Getting to know the capabilities of your child with complex needs

When vision impairment is combined with other complex needs, there are many ways you can encourage your child’s development. Find out what motivates them to explore, for example, multi-sensory activities, food, music and so on.


Children with vision impairment and other needs may be touch selective. There are a few ways you can help your child develop their sense of touch:

  • Giving hand massages can help to desensitise their hands before play
  • Slowly introduce new textures – for example, try dry things before wet things, hard things before soft things
  • Support their hands with yours, so you play together

You can help your child develop these fine motor skills in whatever position they find most comfortable.

Your child’s physiotherapist and occupational therapist can help by providing motivational toys and special equipment for seating, walking and so on.

Vision impairment and complex physical needs can affect your child’s depth perception and hand-eye coordination. This means they may need:

  • Extra practise in using two hands together
  • A longer time to respond
  • To look at things for a longer time before understanding what they are looking at

Language development

If your child isn’t using words, they may communicate through sounds and body language. A speech and language therapist can help you find the best ways for them to communicate. For example, they may provide:

  • Switches – for example, ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ could be recorded on two switches, or ‘Hello’ and ‘Goodbye’
  • Picture cards (simple, bold, black and white or coloured)

Both these options can also be used to make choices.

You could help them by making a book of their day using tactile items, for example a CD on page one could indicate they will have a music session first thing.

Social skills

You can help your child to develop social skills by putting routines in place, to reduce the element of surprise. The following can also help:

  • Warning your child somebody is coming or going,or going to touch them. You can also let them know when somebody is leaving for good, so they know when to say goodbye.
  • Ensuring the environment is right for them – for example, do they like it quiet or prefer lots of noise and people around them?
  • If your child seems overwhelmed, have a ‘Time Out’ area where they can go for a peaceful rest.
  • If they are spending time in a sensory room, be aware of their responses, in case they become overwhelmed.
  • Be mindful of their time in and out of their chair if they can’t verbally tell you if they would like a change of position.

Published: December 2017

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