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Wills, D. (1994). Early Speech Development in Blind Children. Bul. Anna Freud Centre, 17(1):67-93.

(1994). Bulletin of the Anna Freud Centre, 17(1):67-93

Early Speech Development in Blind Children

Doris Wills

Many blind children have a wide vocabulary and good verbal ability, but relatively little attention has been paid to how they acquire it. The language of the sighted child is closely related to an experience of the world which is largely organized in visual terms. Can we share the blind child's experience of the world sufficiently to understand the way he copes with the learning of a language not altogether suited to his needs? We would expect that each phase in the early speech development of sighted children will occur at some stage in that of the blind child who acquires speech. However, in the blind some phases may occur later, for example, original phrase or sentence construction; while others may occur earlier, for example, precise mimicry. Phases which are fleeting in the sighted child's speech development may be more extended in that of the blind. An example of this would be the repetition, unchanged, of a sentence in circumstances which will call for its modification.

During our work over two decades with blind infants and nursery school children at the Hampstead Child-Therapy Clinic we have been impressed by the high incidence of echolalia in children who develop normally and do well in school. Warren (1933) defines echolalia as ‘relatively automatic reiteration of words or phrases, often of what is spoken to the patient’. I use the term more broadly and include, for example, children who repeat, with no apparent relevance, what they overhear in the same room as well as children who repeat what they have heard on television or radio on earlier occasions.

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