Developmental Disabilities

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Encouraging Movement in the Visually Impaired Infant

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By Marsha Dunn Klein, M.Ed., OTR

Communication Skill Builders

Your visually impaired infant will learn to move but needs your help to develop the confidence to reach out. There are many things you can do at home to encourage your child to move.

Encourage tummylying

Our infant may prefer backlying (the supine position to tummyling (prone). Backlying is more comfortable, and less work. A sighted child will enjoy looking at the ever-changing world while tummylying, but your child doesn’t have sight as a reason for head-lifting and may be happy keeping the head down.

Many movement skills develop from the tummylying position; you need to help your infant enjoy playing in this position. Here are some activities to try.

Use your body as a surface for your baby to lie on. From this position your baby feels your body, hears you speak, and can head-lift in response to your play. The child can feel your breath on the face and have fun without realizing this is the tummylying position.

Place your baby on the crib or the floor in a tummylying position. If your baby is already backlying slowly roll the baby over. Keep noisy toys handy to encourage play in this position.

Sing songs with your baby tummlying on your lap. Use this position in dressing – such as when taking off pants or pajamas.

In all these positions, your child practices lifting the head and learns to enjoy tummlying. The baby prepares for reaching and rolling from the tummylying position. To encourage head-lifting, routinely carry your baby in the tummylying position.

Arms Forward

During early infancy, most babies rest in a somewhat curled or flexed position. They  practice moving in and out of this position by reaching and kicking.

Visually impaired babies who are premature have spent less time curled in the womb and are often less flexed at birth. They often lie flatter and have more difficulty lifting their arms and feet. It’s important to give your new baby chances to curl the body, bringing the arms forward and the feet up.

To help bring arms forward:

* Carry your baby in a curled position

* Position the baby on your lap with arms forward for exploring

* Encourage your baby to reach toward your face – talk to the baby, or even blow on or  “nibble” the baby’s fingers.

Weight Shifting

Visually impaired infants often prefer to stay in one position rather than risking moving into and out of positions – it’s safer to stay close to the center of the body than to reach out to the unknown.

They tend to stay on their tummies or backs and stay in a sitting position when placed there. Often, they play with toys close to their bodies. Your infant needs to have reasons to reach out from the body and to shift weight from side to side. This weight shifting will allow more mobility and independence.

You can help your child gain the confidence to move in and out of different positions. Give your child noisy toys to reach for from tummylying, backlying, sitting, all fours, and standing. Encourage forward, sideways, and diagonal reaching.

At first, your child may reach only an arm’s length, but with confidence and practice, reaching can lead to complete shifts in body weight.

Your child will start putting weight on one arm while reaching from a tummylying position, or shifting weight from sitting. Soon your child will be on all fours.

Offer noisy toys to encourage reaching in the all-fours position. That helps your child learn to weight-shift as a preparation for creeping.

Stepping out

Weight shifting from a standing position helps set the foundation for stepping. These small weight shifts build confidence for walking along furniture, following walls, and, finally, for independent stepping.

Play games to encourage weight shift to the front, rear, side, and diagonally so your child becomes confident with all types of movement.

Your baby needs a safe environment

Your visually impaired infant needs a safe and encouraging environment. Movements such as reaching from sitting, rolling, creeping, or walking can be scary when the obstacles can’t be seen.

At first, keep rooms the same so your child knows where the furniture is. Spend time together, so your child will feel confident reaching for toys and furniture. Keep experiences positive and fun, so your child will be willing to take the risks needed to learn independence. Be patient, it takes time, but you and your child will learn together.


In 1989, Dr. Turben received funding that enabled the Cleveland Sight Center to initiate the first large-scale, family-centered Children's Services Program in Cleveland, Ohio. Dr. Turben worked for Lake County Early Intervention Collaborative Group in 1988-89 as the consultant who prepared the County Needs Assessment and assisted the collaborative in the preparation of the 1988-89 Lake County Early Intervention Collaborative Plan, which launched family collaboratives as a network of families with children who had disabilities.
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