles can lead to high distress in individuals, and it can be especially challenging for young children. Having an impaired visual system may harm not only children’s perceptual abilities but also their social and cognitive development. It is critical to explore different ways to introduce playful activities in scaffolding the development of children with VIs.

This chapter focuses on play and playful activities for children who have conditions that pose difficulties in processing and understanding visually-presented information (i.e., recognition), including blindness, color vision deficiency (CVD), cortical visual impairment (CVI), and developmental dyslexia (DD). We review issues and obstacles that are specific to different populations and playful activities that are enjoyable and useful for them. Visual processing disorders differ greatly in their symptoms and underlying causes. These diverse populations pose common as well as condition-specific issues, and thus children with any of these impairments require special care. For example, unlike TD children, ones with VIs are generally limited in the ways they observe others, and thus they encounter fewer opportunities to learn social skills (Sacks & Silberman, 2000). As blind children are found to rely on their auditory (Inman et al., 2000) and haptic (McLinden, 2004) mechanisms during play than do TD children, play strategies involving more auditory and haptic stimuli may compensate for the lack of visual stimuli and assist children’s social development. Children with dyslexia need playful activities specifically for learning to read and write, whereas children with motion blindness may need extra support in learning motion-related words such as verbs. Thus, it is important to consider the common situation surrounding these children as well as difficulties specific to each population.

This chapter aims to provide an overview of the current status of research on VIs and the designing and development of plays and playful activities for children struggling with diverse issues. The characteristics of play and the structure and function of the visual system are also summarized to help the reader understand the importance of play and the mechanisms underlying different vision-related conditions. The difficulties children face due to their problems in vision and playful activities developed to help these children’s social and cognitive development are also discussed. Further, the newer approaches to developing apps and digital devices for these children are reviewed. Some digital tools are aimed to help children engage more with their surroundings (e.g., Freeman et al., 2017). In contrast, others focus on designing playful but educational and inclusive activities for children who have difficulty processing visually-presented information and those who do not have such issues(e.g., Metatla et al., 2020). The current chapter is among the first to incorporate different fields, such as developmental psychology, educational psychology, and neuroscience, in providing a comprehensive review of the ways in which play can contribute to improving the lives of children with VIs.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Guided Play: A type of play in which children are assisted by adults through enabling autonomy whilst setting goals for them.

Color Vision Deficiency: A condition that may cause an individual to lose color vision partially or completely.

Dyslexia: A learning disability that is mainly characterized by difficulties in listening and reading comprehension.

Visual Impairment: A variety of conditions that disrupt the visual system and obstruct sight in multiple ways.

Congenital Blindness: Severe to complete loss of vision which may occur due to multiple reasons before adulthood.

Cortical Visual Impairment: A condition caused by damage to the visual processing areas of the brain, which may lead to a range of symptoms, such as deficiencies in spatial cognition and recognition.

Structured Play: A type of play in which children are expected to follow a particular set of rules.

Free Play: A type of play in which children are not guided or instructed and are free to interact and explore the way they wish to.

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