Salient features are noticeable aspects that help the brain categorize incoming information. Think of an elephant. What consistently stands out across multiple images of an elephant so that we are able to recognize it? We usually think of an elephant as having gray skin, four thick legs, a long trunk, and big round ears. These are its salient features and they help us recognize elephants at different times and in different contexts. Consistency is fundamental. If you simplify the idea of salient features down from the myriad details that make an elephant an elephant, you are left with images that are so consistent that they are almost identical. In fact, if you utilize the exact same image over and over, it serves as an anchor. For example, in The Cat in the Hat, Sally always has a red bow in her hair, so that red bow can be used to help identify Sally in pictures. The red bow serves as her salient feature.
To help Little Bear see his spoon when eating, we created a home-made salient feature by cutting out a heart from a red foam sheet with glitter on one side and attached it with a pipe cleaner to his spoon. We always showed him the spoon with the heart before feeding him. The red heart became an anchor with which Little Bear recognized his spoon, and over time he associated it with mealtime. Similarly, when he was younger, we attached some red ribbon to his bottles. The ribbon served as a salient feature to help him see his bottle.
In another example, Ellen Mazel describes applying a consistent image across multiple targets to encourage a 3-year-old student with CVI to look at pages of a book. The salient feature she selected was a shiny starburst sticker which she first affixed to a white, non-complex background and reinforced when she knew the student was seeing it. She then applied one of these shiny starburst stickers to each of the pages of a book. Initially, the student would look at the sticker on the page and then gradually branch out to see more and more of the page:
After a week, she was looking at the pages and finding the shiny sticker each time. She would lean closer to reduce the complexity, isolate her index finger, point and look at me and smile. True recognition! With the increasing interest, she really studies all the classroom adapted books and even chooses books during her free time on the mat.” (Mazel, 2016)
In helping children with CVI learn to see, choose a salient feature that the child is already drawn to. In these examples, the 3-year-old student interacting with books was already drawn to the shiny starburst stickers, and Little Bear was already drawn to the color red when it was applied to bottles and spoons. Point out the salient feature in a non-complex context without distractions first before utilizing it as an anchor. The idea is to use the familiar to introduce something unfamiliar.
Please share some of your own examples too! What are some salient features you have had success with?