Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Teaching & Learning


Purpose This study was designed as an investigation of the semantic and cognitive functioning of congenitally blind children within the age range of 3 through 9 years, to help fill the gap in the existing research concerning the early development of the visually handicapped.

Delays in cognitive development among school age congenitally blind children have been attributed to the limitations imposed by blindness on mobility and interaction with objects and events in the environment. It has been assumed that blind children must rely on less efficient sensory perception and discrimination processes resulting in a conceptualization of the world which may be inconsistent, incomplete, or significantly different from that of sighted children. If the object concept differs for blind children, the meaning of words used to refer to those objects could be expected to differ from the meanings assigned by sighted children.

Problems in word meaning and concept development—and hence, in communication—are an important consideration in mainstreaming efforts in the public schools. Consequently, the present study sought to explore linguistic and cognitive representation of common objects among blind children, along with their understanding and use of dimensional concepts in dealing with those objects.

Procedure Ten totally and congenitally blind children and ten sighted children of matching age, sex, and socioeconomic status were interviewed individually following a prescribed format. By means of these structured interviews, information was gathered concerning the cognitive functioning of each child, and responses were secured to the lexical semantic tasks. These tasks focused on verbally and tactually derived attributions for selected objects defined as "more tangible" and "less tangible," as well as measures of receptive and expressive use of comparative adjectives of dimension.

Conclusions 1. This analysis suggested that the information gained through tactual means does not differ significantly from that gained through vision. The meaning of common words, and the underlying object concept reflected through the children's attributions, did not appear to be significantly altered by the absence of vision. The younger blind children were found to have an accurate, albeit shallow conception of the "less tangible" objects, probably as a result of reduced opportunity for meaningful interaction/exploration with those objects.

2. The total number of attributions by the sighted children was not significantly larger than that of the blind children. Much similarity in the kind of attributes used was noted between vision groups. The number of visually oriented attributes mentioned by the blind children was extremely small compared to the total number of attributes used. It was concluded, therefore, that the language of the blind children was based on the object concept they had developed through tactual experience, rather than being a reflection of the language of sighted children.

3. Cognitive delay was evident among the older blind children, leading to the observation that the entire group was functioning at a preoperational level of cognitive development. The blind children's attributions revealed a tactually based conceptualization of the world that was related to their personal experience, but which was not found to differ significantly from the visually based conceptualization of the sighted children. In fact, the mental image/object concepts for both vision groups appeared to draw heavily on egocentric and functional characteristics of the objects.

4. Communication between blind and sighted children regarding the objects used in this study did not appear to be seriously disrupted by the absence of vision. However, the importance of assisting blind children to develop effective and systematic methods for gathering and organizing information through tactual means was underscored. The results of this study emphasize the need for blind children to experience objects and events first hand.