Physical and Sensory Development
The Absence of Sight
The primary stimulus for BABIES to move, vision, is absent when babies are visually impaired, with the result that these babies tend to be passive. Visual impairment, therefore, has a negative impact on gross motor development as vision dominates the early stages of learning and movement
Babies start moving because they see things. They then try to get to objects, to touch them and learn about them. Babies with visual impairment cannot see objects around them and will therefore not try to go towards them.
Not being able to see thus has an impact on babies’ movement and also on their learning. In the early stages of a baby’s development the ability to see is very important.
Moving around also helps with the development of balance and coordination. Babies may even have problems with the correct positioning of their body when trying to do things as they cannot see how other people do things. This may be the reason why visually impaired children find it difficult to learn more complex movements and will start walking and running later than children who can see.
Gross Motor Development
Vision is the driving force behind early gross motor development.
- At this age babies do not have enough control of their limbs for purposeful movement.
- They can see, turn and lift their heads to explore the world around them and can follow the movements of others around them.
- As babies become older, they start swiping at objects that they can see. This helps with the development of the arm and shoulder muscles.
- Sighted babies make sounds and interact with caregivers which encourage them to pick the babies up and play with them.
Visually impaired babies
- Babies with visual impairment does not have the stimulus to look around which leads to a delay in the development of head control.
- They cannot see the toys hanging in the pram or cot. They may, by accident, connect with something but the action will not be repeated as the visual input that will help them to make sense of this movement, is not present. The strength and control of the arms and shoulders therefore do not develop.
- Babies with visual impairment are often very passive and only demand interaction when hungry or uncomfortable. This delays opportunities for motor experiences even further as caregivers do not pick them up or play with them.
- At this age babies with vision explore their bodies, play with their toes and with toys and gain more control over their anti-gravity muscles. This lays down the building blocks for control of posture and co-ordination.
Visually impaired babies
- Babies with visual impairment now become more passive. They do not receive meaningful feedback from the environment, and they do not reach out into the unknown world. The building blocks for the development of gross motor activities are therefore further delayed.
- At this age, babies start to move around. They manage to sit by themselves and pull themselves up against furniture.
- They start to crawl or shift along, and by the end of their first year of age babies start to walk.
Visually impaired babies
- Children with visual impairment now miss out even more. They only start sitting by the end of their first year.
- They often skip crawling. Some of them now barely manage to stand up against furniture.
- Walking soon becomes the primary means of moving around.
- In the second year of life babies start to run, jump and climb. This involves balancing and the building up of muscle strength. Babies can also use their hands to carry things, push and pull objects and handle objects.
Visually impaired babies
- Babies with visual impairment tend to shuffle their feet along the floor. They do not lift and step forward in the usual way of walking. They are scared to lift their feet from the floor. This is probably because they do not see where they are going.
For children who can see, the ability to move around opens up the world. As they go along, they learn about the world around them. This has a dramatic impact on overall development. They develop new skills on all levels of development, fine motor, perceptual, psychological, intellectual and sensory ability.
For visual impaired babies, these opportunities are limited. Goal directed movements are absent and the development of the strength and control of the upper limbs are negatively affected. These children tend to develop low muscle tone, because of lack of movement.
Object permanence, the fact that things exist even if you do not see or touch them, have not yet been established.
Sensory Development – The sense of touch and the other senses, hearing, tasting and smelling
Your senses tell you about the world around you. Humans have five senses, the eye for seeing, the ear for hearing, the nose for smelling, the tongue for tasting and the skin for feeling. Of these the eyes are the most important in early life.
In life one hears or smells something, but it is only when you look that you really know what it is and how you should react to it. For example, you can smell smoke, hear the crackling of the fire and feel the heat. You now know it is fire, all your senses worked together, but it is only when you look that you can decide what you must do (adaptive response). Should you put it out, or is it safe?
Touch is a very important sense for visually impaired children. They need to discover the world through their hands. Unfortunately, they often become intolerant to touch. People tend to put things in their hands without explaining or warning them, or they force them to touch something. This scares visually impaired children, so they will pull back their hands or throw the object away. This is a natural response to protect themselves. This is called tactile defensiveness.
There are other systems in the body which are necessary for a person to be able to balance and make coordinated movements such as walking. These abilities only develop with movement. Visually impaired children do not move around enough, therefore these abilities do not develop appropriately.
Body Awareness and Posture
A person is able to say where his body parts are, e.g., my left hand is behind my back. This happens because your brain gets messages from your joints and muscles. This ability is called proprioception. The development of proprioception also depends on movement.
The information you get from the movement of your body, arms and legs, helps with your posture, muscle tone and balance.
Babies with visual impairment do not have the stimulus to move around. They do not know what the world around them looks like and are careful to move as they may come up against something strange or which can be dangerous. Caregivers tend to leave them where they are as it is safe, which further limits visually impaired babies and deprives them of experiences offered by movement. Body schema, the knowledge of your body parts and where they are, develops through proprioception and this is gained from active movement.
Motor Planning is the ability a person has to plan and perform a movement. Children learn through copying others. They see how others do things and then try it themselves. Without vision this is impossible. Children with visual impairment need to be taken through a new movement pattern, like eating or even riding a bike, to learn it.
These articles are all indicated in the Home Program, but for quick reference here they are listed:
- This article describes how you can play with your baby during the different development stages , preparing them for later sports and recreation.
- Remember safety precautions.
- This article gives many more ideas to teach your child to play with toys.
- This is another article about playing including treasure basket & sensory box.
- More Activities for little ones.
- This booklet shows inexpensive ideas for creating educational toys and activities for children with a visual impairment.
Independence training of the visually impaired child
It is very important that we strive for independence for children with visual impairment. Family and friends tend to feel sorry for these children and do everything for them. This not only deprives them of becoming an independent human being but also has a negative influence on their self-image.
We should spend as much time as possible on the development of independence especially in activities of daily living (ADL). These include mobility and orientation, eating, dressing and hygiene.
- Refer back to the Home Program and the articles below for further guidance
- Read more in this Activities of Daily Living guideline.
- Here are also ideas for teaching VI children about location and early mobility with a long cane
- Here are some tips for toilet training your VI toddler
- This article has many tips about dressing, also children with multiple disabilities.
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