Delayed Communication Development in Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired: A Guide for Parents

By Carla A. Brooks

Concerns About the Development of Communication Skills in Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Parents are often concerned if their child who is blind is not talking yet. This series of articles will discuss how speech and language development occurs and how families of visually impaired children can support language development.

All parents anticipate that their children will develop new skills during their first three years. Reaching different milestones is a cause for celebration. As the parent of a young child who is blind or visually impaired, you have learned to adapt how you interact with your child to support learning through senses other than vision. Your child may show slight delays in the development of some skills due to lack of vision. Delays in motor skill development can be some of the most noticeable, but with time, your child will begin to explore by crawling and then walking as you help guide him through a world that he can't see, but can touch and hear and feel.

Delays in the development of communication skills might also occur in your child with a visual impairment, especially if he experiences additional disabilities, such as an intellectual disability.  Developmental delays may continue into the preschool and later years. Speech/language pathologists will work with your child in school or clinical settings, but you can help develop new skills at home.

During the first three years, children communicate by using three different types of behavior, ranging from nonverbal behaviors such as crying and fussing, body language, and gestures, to verbal behaviors including single words and word combinations. As your child learns to say words, he develops related skills like understanding the meaning of the words that are spoken and using words to communicate a message. 

The first three stages of communication development can be described in the following way:

  • The nonverbal stage: your child uses vocal sounds, body language, and hand/arm gestures (for example, fussing, crying, and reaching out).
  • The verbal single word stage: your child uses one word at a time to talk about objects, people, and actions (for example, “cookie,” “Mama,” and “go”).
  • The verbal combined words stage: your child uses two or more words together to talk about the relationship between objects, people, and actions (for example, “more cookie,” “Mama home,” and “go to school”).

Activities to Open Doors to Communication for Children Demonstrating Speech Delays

The articles in this series offer information about the three developmental stages described above, along with advice for helping any child who demonstrates delays in the development of communication skills. Each article will provide the following information:

  • Background information about skills expected at each stage
  • Reminders that single words and word combinations need to communicate a message about what your child wants or needs as well as name objects, people, and actions
  • A list of goals for each stage of development
  • Ideas for helping your child develop new skills at home

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