Techniques to assist children with visual impairments
April 28th, 2018, Boston Metro
Last year I attended the Early Connections Conference at the Perkins School for the Blind to learn more about how I could help my son with his visual impairments. This event occurs annually and will be held this year on April 28th. Here are some of the interesting lessons I learned while at this event.
Most of our understanding of our environments and experiences is from our vision. For individuals who have visual impairments, it is important to establish a baseline for them, orient them to a space -- its sounds, smells, and objects. Tactile items that are real and familiar such as a fruit or blanket are especially important. One of the strategies to help children with visual impairments is to associate a tactile object with a person. For example, my son’s speech teacher shares a wound up chattering teeth toy with him before they begin their lessons so he understands that it is time for speech therapy.
A caregiver is the child’s access to the world. With concept development, the caregiver can help the child to imagine and understand the various states of things. For example, here is a clean plate in the cabinet; then it is a plate full of food; and then the plate is in the dishwasher. Orient a child to the various types of processes like feeding and diaper changes.
New, busy, or cluttered environments can be a lot for a visually impaired child to process. Go slow, pause, and orient the child to what is happening. If the child will start in a new school, visit when the school is not in session or if the family is planning to travel, familiarize the child with the bus/airport in advance.
Routines, consistency, and repetition are important among caregivers. Predictability provides a sense of comfort for a child. Focus on one thing at a time and have a calendar for each day. One may try an object schedule where each object is placed on a small board and then presented in sequence of activities. For example, a small plastic fork for eating breakfast and then a buckle for the ride to school. Use a contrasting background like a black binder with velcro for the small boards so it is easier for the child to see them. Keep it simple with one word for each object instead of sentences. Another option is to use this black background for choice making – do you want to eat (fork) or bathroom (bar of soap)? Objects can also be used as part of a survival board. On my son’s survival board he has eat (fork); drink (straw); bathroom (piece of chuck cloth); hurt (large bandaid); and something different (star). At Perkins, they have objects outside of or near rooms like the bathroom so children can orient themselves to where they are.
Another wonderful activity are experience story books. Experience story books explain a child’s experience to remind them about it. For example, my son visited a green house and created a story book with flowers, soil, leaves, and other items from this trip. These books can include every day routines as well routines at home, school, etc. At Perkins, they have story boxes that contain a few objects that are associated with a board book. It could be a small replica of a character, items from the character's activities, or anything associated with the story. These can be made at home with old shoe boxes and items that remind you of a story your child enjoys.
Here are some recommended resources for the visually impaired:
American House of the Blind (APH.org/pe/products)
Gross Motor Development Curriculum book – Teacher of the Visually Impaired can order
Every Body Plays book (explains modifications for Physical Edudcation)
American Foundation for the Blind
Pictello application – make stories
I highly recommend to attend this conference if you would like to learn more strategies to assist your child with visual impairments.
Laura Badmaev, Chair, AЯRE Foundation