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The Conklin Centers For The Blind began its "Early Intervention Blind Babies Program" in 1999 at the Daytona Beach facility. This program provides services for blind and nearly blind children from birth through pre-school. The goal of this program is to teach skills to young visually-impaired children and their parents that will prepare these children for school and a life of independence.

Blindness is one of the most devastating disabilities and is especially devastating when it affects the lives of infants, toddlers, preschoolers, and their families. In Florida, there are an estimated 2,600 children ages birth through five years with significant visual impairment. Sixty percent of all blind babies have a least one other handicap. They may be deaf and blind, or have breathing, digestive or orthopedic problems as well. They are among the most severely disabled youngsters in our state.

Services for blind and multihandicapped blind babies and toddlers are ineffective or almost non-existent in many areas of Florida. Specialized services by trained professionals are desperately needed to ensure blind babies and young children achieve their true potential, and one day be capable of moving into mainstream adult society. Prior to the Conklin Center's new program, there was no one who worked specifically with visually-impaired infants and toddlers and their families in Volusia, Flagler, or Putnam Counties.

The primary cause of blindness in infants is premature birth. Through the miracle of modern medicine the lives of more premature and low birth-weight babies are being saved every year. Other causes of blindness are disease, inherited conditions, and accidents.

The effect of blindness on an infant, toddler, or preschooler's learning is profound. Blind children do not have one of the major sources of sensory information to learn about their surroundings. Lack of vision interferes with all other normal developmental processes. As a result, they are often delayed in almost all aspects of growing: acquiring language, motor, and interpersonal skills, abstract thinking, and self-care abilities. For a blind child with additional handicaps, these needs are magnified.

Visually-impaired children must explore and interact with their world through senses other than sight. The most important are sound and touch. Touch and sound, however, are fragmented sensory experiences which do not lend themselves to the notion that something has a stable existence independent of the person experiencing them. An object is only within their sphere of sensory awareness when they are touching it. In their experience, objects come and go all the time, seeming to magically appear and disappear. To young blind children, when they drop a ball, it disappears and is completely gone from their frame of reference. They cannot see that the ball is still there, only a few feet away out of reach. Blind children need to be actively taught these and other concepts that sighted children learn through visual experience.

Specialized methods, materials and knowledge are needed for learning to take place that will help them develop as normally as possible. Providing services in the first five years of a blind child's life can also greatly offset the cost of ongoing in-depth services required for a lifetime.

Our program provides individualized teaching and training services for blind children ages birth through five. We also train parents in techniques needed to teach their children things most of us take for granted. Services include instruction in the comfort and familiarity of the families' homes, coordination of services through other agencies, and parent group discussions.

Blind infants and toddlers and their families in Volusia and surrounding counties deserve every opportunity to live their lives to the fullest. The Conklin Center's "Early Intervention Blind Babies Program" makes those opportunities available and future independence a reality.

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