Developmental Disabilities

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A Journey into the Life and Times of Children with Blindness

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Why early intervention is essential to the growth and development of young children with visual impairments of all kinds!  Raising a child with blindness is a shock to all who care for an infant and requiressupport, but it is an amazing journey, so parents can take heart, and take advantage of many changes in the treatment of visual impairments!   

Parents may have a hard time believing this is happening to them!  “This cannot happen to us,” they say, and painful looks among family members are testament to the trauma and disappointment that comes with the birth and the developmental issues that go along with the birth!  Moms and dads need time to grieve, to let it all sink in, to be reassured other children have done well and led healthy happy lives. Your family can be a great help ……… accept help that is offered, even when it may not seem necessary and allow your friends and family to help!  It may just be the answer to natural worries, allowing you to have an afternoon to chat on the phone, go to a movie or just taking a walk with a friend.  

Dads and moms who have been through the process of adapting to vision loss say the best part of the experience is closeness, the beautiful moments of head turning, arm waving, smiling and turning toward a sound of voices, even crying a the top of his or her lungs!!   Parents will quickly learn that physicians, ophthalmologists and other resources are necessary and that the local community has resources to educate families.  Talk in depth with professionals and engage willing and talented therapists who are available in the community.  Moms and dads need to take the initiative and nudge their pediatricians to engage in as many conversations with him or her as needed! 

For the sake of maintaining the sanity needed for developing a way of life with a child with vision loss, educate your child to the differences between mom and dad and become extremely verbal, and when it comes time for interactions between friends, force yourself to be a joiner and a willing learner.  Expose even the youngest child to music and stories, talking books, and beg other parents to embrace the notion that there are similarities between the child with vision loss and others.

Most of all, tell friends and family that they can help your child’s development by substituting sight with verbalizing, such as humming and talking, whispering and laughing, giggling and splubering, reading... And use with words, songs or anything that indicates your location!  Movement of all parts of the body creates fun as well as therapeutic vestibular progress, and gives babies a sense of balance at a very young age. Vestibular movement should be a fun time and the sounds of the human voice should add to the enjoyment of movement and stimulate the light of sight or poor sight!  

Parents must ask for help.  Use therapists and enjoy sharing the good news that their child will be able to do every thing other children do and more, with help!  They are helpful and knowledgeable teachers who will encourage parents from the family perspective …from birth to school age, and beyond, and will be needed as the baby becomes a toddler, a toddler becomes a kindergartner!   

The years go fast, but with hard visual stimulation work on the part of therapists and family, and the pride that goes with watching your child grow, you will be become an advocate, a joiner, a parent who sees a bright future!   Your child’s personality will shine and he or she will learn how to navigate, parents learn to appreciate that their child can do about anything he or she wishes to do! 

“Letting go” from the perspective of blind and disabled infants turning into older and competent youth and later adults is a tough thing to do even for the most clever and creative!

 The first year of life is a merry-go-round for families, visiting programs that serve children with blindness, learning to treat all children, sighted or not, by reading stories, dancing, guided hand-over-hand activities with toy cars and talking games! Simple, but necessary, songs, routine activities and games and feeding skills are fun to do and important.   There are visual and audio and tactile tools available to assist and encourage families to treat newborns just as if they were like any other…with happiness and joy!       

Once your child is ready for school, parents are in charge, backed up by teachers, family members and adult supervision and helped along the way! This is needed most during the first years of life. Help.  Help for discipline and help for becoming independent. 

What a child cannot see will makes other senses accessible and will encourage the child to explore. 

Always use your voice gently to let the child know you are near.  Visually, impaired newborns can startle easily. Body contact and touch make the child aware of his parent’s body, his own body and his surroundings.  

By touching, feeling, hearing and seeing his curiosity will be aroused and desire to explore will be heightened. Name whatever the child touches. This is important for the language development of your child. Whatever actions your child is doing should be described in brief descriptive words as well. Soon your baby will begin to recognize the voices of family members and differentiate them from strangers and recognize footsteps of different family members.  It is a good idea to have bare floors for this reason. Since your baby cannot see his body he has to learn to explore it by touching and playing with it. Encourage him to “find” his feet and hands.  Name the parts of his body as he touches them so he can form appropriate concepts.

Each visually impaired child will find a way to learn and to explore surroundings by using different parts of his body.   Some will use their whole body, their tongue or their hands, while others may use their head or their cheeks. These attempts to use parts of their bodies to explore their environment are wonderful and should be praised and encouraged. Placing your blind infant in different body positions is essential to spatial learning, which means understanding where in space the body is working!   This is stimulation at best and helps to stimulate your child and help them use different muscle groups.  Place your child on his stomach and stand at different angles and call to your child.  This makes the baby lift his head to strengthen the neck muscles.

Different exercises for blind infants will help your baby become more aware of his body and how it works.

  • Knee bends – bend one knee up then the other until you can move at a faster pace.  Your baby will love to do this.
  • Arms and shoulders – Raise both arms to sides of the head, and then lower them.  Alternate arms.  Take both arms and cross them over baby’s chest then stretch them out to the sides.
  • Raise babies arm and leg in unison toward baby’s head.  Then switch to the other side.  Then do opposites – left leg with right arm.
  • Sit-ups – with baby on his back slowly lift him up by his hands to a sitting position.  Then slowly lower him to the floor.  Remember
  • Floor play is the best option!  Yes, get down on the floor
  • Roll baby side to side – be sure to gently roll the 8infat from side to side, and refrain from pulling on arms and lets but helping the child assume a siting position on his or her own!

Because of new devices, most blind children read braille by the first grade!   Voice-over devices can be used to lead a sight-impaired child to a destination and to a goal.

Blindism best describes an action associated with blindness.  One child will rock, one will roll the head, some will display head drooping or pressing the fingers against the eyes.  Try to discourage these blindisms early on. They are very hard habits to break.  For the very young child a distraction is the best way to change the habit.  As the child gets older you can remind the child that other children find it distracting and to please not do this.  Some visually impaired children will need to bang their head, so talk and hold the head gently to ameliorate this habit.  A lot of children do this when wanting to make a request or demanding to do an activity “their “way!  Be sure to correct the behavior and replace the behavior with a hand gesture at the top of the head. This can help your child develop language as well.

Children under two years will revert back to these blindisms when stressed or overtired.  This is normal and does not mean they will keep repeating this action.

Some blind children may resist wearing gloves or types of clothing, so be prepared to dress slowly and let the child touch and handle choices of outerwear or other garments that are needed as parents dress and undress their children.  Some children will not wear gloves. Gloves for a blind child should have bells or some plaything that makes a small noise so the child can adapt to the purpose of wearing them, are like eyes to you and me.  That is how they see with their mind and visualize.  If this is the case make sure there are pockets for the child to put on for his hands. Some children reject wearing a hat, especially if it covers their ears because he won’t be able to hear the sounds that they depend on.  Think about allowing for choices and letting the child make his own decisions.

A blind child may enter a room and stop.  He will need a tour director to make it clear where he is and what verbal cues he should do next.  Other children see others taking off their coats but a blind child does not see this so verbally tell the child what to do. A blind child is taught to use both hands.  Both of his hands should feel an object.  The more he feels his way around the room with verbal support from teachers and coaches the more he will understand about objects and location. A sighted child sees things over and over again. Therefore, the unsighted child must feel an object over and over again also.  It is the same concept as sighted children and the both need verbal coaching,……….. just like the rest of us!  

Ask Susan appears regularly…her mission is to give good information and let you decide what your family needs and deserves!    

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