Helping Your Visually Impaired Child Develop Good Motor Skills

Balance and Trunk Control

Balance is a child's ability to hold his body parts upright. This ability starts first with his head then continues down his body to shoulders, trunk, hips, and legs. Balance is part of running, jumping, standing on one leg, bicycling, and ball throwing. As with all motor development, balance develops from head to toe; your child won't be able to sit until he has head and trunk balance or to stand before he also has hip and leg balance.

You can help your child improve his balance by:

  • Carrying your child, if he's young enough to tuck into a chest or back carrier or a sling, as you go about some of your daily chores. This gives him the feeling of balance and movement in space even if you're the one actually doing it.
  • Giving your child lots of time lying on his tummy. He may act as if he doesn't like this position. And he probably won't—until he has learned to balance, turn his head, and lift it up off the floor. One key to achieving that is to make the position interesting. Try getting down on the floor with him. Talk to him and encourage him to hold his head up. Use sound—a rattley toy or a small bell—to get his attention. As he lifts his head toward it, move the sound higher and higher.
  • Giving him chances to sit or stand alone.
  • Giving him some support and then letting go for a few seconds. See if he can catch himself before he loses his balance.
  • Giving him opportunities to balance in different positions such as while on tummy and reaching for objects that are placed directly in front and to the side; balance while sitting and twisting the torso to reach to either side and even behind; and balance while standing and bending to pick something up. Such transitional movements are important for coordinated motor movements in the future.

To help your child practice walking, you can:

  • Give your child a chance to walk frequently. It builds up his self-confidence and yours.
  • Be sure your child has an opportunity to walk on many different surfaces—rugs, bare floors, grass, sidewalks, gravel, tile, etc.
  • See that your child has a chance to walk on both even and uneven surfaces—steps, hills, sloping driveways, etc.
  • Make games out of balance activities. Trampolines are good for balance but so are old inner tubes. Seesaws help balance too.

Safety

Once your child begins walking, making your home safe for your visually impaired toddler becomes a number one priority. Look around your home for "toddler traps" and then find ways to make each area of the house sale for your child.

  • Place a gate at the top of a flight of stairs going down.
  • Tape down the edges of small rugs so the floor doesn't suddenly slip out from under a running or walking child.
  • Try to remember to keep room and closet doors closed or put a heavy object against a door to prop it all the way open.
  • Sharp edges on tables can be a problem when your child is the same height as the table. Adding foam strips or padded tape along the edges can help to prevent injuries.
  • Remind all your children, including your visually impaired child, to put their toys away and not leave them on the floor where they can be tripped over.
  • Keep glass items such as lamps in a protected place, say, in a corner with a chair on either side.
  • Kid-proof your cabinets. Keep household cleaners and medications of any kind in cabinets that cannot be opened by your child. Keyless locks that are easily opened by adults but difficult for children are available.
  • Cover electrical outlets with an outlet shield so that plugs are not exposed and unused outlets covered.

Orientation

As your child becomes more and more active, you'll need to teach him more and more about "orientation"—the word used to describe vision-impaired people's ability to know where they are in space. To help your child develop a good idea of the space around him, try these ideas:

  • Different rooms in your home have different odors, floor coverings, and sounds. As your child begins to walk around on his own, point out these differences to him.
    "Feel the cold tile on your feet? You're in the kitchen."
    "That's right, you found the rug that leads to the living room."
    "The ticking noise is from the big old clock in the hallway."
    "The traffic noise is louder when you're in the front of the house."
    "Do you smell the cookies baking in the kitchen?"
  • Tape a piece of cloth that has a pleasant texture on the door to your child's bedroom. Self-adhesive paper with a raised texture is good too. Use the same fabric or paper on your child's chair at the dinner table and on the kitchen drawer or cabinet that it's okay for him to play in.
  • If you move the furniture around, either ask your child to help you do it or be sure to tell him what you've done. When you're used to finding things in a certain place, it can be very confusing not to find them there. This doesn't mean you shouldn't rearrange furniture—it's actually good practice for your child to think about a new way of doing things—as long as you include your child in the process.
  • Begin teaching compass directions (north, south, east, west) early. Knowing that the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west may someday help your vision-impaired child find his way home.
  • As you walk around the neighborhood with your child, point out driveways, corners, mailboxes, trees, etc. These will become useful landmarks when he or she begins getting around alone. For example, "If I walk out my front door, walk left, and count three driveways, I'll come to the mailbox."
  • Teach your child to use sidewalks as clues. If you're supposed to be following the sidewalk and you're walking on grass or dirt instead, something's wrong.
  • Play follow-the-leader in such a way that your child has to follow the sound of your voice as you walk around a room. Do this outside too as your voice will be more difficult to locate in a large space without echoes.
  • When walking with an older child, ask him to tell you where the two of you have been and how to get back to where he came from.
  • Set up travel games. "You got to the kitchen by walking through the hallway. Now can you go back to the hall without walking through the kitchen?"
  • Teach your child to trail walls, both to find his way and to give him a sense of control over where he is and where he's going. Trailing is done by lightly curving the fingers and holding the back of the hand against the wall but slightly ahead of the body. The wall isn't used for support but as a guideline.

Running

For young children, running is a release of energy, a source of power ("You can't catch me!"), and a way of developing body sense (knowing where and how to move your body in space). As parents of a child with vision problems, the thought of him running might make you anxious:

"He can't see where he's going."
"He'll run into something."
"He could fall down and hurt himself!"

Any one of these could happen. But because there are so many benefits to running, the best idea is to help your child to run safely. You can do that by:

  • Carrying your child as you run.
  • Running together, hand in hand.
  • Running together, each holding the end of a rope.
  • Asking a playmate or a sibling to run with your child.
  • Making sure the area is free of obstacles.
  • Stringing some clothesline at your child's waist level to make a running track in the backyard. Place a sound cue (bell or something that rattles when shaken) at one end and have your child run toward it holding on to the rope.

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