The term ‘visually impaired’ is used to describe a child who has sight problems severe enough to interfere with their learning. The majority of children with a visual impairment still have some vision – only five per cent are totally blind. Most blind or partially sighted children have their sight problem from birth, though a small number lose their sight later in life following illness or an accident.
Impact on development
Since 80% of communication is non-verbal, young children with impaired vision are at a huge disadvantage when developing interpersonal skills.
Unable to discern the facial expressions of others, they cannot ‘read’ reactions to things they say and find verbal turn-taking very difficult. These children cannot learn by watching, only by doing.
Restricted vision also leads to restricted mobility. In a typically developing child, vision is a huge motivator: seeing a desired toy just out of reach prompts the child to stretch for it or crawl towards it, but visually impaired children don’t know the toy exists.
The development of play – leading to concepts such as conservation, classification and one-to-one correspondence – is also negatively affected by visual impairment. When a child cannot observe others at play, it limits their own skills.
Finally, independence and self-help skills are significantly delayed in a child with sight problems.
What can be done to improve social skills?
Play with your child to help develop joint attention, turn-taking, shared interests, cooperation and appropriate play with toys.
Emotions: Help the child to understand and display their own emotions and to recognise these emotions in other people.
Empathy: Help the child to understand and recognise how other people are feeling in particular situations.
Social stories: These are stories which are used to teach children specific social skills that they may find difficult to understand or are confusing. The goal of the story is to increase the child’s understanding by describing in detail a specific situation and suggesting an appropriate social response.