Helping Your Child Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired Learn About the World

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"What's making that noise, Daddy?" Christopher could have predicted that four-year-old Erica was going to ask that question the second he, too, heard the beeping sound from the bulldozer backing up. Knowing that Erica couldn't see the bulldozer or the big hole it was digging, he stopped to explain to her what was going on. "Let's go see it, Daddy." How Christopher wished he could take his little girl over to the construction site and let her see the bulldozer her way, with her hands.

mother and daughter on a carousel

What better way to learn about a carousel than to ride one together? As the park is closing, mother and daughter return to the carousel and explore it together.

Like Erica, your visually impaired preschooler is curious about her world. With limited or no vision, she needs you to fill in the picture for her so she can understand what is going on around her. Although that is not always possible, as often as you can, you want to help your child learn about the activities taking place in the world that she may not be aware of because she cannot see them. For instance, your child may not realize the many jobs that people perform around her. When your family goes to a restaurant, she may meet the hostess who seats your family, but she may not realize that the hostess is seating everyone else who comes into the restaurant as well. She may know that the waiter takes your order and brings your food and drink to you, but she may not realize he is doing this at other tables, too. It may not be apparent to her that there are people in the kitchen preparing the food, bus staff who clear the tables when people finish eating, and a manager walking around to make sure all is running smoothly. Let her know about the jobs you see others performing as the two of you go about your day.

Think about the following when it comes to taking your child out into the community and helping her make the most of your trips.

  • Take your child who is visually impaired to the same places you would take her if she was fully sighted. You may think, "What will she get from going to the zoo? She can't see any of the animals because they are in cages." True enough—but you can explain what you're seeing. She can smell many of the animals, hear them, and meet other children and adults who are at the zoo. She can also learn about some of the jobs that people working at the zoo do—from taking care of animals to running the snack stand.
  • Try to find times when workers in the community are likely to be receptive to allowing your child to get some hands-on learning. If the man at the counter who takes your weekly dry cleaning greets your daughter, ask him if it might be possible for your daughter to see the rack where the clean clothes hang and how it operates. Each week she hears it moving, but wouldn't it be useful if she could see it up close and touch it? If you are there at a quiet time, the worker might even let her push the button to move the clothes along the rack.
  • Explain to people in the community what your child can and cannot see. Let them know how they can help your child; for example, "Trudy is blind and can't see all the shoes on display. Can she touch them to see how they sit on the display rack?" Keep in mind that many of the people you and your child meet in the community will be unsure of how to interact with someone who is visually impaired. They may need some assistance from you to help your child learn as much as possible about what they do.
  • If the item you want your child to investigate is large or potentially dangerous—such as the bulldozer mentioned earlier that Erica was curious about—you may want to ask the job foreman if you can return with your child after the equipment has been turned off and the day's work is finished. Then she can use her hands to see the enormity of the machine and have a chance to walk around it to investigate the different parts. Toys may give a child the general idea, but only exploring the real thing can allow her to understand the size and solidity of such equipment.
  • Give your child small jobs to do during a community outing. At the grocery store, you might ask her to find three items and put them in the shopping cart. She could then take these same three items from the cart and put them on the counter. Once they have been paid for and are bagged, she can carry them to the car. If she is involved while out in the community, she'll be more likely to develop curiosity about all she is seeing, hearing, smelling, and feeling.
  • Your child may not see well enough to notice that many workers wear uniforms. Describe the uniforms you see to her, such as the blue uniform of the mail carrier or the hard hat and tool belt worn by the construction worker.
  • When it comes time to buy toys for your child, think about getting her some child-sized, realistic toys so she can "act out" the jobs she is learning about on her own or with friends. Her own tool belt and hard hat, along with some instruction from you on how to "use" her tools, will help her fully grasp the types of things a construction worker does on the job.

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