Visual impairment inhibits the language development of a baby.
In the beginning babies babble. A visually impaired baby will also do this, but after a while they will stop as it interferes with their hearing.
Before a baby starts talking, they use other ways to communicate with others. They point to things they want and they copy what others do. This is called pre language indicators.
The visually impaired baby cannot see what others do and therefore does not copy their actions. They do not use facial expressions and body language as they are not aware of it. They will not point their fingers at something or wave goodbye unless they are specifically taught.
The use of body language and facial expressions are limited.
In the very early stage of language development, 0-2 years of age, the baby who can see, reacts to words as they are usually accompanied by gestures or some form of visual input. The mother will ask the baby ‘Do you want a bottle?’ and at the same time show the bottle to the baby. The baby learns to associate the words with what he sees.
This is not possible for the child with visual impairment. In a sense the visually impaired baby becomes isolated from the world around them.
The caregiver should talk to the baby all the time, during bathing, dressing and eating, explaining and describing what is happening and the objects which form part of the activity.
The baby should be exposed to as many things as possible and given the opportunity to touch and manipulate things.
First Words – 2-7 years
During this phase, the child links words with symbolic play. The child will take a box and push it around saying, ‘Brrr, brrr, ’playing it is a car. Real, concrete experiences are very important to help expand life experiences and language. Language development is built on the previous phase and will therefore also be delayed in this phase.
It is necessary to directly intervene in the case of the visually impaired child. They need to be taught the words and their meaning. First words usually are verbs, things they can do, because it has meaning for them. Then the names of people. Names of objects come later.
All children repeat words that adults say, but later on stop doing so. This is called echolalia(this article gives more information and tips). The visually impaired child tends to do this for much longer. They also start saying long, grammatically correct, sentences without understanding the meaning of the words they are saying.
At around 4 years of age children start to ask ‘Why’ questions. The visually impaired child starts doing this much later. They tend not to ask questions except for things to satisfy their personal needs like something to eat or drink, not to gain information.
The visually impaired child also struggles with the personal pronouns. You will hear the child, speaking to you, saying, “You want to sit on my lap.,” when she/he wants to sit on your lap.
7- 11 Years
During this phase, the child becomes aware of things like volume, mass, size, and relationships. The visually impaired child will also learn about this, but at a later stage. Development depends on his caregivers and educators and how much he has learnt during the first stages.