As Amy and her four-year-old son, Jordan, approached the water play area in the park, she started talking to him about what was going on in the play area. “Looks like some boys your age are playing near the fountain. One boy has a squirt gun, and the other has a toy dinosaur.”

She walked with Jordan toward the boys and called out to one wearing green swim trunks, “Hey, your green squirt gun matches your green swim trunks. Did you do that on purpose?” Because Jordan could see colors at this distance, Amy was helping her son recognize which boy had which toy. Jordan, with his own squirt gun in hand, made a beeline for the boy, saying, “Want to play cowboys?” With his mother’s brief description of the boys and what they were doing, Jordan had the information he needed—and the confidence—to join in their play.

Social Strategies for Visually Impaired Preschoolers

As Amy’s example shows, parents can be very helpful to their child’s efforts to find playmates and make friends. Being supportive, aware of social opportunities, and ready to provide relevant information can make a big difference.

Tell your child what other children are doing. If there’s a specific child he’d like to play with, guide him to that person. Once he makes a connection with the other child, you can back off and let them play. If they become separated and you see that your child has lost track of his playmate, unobtrusively guide him in the right direction.

Watch other children your son’s age to see how they play and what they play with. At home, show him what you’ve observed and have practice play times together. If you’ve seen children playing at being firefighters, using their tricycles as fire trucks, describe that to him and suggest that he can offer to be the one who carries the “hose,” and rides behind the tricycle “fire truck” driver.

To help your child learn how to approach other children, try practicing questions he can ask them about familiar television shows or games. He needs to understand the concept of asking a question, listening to the other person’s answer, and then responding appropriately. Your child might need a few practice sessions before he gets the hang of it. Encourage him to listen to what other children are saying to each other and give him some ideas about how to start a conversation with someone he’d like to get to know.

There’ll be times when your child will miss a friendly cue. He may not see another child smile and wave. He may not realize another child is talking to him because there’s chatter going on around him. These missed overtures may make other children think that your child doesn’t want to play or doesn’t like them. In some situations, you might need to explain about your child’s visual impairment and how he sometimes needs help. Some preschoolers are able to be helpful and empathize with another child’s problems, and once they understand, may want to pitch in to give him a hand.

Give your child realistic feedback about how he does socially. If he does something well, let him know, for example, “Wow, that was a good idea to call out Crystal’s name when you two got separated. I’m glad you let her know you didn’t see her go to the slide when she got off the swing.” Also let him know when he doesn’t do something as well as he could have. “Those girls walked away from you because you weren’t playing follow-the-leader the way they wanted you to. Next time, if you can’t see what they’re doing, ask them if they could come closer.”

In general, your child may be more comfortable and outgoing in situations where there are fewer children. Think about taking him to places such as parks and the library at times when they’re less busy and he can more easily hear and see what others are doing. When you notice a child who seems interested in playing with your child, suggest to his or her parent that the children get together for a playdate. Be ready to take the lead if necessary because other parents may feel awkward about not knowing what’s appropriate when it comes to inviting a visually impaired child to spend time in their home.