Children with Visual Impairments
For many children, vision is their primary mode for learning about and exploring the world around them. If a child has limited or no vision, you can help them use other modes such as listening, exploring with their hands and using their senses of smell and taste. The National Lekotek Center suggests moving children through the actions of daily life while talking about what you’re doing. To demonstrate new movements, caregivers can sit behind the child, put their hands through their child’s hands and move them together. You can try and do the movements beforehand with your eyes closed so you can better understand the movement and how to teach the child to do them.
Letting them move freely through their environment will help them develop an understanding of spatial concepts and learn how to move around safely. It is also recommended to use books and toys that have different textures, make noise or vibrate and to vividly describe what the child is experiencing, making sure to give them plenty of time to hold and manipulate the materials.
According to the American Foundation for The Blind, touching and talking to babies helps them learn a great deal about themselves, their family, and their surroundings. Dressing, bathing, feeding, and diaper changing are all natural opportunities for that sort of experience. During those times, you can use a wide range of voice tones, inflections and volume and imitate the sounds your child is making, or say words that sound like those sounds. They suggest being specific when talking to your child so they begin to develop a sense of the variety of words. For example, when changing your child’s diaper you could say things such as, "Let's get that dirty diaper off. Such a wet diaper! Can you feel how wet it is? It doesn't smell very good either, does it? How about some powder? Here, smell it. Isn't that nice? Now, you're all clean and dry and you smell so good." One short interchange can plant the seeds for your child to learn several different concepts: wet/dry, clean/dirty, smells that are nice and not so nice.
Encourage your baby to explore objects with her or his hands and learn the feel of different textures. You can build "touch and feel" concepts into day-to-day experiences such as letting your child feel the washcloth before you wet it in the bath water and then again after it’s wet; feel different articles of clothing as you dress them and talk about how the materials feel (soft, fuzzy, scratchy, slippery); feel and taste different food textures and flavors — a crisp, slightly salty cracker; soft, sweet pudding; liquid jello when it's first made and then later when it becomes solid and jiggly.
The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired suggests several activities that can help your visually impaired child build the skills needed to achieve developmental milestones. Please complete the following with close supervision and be sure never to leave your infant alone on their stomach. To help achieve head control, they recommend providing children with several short periods of time in a supervised prone position a day, during which you gently lift the child's head with one hand under the chin and the other behind the head; stroke the back of the neck, and talk in soothing tones to the infant. Withdraw manual support gradually, as the infant is able to lift his/her head independently. As their control increases, you can provide trunk support with a rolled towel under the child's chest and begin positioning the child's forearms under his/her upper torso, providing support and preparation for independent lifting of the head, neck, and chest.
Starting around three months old, you can begin to encourage independent sitting by propping them up with pillows in the corner of a couch, chair or crib or sitting propped up between a caregiver’s legs for a few minutes at a time. To help teach them how to reach for an object, you can place a toy at their foot instead of their hand, guide their hands toward the objects so that they know they’re there and play interactive games such as “patty cake” and securely suspended objects with varied and interesting sounds and textures within their reach so they will be encouraged to reach for them or even do so unintentionally.
Just about every ordinary daily activity provides an opportunity for you to teach and for your child to learn. As the child gets older, you can engage them in activities that will help them understand how the world around them works, such as dialing the numbers on a phone and talking to friends on the other end, loading and unloading the laundry and helping when cooking or baking. For more toys and activities designed specifically for children with visual impairments, check out the website www.wonderbaby.org.