This article will talk about developmental milestones and delays among visually impaired children, and some practical ways to address them.
By Supriya Das
Parents, who usually come to me for consultation or enrolment of their babies in Saksham’s intervention program, either come with a lot of disappointments or lot of hope. When you are left with no option other than bringing up a child with a challenge, then anxiety, sadness, frustration, anger, tiredness and unrealistic expectations are natural. My first suggestion to such families always is to slow down, stop thinking negatively and start acting as per the demands of the present situation. It is hard but definitely not impossible. One can surely pull through.
Some parents get to know about the presence of a visual challenge in their baby right at the time they are born. However some may come across it in later months when they see few or no signs of their baby’s visual connectivity with them and the immediate surroundings. The earlier you notice the better. Hence, watch out for early signs of a visual disability in your baby in order to address the challenge. Here is a checklist:
- White pupil, cloudiness of the iris, persistent redness, swelling or discharge from the eyes.
- Excessive watering, blinking or sensitivity to light or sunlight
- Aimless gaze, erratic eye movements or a cross-eyed look
- The child does not make eye contact when you talk to him/her
- Does not see objects until held very close
- Does not notice objects, toys or people around
- May flail hands when you offer a toy or an object and may not be able to grab it
- Tilts head or moves eye balls in peculiar directions to look at or find objects
If you notice any of these signs in your baby then surely get a medical diagnosis done. Once you get a confirmation by the medical practitioner about the existence of a visual challenge, seek immediate support from either early intervention experts or a vision therapist who can assist with the rehabilitation process. Remember that your baby is growing at a regular pace. You need to offer the right opportunities so that he/she achieves the developmental milestones to his/her best potential at an appropriate age. Keep in mind that every child is different and so is the visual challenge. Hence, babies with a visual impairment may reach their developmental milestones at different ages. This is also dependent on that age at which you start the rehabilitation process.
Let us have a look at some significant vision milestones from birth to two years of age that aid in overall growth and development in all babies and toddlers.
Birth to four months- Babies without disabilities, at this age, focus on objects or faces which are at a distance of about ten inches. They perceive the world usually in black and white. They start to track mobile objects and try to reach for them. Eye hand co-ordination and depth perception begin to develop at this period.
5 to 8 months- Babies without disabilities develop colour-sensitive vision by now and start to crawl. This further aids in eye-hand-foot-body co-ordination. Eye movement and depth perception continue to develop.
9 to 12 months- Babies without disabilities begin to use both eyes together and judge distances and grasp and throw objects with greater accuracy. Crawling continues and they get more mobile.
1 to 2 years: Eye-hand co-ordination and depth perception are well developed in babies without disabilities by now. They get more interested in exploring, listening and looking around.
You must have realized by now that vision plays a significant role in motor milestones and overall development. Hence, you need to be proactive and find ways to can ensure that your baby achieves these milestones in spite of the visual disability. Let’s look at some activities that you can perform with your baby.
If your baby has some vision:
- Use a nightlight or other dim lamp in the baby's room
- Use black and white or light and dark contrasting toys- it would be best to go for black, white and red.
- Frequently change the position of the baby cot and also change the baby's position in it.
- Keep reach-and-touch toys in the baby’s proximity. Use toys that make a sound.
- Talk to the baby as you move around the room.
- Encourage crawling and other forms of movement. Give the baby a lot of freedom to experience the home environment.
- Let the baby touch and explore a variety of things.
- Name objects every time the baby touches them.
- Give the baby toys/objects to play with that have different textures and shapes.
These strategies are quite helpful in achieving positive results. However, expert support is also required. Experts will conduct assessments, develop a planned program and provide guidance as per the nature of the baby’s disability. One small piece of advice: Don’t be frustrated if the baby is not accomplishing the activities in the first attempt. It is best to wait and try again later.
Give ample time to yourself as well as to your baby! Some resources that you may find useful:
1. https://pathways.org/ - This website provides a lot of information on developmental milestones of babies and toddlers.
2. Leo Learns by Doing DVD is an excellent tool for parents, educators and care givers that shares step by step strategies and techniques to help babies with visual impairment develop skills and abilities. If interested, follow the link to check it out: https://www.good-lite.com/Details.cfm?ProdID=588.
Photo Credit- Arnav Sengupta
About the Author
Supriya Das is Program Co-ordinator 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, care givers 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 athttp://igrowup.weebly.com/