Building your child's confidence and independence at home
If your child has a vision impairment, they may have reduced vision or no vision, so they will need some form of motivation to move.
It’s important to encourage them to move early on, through play or through touch, sound, smell or residual vision.
For example, you could use a musical toy just out of their reach, a favourite person could call to them to come for a cuddle or a favourite food treat may encourage them to crawl or reach for it.
What challenges do children with vision impairment face?
Some of the challenges your child may face can include:
- Unfamiliar areas
- Objects without permanent placement
- Busy or cluttered areas
- Lighting – with low vision, lighting can present glare, pooling or shadows
- Learning life skills such as getting dressed and undressed, getting changed for PE, taking their shoes on and off and so on.
A regular, consistent approach at home can help your child to develop these essential skills.
Tips and advice
Using direction and identification
You can encourage your child to move through everyday activities and promote future learning by using descriptive or informative language, according to their age and the ability of their understanding:
For example, you can use language such as up, down, in front, behind, beside etc. as well as left, right, louder, quieter and coming or going away. You can also encourage them to smell and touch objects may progress to asking them to help you unpack the shopping and guess which item they are touching (and help you to store it).
Learning how to do these practical things can be more difficult for a child with vision impairment. There is no right or wrong way to learn and every child learns differently, so when encouraging your child’s independence, it is helpful to be led by them.
Help from habilitation specialists and mobility officers
Your child may receive support from a habilitation specialist and mobility officer at home or at school. After an initial assessment, they will be able to recommend equipment and resources to help your child, which could include a long cane to help with mobility.
Not every child will need support from a mobility officer at home or at school, but your local authority will be able to offer advice.
Equipment which may be used at home or at school to assist them may include things like:
- Non-slip rubber mats. These are commonly used for a wide range of tasks, for example, they can be used under a plate during meals to prevent it from slipping, or under a tray of toys (for example, bricks or beads) when your child is carrying out an activity at a low table
- Liquid level indicators for tasks involving liquids, such as pouring a cold drink. This can help encourage independence.
Helping your child navigate unfamiliar environments
You can help your child by familiarising them with unfamiliar environments.
Route learning, using clues and landmarks, can be helpful here.
You can help them to learn routes, for example, the route from the toilet to the classroom or coat peg, or the route from your home to the school.
Landmarks are permanent fixtures such as doorways, radiators, trees and so on. Buildings and open spaces can also be used as landmarks. Visual markers can be used to help your child navigate their environment – for example, you can use things your child sees along their route to school or in school to create a route. E.g. “Turn right at the big tree, turn left at the radiator.”
Breaking routes down into more manageable sections and practising them repeatedly will encourage your child to explore and boost their confidence to do so.
Contextual clues are temporary things that can be used to help with route learning - for example, the smell of lunch cooking in the school kitchen, or the sound of the heating system.
You can also help your child by encouraging them to do things for themselves. For example, talking them through a route – “This is a push/pull door, go through it and past the radiator, then turn right.”
Visual or tactile markers can also be used in a corridor with many doors. Something on each door, such as a picture or brightly coloured piece of card or a bump dot self-adhesive marker may be helpful
Every child is an individual and so route learning will be very specific to each child. For example, it will be very different for a child with low sight or a child who has low sight and is in a wheelchair.
Encouraging their independence - teaching life skills
When it comes to your child’s independence, you can never start too early encouraging them to practise life skills.
Support them to practise things like getting dressed and undressed, using zips and buttons and putting their own shoes on.
You could help by ensuring things are always in the same place – for example, always put their socks in the same drawer and ask them if they want to choose their own socks.
There are two methods used when teaching a new skill:
1. Hand over hand - putting your hand over theirs and showing them what to do.
2. Backward chaining - carrying out a task backwards, for example, when putting a sock on, it’s much easier to slowly take the sock off and work backwards.
When teaching your child life skills such as getting dressed, using language early on can help.
Phrases such as ‘Pull up your socks’ or ‘Pull down your trousers’ helps them to learn. You can also encourage them by asking them what they are going to do. This will help you understand their method when learning a new skill. The way you teach them will depend on your child’s level of word association and understanding.
Safety in the bathroom and kitchen is very important.
- You can help them by keeping areas clutter free and familiarising them with the space
- Help them learn to open and close cupboard doors, pick up and replace items and be aware of hazards such as a wet floor or hot water
- When filling a bath or sink, always use cold water first, then add hot to reach the right temperature
Ensuring your child has awareness of the importance of privacy is important before they start school – for example, learning to close doors and curtains, particularly when they are using the toilet.
Hand washing is another useful life skill which you can teach using a song or rhyme –make it fun! Help them judge the right amount of soap to use.
Games such as ‘Simon Says’ or ‘hide and seek’ can encourage them to explore. For example, hiding an item under or on something then using verbal instructions such as “Turn right” or “Turn left” will encourage your child to move independently to find the hidden item.
Making everyday tasks and life skills fun for your child is key when encouraging them to be more independent.
Published: July 2018