Summer offers most young people additional free time due to fewer academic responsibilities. The season is ripe for your child who is blind or low vision to develop and maintain friendships through planning and attending get-togethers. Consider with me who your child can meet up with, any social skills needing improvement, and any accessibility concerns—all with the end goal of helping your child develop companionship, as well as the skills necessary to foster friendship well into the future.
Relationships to cultivate
Who can your child spend time with this season? If your child doesn’t have one or more evident close friends, perhaps you can consider potential friendships to foster.
- Ask your child who they played with at recess or sat with at lunch.
- Ask your child or their teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) if other children at your child’s school are also blind or low vision.
- Ask your child’s teacher(s) if they recommend a particular friend who would or did get along well with your child.
- Consider, too, peers who live in your neighborhood, even if they are younger or older than your child.
- Are there children with similar interests in your child’s community—whether from a sports team, club, or camp?
- It may be a good season to pursue friendships with children who live elsewhere. Your child can virtually meet with cousins, others who are blind or low vision, or peers with similar interests over Zoom, Skype, or Facetime.
- Visit a nearby, familiar playground on a regular basis. Tell your child what others are doing or playing, and give your child the opportunity to interact with them. If a child plays well with yours, don’t hesitate to ask the parent for their contact info in hopes of meeting at the playground again. Older children can ask for this information themselves.
As you know, children who are blind or low vision will not pick up on all social norms and cues without direct instruction. It will be important to teach and review social interaction skills with your child. Social skills include body language, eye contact, introducing oneself, turn-taking, conversational etiquette, communicating needs, emotional regulation, seeking commonalities, listening, analyzing social situations, and playing/interacting with others.
The following resources, sorted by age, are worth reading if you’d like information on age-appropriate skills to teach and how to teach them in natural environments:
Encouraging Blind Preschoolers to Build Friendships
Building Friendships: A Preschool Priority for Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
Promoting Friendship Among Preschoolers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
Helping Your Child Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired Learn How to Make Friends
Friendship in the Teen Years for Individuals Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
As your child is learning and rehearsing social skills, remember we are all a work in progress! The goal isn’t perfection, but your child and their friend enjoying each other’s company.
With gentle instruction and practice, and the feedback and guidance peers provide, your child’s social skills will mature.
The extent of your planning and intervention of meetups will, of course, depend on your child’s age and developmental stage.
Children without fully developed orientation and mobility (O&M) skills may be most confident playing familiar games and activities in a well-known environment. You may want to plan an initial playdate at your home. When meeting in unfamiliar locations or for unfamiliar activities, help your child practice activities and orient to locations prior to the occasion. Was your child invited bowling? Visit the alley and learn adaptive techniques beforehand.
Older children and teens should be encouraged to plan and prepare get-togethers and outings with increased independence. They may ask a friend what they’re wearing in an attempt to dress appropriately; they may ask a sibling knowledgeable in bowling for a mini-lesson prior to a group bowling activity; and they may ask an employee of the alley to help them orient to the unfamiliar facility prior to a party. While at the get-together, they can ask a friend for information about who’s in attendance; they can utilize their sensory efficiency skills to detect what others are doing (and ask a friend for confirmation if unsure); and they can utilize their social skills to initiate or enter conversations.
Notice how the older child/ teen is learning to seek data about social situations. Such skills are taught and rehearsed over many years with the goal of developing and maintaining friendships without the direct support of a parent. This doesn’t mean complete independence is your child’s goal—simply knowing how and where to collect information, and having the ability to do so, is a wise aspiration.
The goal feels lofty—think only of the next small step. Now is the time to equip your child with friendship-forging skills and opportunities to practice.
May this summer be one filled with playdates, pool parties, and picnic lunches!