Are blind children born to be musical?

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Professor Adam Ockelford

Children who are not sighted because they were born prematurely are roughly 4,000 times more likely to develop exceptional musical abilities, such as perfect pitch, than their sighted contemporaries, according to a new study.

The research also shows that young blind children, including those with learning difficulties, are more likely to be interested in music than those with full or even partial sight.
“Blindness and learning difficulties need not prove a barrier to children’s musical development and achievement – and may even be a “positive influence,” says Professor Adam Ockelford, visiting research fellow at the Institute of Education, London, who carried out the study with Christina Matawa of the Wandsworth Visual Impairment Specialist Teaching Service.

The study found that 48 per cent of the blind children demonstrated great interest in everyday sounds, compared to 33 per cent of those who were partially sighted and thirteen per cent of those who had full sight. Ninety percent of blind children were particularly keen on music, against 67 per cent of partially sighted children and 38 per cent of those with full sight. Sixty-eight per cent of the blind and partially sighted children played at least one instrument, compared to 41 per cent of the sighted group. Parents of the blind children also reported that music was particularly important as a source of comfort, helping youngsters relax and express their emotions.

Professor Ockelford commented: “Blindness from an early age is a common factor in the development of exceptional musical ability. Children’s level of vision seems to be more important than their eye conditions, although there is some evidence that the effects of surviving a very premature birth may be an additional important factor in a child’s developing musicality.

“Music can allow young children to mark out events in their daily routine and can be a substitute language for children who cannot communicate in other ways. This is most important for blind children who can’t see at all.”

The March/April issue of SEN Magazine will include an article by Professor Ockelford on the musical development of children and young people with complex needs, and about interactive software packages to assist practitioners in assessment and curriculum design and delivery. To subscribe to SEN Magazine click here

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