Exceptional musical abilities more prevalent in blind children

8th January 2010 at 00:00
Blind children are around 4,000 times more likely than sighted youngsters to develop exceptional musical abilities, such as "perfect pitch", according to a new study

The research also shows that young blind children - including those with learning difficulties and autism - are likely to have a greater fascination for and interest 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 Adam Ockelford, visiting research fellow at the Institute of Education in London, who carried out the study with Christina Matawa of the Wandsworth Visual Impairment Specialist Teaching Service.

Professor Ockelford points out that there have been many famous blind musicians, including blues singer Ray Charles (pictured), soul musician Stevie Wonder, tenor Andrea Bocelli and Derek Paravicini, a gifted blind pianist with severe learning difficulties and autism.

The researchers observed a number of visually-impaired children, who had been premature babies, in action at home and at school. They also surveyed parents, teachers and therapists, working with around 40 children to find out whether their findings were more generally applicable. A group of parents whose children were fully-sighted completed the survey for comparison purposes.

The study found that 90 per cent of blind children were particularly keen on music, compared with 67 per cent of partially-sighted children and 38 per cent of those with full sight. Meanwhile, 68 per cent of blind and partially sighted children played at least one instrument, compared with 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.

Researchers emphasise, however, that parents and teachers need to be aware of the different ways in which blind children learn music.

"Parents and teachers must be open-minded and respect how children with learning difficulties make sense of the world so that they are able to encourage and nurture their abilities," says Professor Ockelford. "The extent to which they achieve this will have a significant impact on the child's musical development."

Focus on Music 2: Exploring the Musicality of Children and Young People with Retinopathy of Prematurity, published by IOE Publications.

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