Recognising and building abstract thinking in children with VI

Post date: 
Monday, 21 May 2018
Photo of preschool children working in class

Psychologist of 28 years, Marnee Loftin, shares 15 activities to help bridge the gap between concrete and abstract thinking for children with vision impairment (VI).

Maria is in the second grade [year three in the UK] and uses braille for most of her learning, and some audiotapes. She was quite successful in first grade with an impressive memory, quoting stories verbatim and answering questions quickly. At the end of second grade Maria’s teacher is quite concerned about her difficulty with comprehension of stories. While she can list the names of those in the story and specific actions taken, she can’t state why a particular action occurred or the overall meaning of the story. For example, when reading a story about elephants and the problems they experience in captivity, Maria can only understand that elephants perform in circuses. 
Maria is exhibiting some difficulties in school that are often noted in children with VI. As the world (and academic tasks) becomes more complex, they begin to experience more difficulties in performing at their potential. These problems may be related to a specific learning disability or cognitive abilities. However, it may also be a problem in moving from concrete to abstract ways of thinking.
In abstract thinking, children learn to engage in problem solving, allowing them to classify objects and deal with concepts that aren’t immediately present in their world. Abstract thinking allows a child to broaden the concept of “dog” to a broader concept of animals. Children can add new information to a previously-learned concept, for example animals can be household pets or wild animals. Children develop the ability to master new concepts they haven’t directly experienced, perhaps understanding the meaning of freedom. Maria’s difficulty in answering questions about the theme of the particular passage about elephants represents a difficulty in abstract thinking.  
Many skills form the basis of abstract thinking. Developing each of these skills helps a child become successful in moving from concrete to abstract thinking. Ideally a child with VI learns these skills at approximately the same age as their sighted peers. However it’s still important to try to develop these skills in older children.