Outdoor and Sports Safety for Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

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By now, your child probably manages a lot of the personal care activities that she used to rely on you for. That's typical of most children, both sighted and visually impaired, as they move toward greater independence and take on added responsibility. Because of your child's visual impairment, there may be additional needs for both you and her to consider.

Outdoor Activities

Although most adults recognize the potential danger of too much sun, not all children are aware of it. And the need for protection is even greater for children with albinism. Even if your child isn't extremely vulnerable to sun exposure, she'll be safer and healthier if she develops the following good habits.

  • Putting sunscreen on her face, arms, legs, and any other exposed areas.
  • Wearing sunglasses and a hat with a brim that shades her face. If your child has low vision, she may be able to see visual details better because there's less glare.
  • Using a small, light backpack or fanny pack to keep objects she uses outdoors together. If the pack is located in a handy place near the door, she's more likely to use its contents regularly.

Changing from regular glasses to sunglasses can be a bother, so consider getting your child clip-on sunglasses or lenses that darken automatically based on the amount of light to which they're exposed.

Sports Activities

You probably want your child to be active, but may worry that getting hit on the head or falling might make her eye condition worse. Karen, whose 8-year-old daughter, Gail, has retinopathy of prematurity (ROP), recalls:

"I always had Gail sit with me while her brother roller bladed with the other kids. I could just see her out there getting pushed and falling down. Then she'd lose the little bit of vision she had left in her right eye because her retina would detach. She'd sit there sulking, feeling left out, and not a part of the group. I finally realized that it was more important for her to be out there with the other kids than it was to be protecting a little vision that she one day might lose even if she didn't fall or get hit in the head."

Sharing Karen's experience with you isn't meant to suggest that it's okay to put your child at risk. The point is to explore what you can do to minimize risks. When Gail went roller blading, Karen had her wear a helmet so that she'd have some protection if she fell.

Here are a few basic sports safety precautions for youngsters who are visually impaired.

  • Wear a helmet or goggles, or both, to protect head and eyes.
  • If your child is involved in an organized sport such as softball or gymnastics, visit the playing field or gym to see if there are potential safety hazards. For example, if a batter throws the bat after hitting the ball, make sure your child knows where to stand to avoid being hit.
  • Encourage your child to talk to teammates and coaches about her visual impairment. They need to know what they can do to help her be an effective member of the team. For example, in a soccer game, calling out her name when the ball is kicked to her may help her keep the ball in play.
  • Check with your child's eye care specialist before she gets involved in a new sport. There may be some restrictions or protective gear that you and she need to know about. Sometimes the eye care specialist is better at explaining these things to your child than you are. And most children are less likely to argue with an "expert" than with a parent.

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JVIB Special Issue on Critical Issues in Visual Impairment & BlindnessJVIB Special Issue on Critical Issues in Visual Impairment & Blindness

JVIB Special Issue on Critical Issues in Visual Impairment & Blindness

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