Visual impairments are very rare in young children, so most of you probably have not had the opportunity to spend time with children who are blind or visually impaired before. The suggestions below may be helpful so that you can relax and enjoy your interactions with them.

  • Let the children know that you are present before you touch them. Identify yourself by name and, for those who may need some help to understand, by some special feature – your hair, your jewelry, etc. Be sure to let your them know when you are leaving, too.
  • Use the children’s names to get their attention when talking with them.
  • Name and describe people and objects to help them be more aware of who is present and what is happening.
  • Help them to anticipate upcoming activities and events. Explain the activities and allow them to touch or walk through activities before they try them. Allow them to explore the parameters when possible. Explain what other children are doing, too, so they can “watch” by listening.
  • It is all right to use words like “look,” “see,” “light,” and names of colors even if the children are blind.
  • Make directions simple and clear. “Put it on the table” is preferable to “Put it here.”
  • Children with visual impairments often need extra time to think and respond. Be patient and allow that extra time for them to respond to what you say.
  • Give careful attention to touch and tone of voice. Although children with visual impairments probably cannot see your facial expressions or interpret your body language, your touch or tone of voice can convey a clear message to them.
  • Reassure children with visual impairments of your presence and interest in them by making periodic comments.
  • When you are talking, they may not show much expression and may turn away. This does not necessarily mean that they are not listening. They may be listening intently.
  • Talk at a reasonable rate, using short sentences, simple language and a variety of tones.
  • Use words consistently in connection with actions and experiences. If the children are talking, take your cues from them.
  • It may be helpful to use the children’s bodies as reference points when describing location, size and/or distance. (For example: “The toy is by your foot.”)
  • Whenever possible, encourage them to learn about objects by touching them. It is preferable to move the children to the objects rather than always bringing objects to them.
  • If you must move away from children momentarily, it will be less frightening if they know where they are and are in contact with something or someone familiar.
  • As with sighted children, some children with visual impairments do not like to be given too much direction and hand-over-hand assistance. They prefer to explore on their own. It will be important, of course, to make sure that they are safe.
  • When possible, identify things around you such as pleasant and unpleasant tastes, smells and sounds. (For example, the wind blowing the leaves in the fall, the warmth of the sun, the smell of flowers blooming.)
  • When you take children to an unfamiliar place, describe important features such as doors and large pieces of furniture. Describe other features and objects in relation to these “reference points” as you help or encourage them to explore. (For example: “The ball is on the floor in front of the door.”)
  • Vision motivates us to interact, so you may need to encourage children with visual impairments to interact.
  • Encourage children to be as independent as possible even though it may be tempting to do things for them. It is also important to provide opportunities for them to participate in activities with their peers.
  • Children with visual impairments may need to use “the sighted guide technique” to move safely in unfamiliar places. The children grasp the arm of the person assisting them just above the elbow (or wrist if the child is small) and walk about one-half step behind them. The sighted guides move forward guiding them gently and describing where they are going.
  • Some children may use a cane to help them move safely from place to place. It will be important to help them find a place to put it when not in use and to keep other children from playing with it.
  • Remember that children with visual impairments are children first and that their visual impairment is just one of their characteristics. If you have questions that the children cannot answer for themselves, talk with their parents or a staff person.