In the CVI world there is great emphasis on salient feature support for children with CVI (Roman-Lantzy). This is the consistent visual description language that is used to help children with CVI understand what they see.
It is also important to remember that children with visual impairments often lack understanding of the basis of these language concepts.
They lack understanding of the meanings of position/directional words and any adjectives describing size, shape, number and sometimes colors.
Adjectives used in this salient feature language such as “long”, “tall”, “flat”, round”, “curvy”, “pointy”, “floppy”, “wagging”, or “skinny” may be meaningless without direct teaching of these concepts.
Position words: used in this salient feature language such as “middle”, “over”, “under”, “top”, “bottom”, or “upside down” are irrelevant without the context for position in space that is taught and directly experienced.
Shapes: used in this salient feature language such as “rectangle”, square”, “circle”, “triangle”, or “center” lack meaning without tactile and visual exploration directly with real items of those shapes.
Number and Size: used in this salient feature language such as “two”, “one of each”, “single”, “short”, “large” are not well understood without direct and repeated teaching of number and size that children with typical visual skills understand through everyday incidental visual experiences. Think about this example of everyday incidental interactions that teach number, quantity and size:
Mom has 3 cookies: 2 small and 1 larger one. She gives 1 small cookie to Billy. Billy sees that mom now has 2 cookies: 1 small and 1 larger. Billy, of course, notices that mom still has “more”: the larger one and a small one while he has the other small cookie.
Children must have multiple understanding of words. If the concept is long, the child must learn that there are multiple kinds of long, that is not a narrow meaning.
“Long” can mean:
- A distance
- A length of time
- Many (as in “a long list”)
- Long sounds
- Long hair
- Long item (as in “long ruler”)
Without directly teaching these concepts for essential language and cognitive understanding, salient feature language is empty language with minimal meaning behind the words.
We must build concepts with direct teaching with hands-on experience with real materials in 3D. Providing learning materials in 2D without this direct teaching will not provide these concepts.
Salient feature language can not be the support we want for building children’s visual understanding without doing this background work to solidify the understanding of the words and the concepts.