Promoting Your Baby's Growth and Development
Babies with visual impairment usually have to work a little harder to get the same information that babies with typical vision get without trying. The reason is that vision is so all-encompassing in the early months—all you have to do is open your eyes and watch what's going on around you. Vision is always there, always providing stimulation to your brain (unless you close your eyes). You learn a lot about what's going on without anyone's help. This is called incidental learning, meaning that it happens naturally. Babies learn through repetition and imitation in the early weeks and months of their life; visual repetition is constant, and visual imitation is the easiest way to learn.
Of course, this does not mean that children with visual impairments cannot learn. But it does mean that they have to rely on incomplete visual information (because of their visual loss, whatever it might be), and information from their other senses of touch, smell, sound, and taste. But these sensory systems provide less opportunity for natural learning, because they work less immediately than vision does. That is, touch requires that your skin be in contact with something; smell requires the existence of an odor, and odors are fleeting; sound requires something that produces sound; and taste requires either food in the mouth or the use of the tongue to explore objects. Unlike vision, these sensory systems are not in the control of your baby, and they are not always available.
So what do you do? How do you bridge this gap in incidental learning?
Create opportunities for learning. As your baby grows, tell her what's going on around her. "Mmmm. Do you smell dinner?" "Your clothes are so soft today." "Listen to the bird singing outside" or "There goes that squirrel up the tree."
Use common sense. There are some skills that your baby will not be able to demonstrate simply because she has a visual impairment. Depending on the degree of vision loss, stacking blocks may hold no interest for your baby, because she cannot see the end result. However, nesting toys, where one object is placed inside a slightly larger object, and then those two objects are placed inside another slightly larger object, may hold her interest, and as she gets older, stacking the dinner plates is not only helpful to you, but useful for developing fine motor coordination.
Have expectations. It's easy to make excuses for why your baby with a visual impairment might not have the same level of motor activity as the neighbor's child of the same age. While it may be more difficult for your baby to learn, there is nothing to prevent her from developing more motor skills except opportunity. Make sure she has that opportunity by helping her to understand what you expect her to do. Tell her you want her to come to you across the room to help you pet your dog. You never know what she is capable of accomplishing until you try. The only thing you can be sure of is that if you don't try, she won't have the opportunity.