Skills for the Job: Working with blind children


Understanding the impact of visual impairments can make a difference to the outcomes of children who are blind or partially sighted.

How many children are blind and partially sighted?

There are an estimated 40,000 children and young people aged up to 25 in the UK with a vision impairment of sufficient severity to require specialist support. Of these, approximately 25,000 are under 16.

Most blind and partially sighted children and young people are born with their vision impairment. Approximately two thirds of children with severe vision impairment and blindness are diagnosed before their first birthday. The single most common cause of vision impairment in children is cerebral vision impairment. Children at most risk of severe vision impairment or blindness are those who are born pre-term and of very low birth weight, from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds, or of South Asian origin.

Does vision impairment influence development?

Children with a vision impairment develop in much the same way as other children, although the rate and order in which skills develop may differ. The difficulties experienced by children with a vision impairment are not always obvious. Different visual conditions result in a range of effects, with different implications for each child. It is important to remember that each child is an individual and that even children with the same eye condition may appear to see very differently. Children develop gradually, and in the beginning nobody can know where the strengths of a child with a vision impairment lie, or what aspects of life they might find particularly challenging.

What issues do visual impairments pose?

Without appropriate support, children with vision impairment are at risk of poor outcomes across a range of emotional and social wellbeing indicators and the risks are even greater for children with vision impairment and another disability. At age seven, children with vision impairment differ across a range of characteristics associated with wellbeing when compared with fully sighted seven-year-olds. For example their parents were significantly more likely to say their child had emotional, concentration or behaviour difficulties; was often unhappy, downhearted or low; or wet the bed at least once a week. Parents and teachers of seven-year-old children with vision impairment were significantly more likely to say that the children were being bullied, than parents and teachers of children without vision impairment.

Understanding the impact of vision impairment on communication, self-esteem and attitudes to learning is vital. Vision impairment can mean that eye contact, facial expressions, body language and gestures may simply go unnoticed or be misinterpreted. They need help to learn different ways of understanding social situations so that they can build positive relationships with others.

How can you help children and young people with vision impairment to be independent?

Those working with blind and partially sighted children have an important role to play in providing social skills and independence training.

  • Assume the child can understand - talk to them, not about or over them, and encourage others to do the same.
  • Let them hear you talking about what they can do, not what they cannot do.
  • Assume that in time they will learn to do some things for themselves. For each new skill, show them how to do one part of the process that you feel they could achieve on their own.
  • Set them up for success and build on it.
  • Discover their likes and dislikes.
  • Use the things they like as rewards to encourage positive behaviour.
  • Show interest in their smallest achievements.

With support, active involvement, guided exploration of real objects and experiences, and lots of verbal explanation, blind and visually impaired children will learn and achieve a lot.

Julie Jennings, manager of children, young people and families, at the Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB)

TOP TIPS

  • Use a child's name to gain their attention so that they know you are talking directly to them
  • Describe objects, events and people clearly and simply
  • Try to encourage enthusiasm for learning new skills
  • Show interest in their achievements

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