Eating Skills for Babies and Toddlers Who Are Blind or Low Vision
Teaching Your Infant About Food
Whether it is from the breast or a bottle, newborns need to eat every few hours, and throughout infancy, babies need their parents to help them eat. You can involve your baby in the process right from the start and help them begin to learn about eating and food.
- Use the time spent in feeding to interact with your child. Cuddle and talk or sing as you nurse or bottle feed your baby.
- If you’re using a bottle and your baby has some vision or you’re unsure about their vision, select a bottle with a colorful pattern on it or a colored ring around the nipple. Encourage your baby to look at the bottle as you bring it to their mouth.
- Guide your baby’s hands to help you hold the bottle to their mouth, even if only for a few seconds. Because your child may not see the bottle, they may not be aware of it. Showing your child the objects with which they are interacting is a first step in developing awareness and curiosity about the world around.
- To babies with impaired vision, objects and people often seem to appear out of nowhere. When preparing a bottle for your baby, show your child how you get it out of the refrigerator and heat it, and explain out loud what you are doing. When you do this, you will be helping your baby begin to understand where food is kept and how it reaches the table.
Starting Solid Food
By the time your baby is five or six months old, they’ll probably be starting to eat solid foods such as rice, cereal, or puréed vegetables. You’ll be the one doing the actual feeding at first, but your child will need to begin to learn about the food, the bowl, and the spoon you use to bring food to their mouth. To help your child start, let them explore the bowl and spoon with their hands before you begin feeding your child. All babies are messy eaters, so don’t be surprised if more of the lunch ends up on their face, hands, and clothes than inside them—especially when your child starts to feed themself! Stopping your child because they made a mess may only discourage them from trying again.
Here are some suggestions for engaging a baby who is visually impaired in learning about eating.
- If your baby has some vision, pick a bowl that provides contrast between the color of the bowl and the color of the food. For example, a dark blue or red bowl contrasts clearly with light-colored cereal. Encourage your baby to look at the food.
- Let your baby have a spoon to experiment with—to try holding and scooping food with it—while you use another spoon to feed them.
- Your baby may not be able to see the spoon coming toward their mouth, so it’s a good idea to signal them in some way to let them know the next bite is coming. You might tap their lip gently with your finger or stroke their chin as a reminder to open their mouth.
- As your child becomes more interested in feeding themself, consider using a bowl that attaches to the highchair tray with a suction cup so that it doesn’t move easily. Also, you may want to look for a bowl that has higher sides, to make scooping easier.
- Use hand-under-hand techniques to help your baby learn to bring the spoon to their mouth. It takes a lot of practice to be able to do this accurately, so be prepared for messes with large plastic bibs and a plastic mat or tablecloth under the highchair to make cleanup easier.
- Your baby will begin to use their fingers to pick up food such as crackers or small pieces of cereal. If your child has usable vision, try to provide contrast between the food and the tray or other surface it’s sitting on. If both the food and the tray are a light color, think about having a darker, solid color placemat that you can put under the food. This will make it easier for your baby to see it.
- “Sippy” cups with a lid and a spout may help your baby make the transition from a bottle to a cup. Show your child how to raise the cup to their mouth and tip it up to drink using hand-under-hand technique.
Helping Your Toddler Learn Table Manners
By the time most children are in their second year, they’re eating some of the same food as the rest of the family. Including your toddler in mealtimes helps them not only with eating skills, but also with socializing, using their budding language skills, and learning new words. For most young children with a visual impairment, having a consistent mealtime routine helps in building their confidence and independence. Routines help your toddler anticipate what is going to happen and, therefore, allow them to join in.
- Be consistent in where you place your child’s bowl, plate, cup, and utensils on the highchair tray or at the table.
- As you put food on your child’s plate, show them where each item is. When your child is older, you’ll just need to describe where things are, but at this age, it’s okay to let them gently touch their food to see what they are about to eat.
- Use hand-under-hand technique to help your toddler learn to use a spoon and, later on, a fork. Some foods, such as mashed potatoes, are fairly easy to scoop, but food that comes in little, individual pieces—such as corn kernels or peas—can present a challenge to all toddlers!
- Plates that have a rounded, raised rim will help your child keep food on the plate more easily. An occupational therapist can advise you about the kinds of plates, bowls, cups, spoons, and forks that may help your child develop independent eating skills more quickly.