- The first social contact babies have is usually with their mothers during feeding times. This happens through eye contact. The mother smiles and talks to the baby while feeding and this is how bonding happens. Handling and touching the baby also plays an especially significant role.
- The baby with visual impairment cannot make eye contact with the mother, there is, therefore, no ‘communication’ between them. This not only causes the baby to be passive and withdraw from the mother, but also the mother from the baby. The mother may feel that the baby does not respond to her, and she then withdraws. This leads to estrangement between them. This will lead to less interaction and handling of the baby by the mother and therefore less social contact.
The social interaction of the child with visual impairment is more complicated than that of the visual child because facial expressions, body language and other visual clues have never been seen. A child may have difficulty aiming their voice at the person they’re talking to and put their head on their desk instead, for example.
Learning is the key to development. This section explains how you can help your child to develop by helping them to listen, to touch and, if they have some vision, to look. All children with a vision impairment, even those with relatively good partial sight, benefit from learning to use their non-visual senses to give them more information about their surroundings. Children can be taught to interpret and piece together the information being sent to their brain from all their senses. These are skills which are learned over several years and can take a lot of practice.
Babies are surrounded by adult speech from day one. When a baby is lying very still, it’s easy to interpret this as a lack of interest in what is going on. However, babies or toddlers with a vision impairment often become really still precisely so that they can listen and work out what is happening. For example, in the morning a child with little sight may listen to the bedroom door open and hear their parents’ voice.
Gradually they learn the routine and begin to smile with pleasure in anticipation of being picked up and cuddled.
Your child needs to be rewarded for their smile by hearing the pleasure in your voice and by feeling your warmth. In this way they will learn that smiles are important. Children soon learn to tell when their parent carers are happy or cross by the tone of their voices.
Take the baby’s hands and guide them to your face, telling them this is your eyes or mouth or cheek. This must be repeated until the baby can reach out their hands by themselves to explore your face.
For children born blind, social interaction can be particularly challenging. A child may have difficulty aiming their voice at the person they’re talking to and put their head down on a piece of furniture like their desk instead.
During their first few years of life, most children gradually learn to associate meaning with words. Here are more ideas for talking together – using words:
- Encourage people to use your child’s name when talking to them. They will begin to hear the difference when people talk to them and when people speak away from them.
- They will also learn that adults usually use a different, higher tone when they are talking to babies and young children, and that they use only simple sentences and repeat what they have said.
- Gradually, they will begin to recognise the voices of the people they spend the most time with and understand when someone is talking to them.
- Name objects such as bottles, spoons, vests and coats every time they are used by your child. Naming things every day will make the words become familiar and help your child to associate them with objects and events.
- If your family is bilingual, you may wish to use both languages to help your child’s understanding and acquisition of their home language and that of the other language, too.
- Encourage your baby to listen to the differences in sounds, such as a person making a sound moving around your baby (in front and behind).
- Let the baby listen to how your voice changes in different places, such as in the bathroom, kitchen or outdoors.
- Sing or say nursery rhymes, helping them to do accompanying actions.
- Use repetitive games like ‘Round and round the garden.’ As your baby gets to know the games they may show excitement, kick their legs or flap their arms. They will learn to join in by laughing, gurgling, clapping or banging, and, in time, attempt to say some of the words.
- Praise every attempt your child makes to use language, repeating the sounds they make and giving them meaning.
- Record the sounds your baby makes and play them back to them.
- Help young children make sense of what they hear in busy settings where they are bombarded with lots of sounds. Take your child to the source of a sound to explain what it is and where it’s coming from.
- Gain your child’s attention before you encourage them to notice a sound and begin to make sense of it. Say, ‘Listen, Lily’ and then take them to the vacuum cleaner, for example, so they can hear and feel the noise it makes.
- Take your child around the house, naming all the sound clues they can hear. A wind chime, a ticking clock, a humming fridge, and a spinning washing machine are all clues. Let them ring the doorbell or listen to the phone ringing.
- Taking your child to the same sounds over and over again gradually reinforces the experience, until sounds become familiar, giving them a sense of security.
- Turn off the radio or television when you want your child to hear and learn to listen to other sounds. It’s easier for children to tune in to what you are saying and develop their own speech when there is no background noise.
- Use songs and audio stories. They’re great for encouraging language development. When telling stories use your voice to make it fun such as ‘Splish, splash, splosh!’ or ‘Closer, CLOSER, CLOSER!”