'Absolute pitch' (also known as 'perfect pitch'). This is the ability to recognise musical notes (such as 'F sharp', or 'D' or 'A flat') just by listening. People with absolute pitch can also sing the notes without having to play them on an instrument first. Absolute pitch is generally regarded as a valuable asset to any musician, and it is the ability that is invariably present when children who are in the early years start to teach themselves to play an instrument (as many blind children do). There are different degrees of absolute pitch, from people who can tell what the white notes are on the piano just from the way they sound, to those who can listen to a complicated noise like a jet engine, and say what all the notes in it are. This is called 'Universal absolute pitch'. Very few people have this ability – about 1 in 10,000. But among children who are born blind or who lose their sight early in life, the proportion is much higher – around 2 in 5 or 40%. Many children on the autism spectrum spectrum also have universal absolute pitch – around 10%. So teachers and parents should not be surprised if a child who is both blind and autistic – and who may well have learning difficulties – has an exceptional ear for music.
'Amber Music Awards' provide funding for
They are open to all blind or partially sighted children and young people up to the age of 18 in the UK, who may also have other disabilities or special educational needs. For more information go to http://www.ambertrust.org/amber-music-awards/
'AmberPlus' is a service offered by The Amber Trust in the UK that aims to enable blind or partially sighted children with complex needs to engage with music by providing families and professionals with resources and ideas for music-making, as well as visits by specially trained practitioners. For more information go to http://www.ambertrust.org/amberplus/
'Autism spectrum condition' (often termed 'autistic spectrum disorder') is a term used to describe a particular way of perceiving the world, thinking and interacting with other people that differs from the majority. Autism is characterised by challenges with social communication, by sensory processing issues, and by the presence of restricted patterns of behaviour, interests, or activities. These begin in early childhood and last throughout a person's life. Congenital blindness and autism can go hand in hand.
Very few blind children have no sight at all. Some have what's called the 'perception of light', some can see a little more – large shapes and movement, and some can see bright colours. Perhaps the most helpful distinction for teachers is whether the child mainly learns through seeing, or by hearing or by touching – or maybe through a combination of all these approaches. The best thing is to ask children themselves the way they learn best. If they are too young or otherwise unable to tell you, their parents or class teacher or assistant may be able to offer advice.
'Braille' is a system of reading and writing by touch invented by the Frenchman Louis Braille in the first half of the nineteenth century. It uses 'cells' of six potential dots arranged in lines, just like print. Braille can be used to convey texts in different languages, mathematics and music. To use Braille effectively requires sensitive fingertips, good coordination and the intellectual capacity to deal with a binary code. Many young blind children can acquire the necessary skills with skilful teaching early in life. It is much harder to learn Braille as a blind adult. Braille can be produced from any text using a computer linked up to an embosser. There are various Braille machines that children can use to write themselves.
'Complex needs' is used to refer to children and young people who have severe, or profound and multiple learning difficulties. This means having a number of disabilities relating to the ability to learn, remember and understand, and to communicate. Many children with complex needs use a wheelchair. Most go to special schools.
'Early Years' refers to young children, from the age of 0 to 5, or (by some definitions) 0 to 7. Children with disabilities sometimes develop at a slower rate than most others, so teaching strategies for them often use ideas based on early years practice.
'JAWS' software is a system of synthetic speech that will read aloud whatever text is shown on a computer screen. This enables blind people to access many of the programs and websites that sighted people can. However, as blind people can't navigate using a mouse, in order to be accessible to software such as JAWS, websites and apps need to be designed carefully so that they can be read using keystrokes alone.
'Little Amber' is a service run by The Amber Trust in the UK that aims to enable blind or partially sighted babies and young children to engage with music by providing families and professionals with resources and ideas for music-making. Families are offered regular visits by specially trained practitioners. For more information go to http://www.ambertrust.org/littleamber/
'Neurodegenerative disease' refers to incurable and debilitating conditions that result in progressive degeneration or the death of nerve cells. These occur most often in older people, causing illnesses such as dementia. But children can have neurodegenerative disease too. Some forms of childhood neurodegeneration, such as Batten disease, can cause blindness. Music can be particularly important for these children to sustain communication, to aid memory and as a source of emotional regulation. From the autumn 2020, The Amber Trust will be running a service called 'With Music in Mind' especially for blind or partially sighted children with neurodegenerative disease and their families.
'Proprioception', which is also referred to as kinaesthesia, is the sense of self-movement and body position, which the brain calculates using information it obtains from nerve sensors located within muscles, tendons and joints. Together with balance, it is sometimes described as the 'sixth sense'. Proprioception is particularly important for blind children, since they lack the visual feedback that sighted children have that tells them where the hands, arms, feet and legs are in relation to the rest of their body.
'QTVI' is the acronym used in the UK that stands for 'Qualified Teacher of the Visually Impaired'. By law, teachers working with classes of visually impaired children have to obtain the nationally recognised qualification within three years. QTVIs can advise on teaching strategies and resources that are suitable for blind and partially sighted pupils and students, including those with additional needs.
'Sibelius' is a program developed by Sibelius Software Limited, that enables users to write music music and edit and print music scores. Sibelius can also play the music back using sampled or synthesised sounds. Older versions of the software can be used with JAWS and so are accessible to blind people.
'Sounds of Intent' is an inclusive framework of musical development – see www.soundsofintent.org It was developed by teams at the University of Roehampton and UCL over a period of 20 years, and is established internationally as a means of gauging children's levels of musical ability and engagement.
'Tuning In' is a set of 64 songs and musical activities published by Jessica Kingsley on behalf of The Amber Trust. The materials are specially designed for blind children in the early years, and young people who have a visual impairment and learning disabilities, since they use everyday language that is linked in a systematic way to the melodies and rhythms that are used. The aim is to help children to communicate, socialise, move and understand day to day concepts in a fun way.
These terms have slightly different meanings in different countries. In the UK, 'visual impairment' is the label used by the government to identify children who are blind or partially sighted. In the US, 'visually impaired' means 'partially sighted'. As with any label, the most important thing is that the person you are referring to is comfortable with it.