Supporting a Child with Visual Impairment

January 7, 2016 Published by

What is visual impairment

Visual impairment (also known as ‘partial sight’, ‘low vision’, or ‘sight loss’) describes complete or partial loss of vision. Around 25,000 children under 16 years old in England and Wales are visually impaired. Total blindness is very rare and most children can see something, such as being able to distinguish between light and dark.

It’s estimated that 80% of the information we need is gained through vision, so children with visual impairment need to compensate for this by learning to use and interpret information from their other senses.  Children do not automatically develop extraordinary skills in their other senses – each child will vary in how they compensate for their vision impairment and will learn to do this through experience and supported learning.


How to support your child’s learning, development and independence

Sighted children will approach learning in a different way to children with visual impairment – they will learn by watching, looking at the whole picture before exploring the parts and will be motivated to explore by reaching for things they see. A child with visual impairment will need you to guide them through experiences and help interpret the information they receive, giving clear explanations about what is happening.

For example:

“She may need to help stir the batter for a batch of cookies, help put them in the oven, and be told that the good smell coming from the kitchen is the cookies baking—and then taste the cookies—in order to make the connections between the process of baking and the food she eats.” (Family Connect)

It can be surprising how much a child with visual impairment can see and do; it is important to encourage your child to use any vision they have and to give them time to do things for themselves. It can take them longer to do everyday tasks as there is so much information for them to process, so it can be tempting to do things for your child. They will learn much more and feel good about themselves if you give your child the space to complete the tasks themselves.

Social development can also be affected because eye contact, facial expressions, body language and gestures may be harder for your child to notice or interpret. They will need help to recognise other cues – such as intonation in a person’s voice – that can help them understand more about the social situation and help them build relationships.

You can also help your child become more independent by adapting everyday tasks. For example, to help them learn to dress themselves, choose clothes that are easy to put on and take off (clothes with zips instead of buttons, large buttons rather than small fiddly ones, clothes with obvious front and backs, shoes with Velcro straps). Older children may become aware of colour coordinating; you can sew different shaped buttons inside their clothes to indicate the colour (e.g. square buttons = blue) so they can select matching clothes. See the Royal National Institute of Blind People’s website for more ideas like this.


Choosing toys and games

Screen-Shot-2015-09-04-at-10.58.16Playtime is crucial for all children and choosing the right toys for your child can make it an enjoyable experience. Sighted children are often attracted to toys with bright colours or familiar characters, but for children who are visually impaired, the toys need to appeal to multiple senses. Here are some tips on choosing suitable toys for your child – there is also a toy guide for children who are visually impaired.

  • Make sure the toy is safe – no small parts that can come off and no sharp edges
  • Look for Multi-Sensory Toys –
    • Noisy toys (such as a wooden duck that quacks when moved)
    • Different interesting textures to feel
    • Bright high contrasting toys (for partially sighted children)
    • Nooks and crannies to explore
  • They may not like soft toys (due to the texture) or plastic toys (while usually have similar shapes, with only visual differences, such as a printed picture)
  • Toys with interactive features to push/turn/pull
  • Role play toys – for example, they can practise using a toy phone, pressing the buttons and talking into it
  • For older children –
    • Board games can be modified with braille or large print labels
    • Musical instruments
    • Sports – equipment such as footballs with bells and rattles inside

As with all children, those with a visual impairment will like different toys and develop at their own pace. Appreciate your child for who they are and focus on what they can do, not what they can’t do.


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This post was written by Anna Taylor

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