Education for Babies and Toddlers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
Parents as Teachers
Although early intervention services can be invaluable for your child, as a parent, you are your child’s first and most important teacher from infancy through the preschool years. The fact is that just about all your interactions—talking or singing to your child, patting and playing with him, dressing and feeding him—are natural teaching experiences for you and learning opportunities for your child. In your role as teacher, keep in mind that every child, whether visually impaired or not, is a learner, and the family is the most significant influence in the life of a young child.
You are a natural teacher because…
- You know your child better than anyone else. You may also have a better idea of what and when he’s ready to learn.
- You spend more time with your child than anyone else does. You’re able to take advantage of the many ordinary events—things that happen throughout the day in the normal course of family life—that are opportunities to teach your child something.
- You give your child toys and common, everyday objects that can help him learn in a natural environment: your home.
- You provide opportunities for your child to practice what he has learned and a chance to experience the world under your guidance.
- You act as a role model. By starting early, you can teach your child good behaviors and habits that will last a lifetime.
- You involve your child in family life so friends and relatives learn how to interact with your visually impaired child, and he learns how to act with others.
The Impact of Visual Impairment
Although the effects of visual impairment can range from mild to severe, any degree of vision loss can affect learning and a child’s ability to perceive, explore, and understand the world. The sooner your child begins to explore the world, the sooner his growth, development, and learning can begin as well.
Through play, by providing stimulating experiences, and describing people, objects, and events, you can teach your child to explore his immediate environment and become aware of what is around him. You can give your child direct information about the world and its objects that can help him develop an understanding of them. This, in turn, leads to the growth of concepts and language—known as concept development and language development—that your child can use to describe the world.
Because so much early learning comes through visual experiences, as children watch other people around them and imitate their actions, infants or toddlers who are blind or visually impaired can miss out on many opportunities for incidental learning. You can play a critical role in helping them learn by giving them some extra help and attention.
Babies begin to attach names or words to things as they see their parents using familiar objects, and this process encourages their language development. Children who are blind or visually impaired may not name or even move toward a nearby object until they know it’s there. By telling your child about the things and people in his environment, you can help your child develop his language skills as well as his motivation to crawl or walk.
Visually impaired children learn by touching, listening, smelling, tasting, moving, and using whatever vision they have. You teach your child by talking, touching, and playing during natural interaction times. You also teach when you give your child toys and ordinary household objects that vary in texture, weight, smell, sound, and color. The more sensory experiences you provide—experiences that have your child use his senses and learn how to obtain information through them—both one at a time and simultaneously during everyday routines and special family occasions, the better. Your creative, on-the-spot teaching is an essential part of your child’s education.
FamilyConnect as a Resource
In this section, you’ll find resources that will help you address these areas and more with your baby or toddler who is blind or visually impaired.
- What’s Different About the Way Visually Impaired Children Learn?
- Incidental Learning: What Is It?
- Hand-Under-Hand and Hand-Over-Hand Instruction for Blind Babies
- Helping Your Blind or Visually Impaired Baby Learn About Reading and Writing
- Considering Preschool for Your Visually Impaired Child
- Visiting Preschool Programs
- Assessments for Infants and Toddlers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
- Advocating for Your Child
- Parent’s Perspective: Early Intervention Starts at Home
- Parent’s Perspective: We All Learn from Each Other
- Podcast with Dr. Kay Alicyn Ferrell