5.4 Application: deaf-blind education
Vygotsky's ideas have been applied to the remediation of the developmental barriers encountered by a wide variety of children, most notably deaf-blind children, and those with learning difficulties. As mentioned previously, for Vygotsky, cognition is actively developed by language. Therefore the social constructivist approach sets out to develop the language abilities of these children (often through using sign language or alternative communication systems) and through this they are enabled to develop the higher order psychological skills which can then be used to manage their lower level sensory ones.
The approach begins by teaching any basic skills that the child lacks, such as feeding him or herself. This is achieved through adult support and during such tuition the adult stimulates the child's interest in aspects of the environment relevant to that task. Once the child has developed basic skills and the desire to explore their surroundings, the next task is to develop social language. At first this will be through the introduction of gestures during routine activities and the gestures used will retain some immediate similarity to the action that they represent (e.g. the gesture for food might be an action mimicking eating). These gestures are extended by ‘gesture equivalents’ that contain some more arbitrary movements of the hand or fingers, but that make a distinction between different related concepts (e.g. ‘food’, ‘eating’, ‘to eat outdoors’, etc.). This moves the child towards an increasingly symbolic form of communication. Finally, the children are taught to associate their gesture equivalents with spoken words, by touching the face and throat of their teacher while she speaks, and eventually trying to produce the same movements and sounds themselves.