The following article is part of the series by our blogger Supriya Das on how to prepare visually impaired children between two and five for school. In the previous pieces in this series, Supriya mentioned the key areas where parents need to work in order to help their children integrate into mainstream education system. Here she talks about the key social skills necessary
Communication and interaction are the key elements of socialization. We all use this system of social skills to express our feelings, needs, build relations, bond and network with each other. We are social beings and we begin to socialize as soon as we are born. A baby’s crying, cooing, smiling, gurgling, body gestures like kicking, lifting and grasping at you or your clothes are all different ways to interact and communicate with the world. Parents at this stage should be attentive and responsive to such attempts as this makes the child feel that they are heard and understood thus, leading to the foundation of trust and confidence in them.
Children with blindness or visual impairment are no different. Their social and communication needs are same as children without visual disabilities. They may not be able to see the world physically through their eyes however they do perceive the world through their senses of hearing, touch, olfactory and taste. What they need is your love, time, a positive attitude and patience. Just be proactive in recognizing their communication efforts and fulfilling their social needs. Provide meaningful responses to their body gestures, vocalization and other cues. Give them ample chances to explore and experience their surroundings, let them into situations or take them to places where they get opportunities to open up and interact. Encourage play and interaction with siblings. Here are some examples to develop social skills in your infants and toddlers with blindness or visual impairment.
We learn to express ourselves and understand others expression mostly through observation and incidental experiences. But due to visual challenges, children with blindness or visual impairment must be taught to express themselves and perceive others to the best of their abilities. For instance, let your baby touch your face when you smile at them and mention that you are smiling. Also mention the same every time s/he smiles back at you. I call it labelling the expression. Try showcasing and mentioning other gestures too. Such as nodding for saying yes or no, waving hand to say bye, hand shake etc. This will help your child to correlate the action with its name while enabling them to engage in social conversations and respond with appropriate expression.
Good manners are the essential etiquettes or social behaviours that a child should be taught in order to have healthy interactions. Learning to say please when asking or requesting, saying thank you, hello, waving bye, shaking hands, smiling, making a facial contact when talking are all etiquettes that need to be taught to children right from the beginning. Parents should not think that because my child is blind, they are to be taken for granted for not having or showing any social manner.
Now how to introduce and encourage good manners in your toddler with blindness or visual impairment? The best way is to model. All children learn better and faster when you perform the desirable behaviour rather than asking them to perform. When you perform, children automatically start to understand the context of the conversation followed by the anticipatory behaviour. For instance, we greet people hello when we meet them the first time, saying bye is a gesture indicating departure, saying thank you indicates gratefulness for receiving help, support or gift. Adopt the behaviour to appreciate by saying nice, being grateful by saying thank you, apologise by saying sorry and greeting even amongst yourselves. Do it in such a way that your child gets to touch when you shake hands, nod head to say yes or no in response or wave goodbye. Encourage your child when s/he repeats such gestures to make it a permanent habit.
Most of the times children with visual impairment are less exposed to the world in comparison to children without disabilities. This is one of the reasons for my stressing upon the fact that parents of children with visual impairment should make an extra effort in taking their child to a variety of places, meet people and let them absorb as much as they can from the environment.
Make every opportunity a teaching-learning opportunity. Social skills will enable your child to make friends easily, initiate and participate in conversations and have confidence which is a necessary condition to develop socially on equal terms with all children with or without disabilities in an inclusive environment.
Some useful readings and references:
Supriya Das is Program Coordinator at the Infant to Toddler Program at Saksham, an NGO that works in the domain of disability. Her area of expertise involves working with children with visual impairment, deaf-blindness, and multiple disabilities. She also works with parents, caregivers, and communities to create awareness and provide training.
At Saksham’s Infant to Toddler Program, early intervention services are provided to children with sensory impairment (age 0-4) and training support to their families. Connect to Saksham on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SakshamIndia2003/. For more information, Supriya can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. She also writes a blog on teaching and learning strategies for children with visual impairment, deaf-blindness and multiple disabilities which can be accessed at http://igrowup.weebly.com/