Find out what you can about the child from their parents or the school
Do they know the child’s eye condition and their level of vision (if they can see at all)? This may not be entirely clear with children who have complex needs. What are the implications of the child’s visual impairment for their day to day functioning?
How does the child react to strangers? Are there particular approaches to meeting and greeting them that are likely to be more successful than others?
How do their other disabilities affect the way that they interact with people and engage with their environment?
Find out about the child’s musical experiences
Does the child already have music sessions, or have they had in the recent past?
Are there any sounds or music that the child really likes (or finds distressing)?
Do they have any favourite musical instruments or gadgets or toys?
Have a look at the Sounds of Intent framework, which will help you to decide what level the child is at: http://soundsofintent.org.
Meeting and greeting
Saying hello for the first time
Speak directly to the child when you first meet. If they can’t see you, put your hand gently on theirs or on their arm when you first say ‘hello’ to reinforce your presence and the fact you are communicating with them.
Give them plenty of time to respond and be sensitive to their reaction – whatever it is. The parents, teachers or carers at school may be able to interpret what the child means with a particular vocalisation or gesture.
The importance of touch
Making physical contact with blind children with complex needs is very important, but always ask parents’ permission or teachers’ or carers’ advice first and be sensitive to the child’s reaction to your touch.
The child may well want to get used to the sound of your voice before they are relaxed in your company.
Talking in front of a child
Be sensitive in talking about a young child in their presence. Even if they don’t (fully) understand what you are saying, they may get the sense that they are the topic of conversation and be affected by the tone of your voice.
Sensitive matters may well be best dealt with out of earshot, but remember, blind children, including those with additional disabilities, may well have more acute hearing than you!
Working with parents, teachers and carers
Working as a team
It’s particularly important, when working with a young child with a disability, that parents and professionals work together as a team – you are partners in a shared enterprise.
Listen carefully to what parents, teachers or carers say about the child and engage with their views and preferences.
The AmberPlus scheme suggests many activities for practitioners to try. These need to become owned by parents, teachers or carers, and should be do-able given the child’s circumstances at home or at school.
Working in a child’s best interests
All professionals working with a child, including music practitioners, have an obligation to work in that child’s best interests. All decisions and actions that are made in relation to a child should be driven by that duty.
Visually impaired children with additional disabilities are especially vulnerable and so extra care needs to be taken by all those working with them and caring for them to ensure that they are safe.
A parent or a member of staff should be present at all times during sessions.
If you have concerns about a child’s welfare, speak in the first instance to the person responsible for safeguarding in your organisation.
Because blind children with additional disabilities need physical contact in order to relate to other people and to help them learn, it is particularly important that you seek the advice of the parents, teachers or carers in working with a child with regard how best to relate to them.
It is important to take into account a child’s wishes, which may well be expressed non-verbally, through vocalisations, facial expressions or body language. Parents, teachers and carers are likely to be able to interpret the child’s non-verbal communication.