Development: An Overview for Babies and Toddlers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

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All babies, sighted and visually impaired, develop at their own pace within a range of what is considered to be "normal" development. There are ranges for when babies do things such as smiling, sitting, crawling, walking, and saying their first word. These big steps in development are often referred to as developmental milestones. Some babies who are blind or visually impaired may take longer to reach certain developmental milestones as compared to most sighted babies. This, in part, has to do with how vision affects a baby's understanding of her world and her motivation to move. A teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) can share with you more information on child development and the differences sometimes observed in visually impaired babies.

As you talk to other families and to medical, educational, and other professionals, you'll sometimes find that others are focused on one area of your baby's development. You may hear reference to the following areas:

  • Cognitive Development: The term "cognitive development" refers to your baby's thinking skills. Does she understand, for example, that when you leave the room and disappear from view, you still exist?
  • Language Development: There are two areas in language development: "receptive," what your baby understands; and "expressive," what your baby says. For babies, receptive language is typically more advanced than expressive language. Your baby may understand when you say, "Bring me your shoe," long before she can say, "my shoe."
  • Social Development: Social development refers to how your baby interacts with other people. Does she smile when you talk to her, let you know by moving her body or making a specific noise that she wants you to continue playing a tickling game, or show interest in toys or other children? These are examples of social behaviors.
  • Motor Development: Motor development is generally divided into two areas, "gross motor," which refers to the larger muscle groups a baby uses for walking, crawling, and jumping, and "fine motor," which relies on the smaller muscle groups used for activities such as picking up crackers from the table or holding and shaking a rattle.
  • Self-Help Development: Self-help skills are the skills a child needs to develop in order to independently eat, dress, and use the bathroom. As your child grows older, you may hear these skills also referred to as independent living skills or daily living skills.

Often it is hard to separate out a baby's developmental progress into these tidy categories. And although it is important to know about these areas and terms, it is equally important to not get caught up in focusing on just one area. You, and the early interventionists or other professionals who may sometimes work with your child, need to remember that your baby is a baby first, not a series of gross motor or social skills!

All babies need to learn developmental skills and practice them many times before they master them. Children with visual impairments need to be shown how to do certain skills and taught with special attention or techniques. But you are your baby's first teacher, and there is much information on this site to show you ways to help your baby in all areas of her development, now and in the future.

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