Living Life While Helping Your Blind Child Develop

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By Mindy Ely

Girl playing in a pretend kitchen

Infants and toddlers learn by watching others and by actively participating in their environment. But, if a child has a visual impairment, he may miss opportunities to learn by watching. Active participation is critical for young children with visual impairments. But, how do you ensure that your child is getting the experiences that he needs? While this feels like an overwhelming question, remember that your child is a child first. He may have a visual impairment and perhaps some other diagnoses, but, as is true for other children, play and involvement are the keys to all healthy development. What follows are some suggestions for promoting development using the everyday routines of life. The final section offers a framework that many parents have found helpful in systematically reaching goals while honoring family life and daily routines.

Learning Throughout Daily Routines

First, it is important to realize that infants and toddlers learn skills best when they experience them in daily life. Secondly, young children need opportunities to practice newly acquired skills. Repetition will help them perfect, refine, and expand their abilities. For this reason, it is important that skills are taught during typical daily routines within a natural environment by parents or familiar caregivers.

Daily routines are those activities that occur within the infant's everyday life. Some examples of daily routines might include mealtime, bath time, playtime, and bedtime. A multitude of skills can be embedded into any routine. For example, during bath time, children learn about size and texture. They can fill and empty containers. Such water play offers fun opportunities for language and motor development while laying foundations for math and science concepts.

Natural environments describe the place in which daily routines typically occur. For example, the home is a natural environment for most young children. Children may spend time in a daycare center or at their grandparent's house. If so, these environments are natural for that child.

Parents and caregivers are with their children every day. They are the best teacher of their young child. They are able to encourage children to practice new skills with more frequency than anyone else. In addition, parents and caregivers have a special relationship with their child that allows the child to feel comfortable and supported while learning new skills. Parents and caregivers are an essential component of the daily routine and the natural environment.

Working with Professionals

Service providers such as the early intervention teacher for the visually impaired can help parents identify developmental goals including strategies for reaching these goals. Listed below is a practical outline for helping the teachers and parents work together.

  1. Parents identify priority outcomes for their child. For example, a parent might say, "I want Adam to feed himself." Together the teacher and parent can look at the child's abilities and carefully define the outcome. "Adam will feed himself finger foods that are offered on his highchair tray."

  2. Parent and teacher brainstorm strategies that might help meet this outcome. For example, visual supports might help Adam reach this outcome. Adam might have specific food preferences that would encourage him to practice the skill. The collaboration between the parent and the teacher will ensure a complete list of strategies is compiled.

  3. The parent and teacher work with the child to try the strategies outlined. It is likely that some ideas may work better than others. The important piece is that the situation is natural. If the outcome is about feeding, then the child should be in the typical feeding location during an appropriate time of day. While the teacher might model some components of the daily routine, the parent should be the one who is primarily interacting with the child while the teacher stands back offering encouragement and additional suggestions as needed.

  4. Parents incorporate the identified strategies into their everyday activities. This additional practice within the daily routine will help the child become an expert at the skill being pursued.

Using a Matrix

A matrix is a tool that can be used by parents and professions to plan implementation of strategies within daily routines. In the sample below, the outcomes are listed in the first column. Daily routines are listed across the top row. The remaining boxes are filled with strategies that can be applied to meet the outcome within the daily routine. The matrix reminds parents of ways they can work toward their outcomes during daily life. Parents can add to the matrix as new ideas emerge. At the next appointment with the teacher, the matrix can help guide conversations around parental goals for their child's development.

Mealtime Bath Time Playtime Bedtime
Adam will feed himself finger foods that are offered on his highchair tray. To help Adam feed himself, we will put a light source behind him, use a dark mat on a try to increase the contrast, and use consistent verbal encouragement such as "food is on your tray."
Adam will pretend when playing with toys. To help Adam, we will include him in activities, such as making a sandwich, so he will have experiences to pretend during playtime. To help Adam, we will model pretend play, use toy phone to call grandma, and read the Noah book and act out the story with tub characters and a boat toy. To help Adam, we will model pretend play using a kitchen set, spend time identifying toy kitchen times, and look for other items that can be added to the toy box that will allow Adam to act out real-life experiences that he has actually had. To help Adam, we will read the Noah book and use some of the tub characters.

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JVIB Special Issue on Critical Issues in Visual Impairment & Blindness

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