Individuals who are blind or visually impaired, as well as parents and teachers of children with visual impairments, share their expertise and challenges regarding teaching young children to interact and play with their sighted peers. Read their thoughts about teaching social skills to your child with a visual impairment.

DeAnna Noriega: “It is hard feeling like a square peg in a round hole. Kermit the Frog sang a song about it not being easy to be green. Being visually impaired in school is like that. A lot of social interaction is nonverbal body language stuff, like making eye contact and smiling. It is easy to sit in corners and listen, but never try to join in on the conversation. You can feel shy, worry that you won’t be accepted or will be teased. One way I found was to notice who else was sitting quietly in corners and start by trying to talk to them. By trying hard to make other shy people feel comfortable with my blindness, I made friends and helped others. I soon discovered that just because people didn’t know how to approach me, that if I made the effort to be the one reaching out, then I could make friends and start having fun, not just observe others having a good time.”

Natalie Martiniello: “Many children with visual impairments will require direct support to explore the environment, and these exploration skills are necessary if they are to move confidently within public spaces, initiate interaction, and be aware of the social world around them. Parents can model appropriate social skills and ensure that their children have opportunities to explore their surroundings so that they become more aware of what is going on beyond their immediate space. I remember reading a great book that provided a number of suggestions—for example, auditory toys (like balls with bells) can entice children without sight and reinforce the notion that objects continue to exist beyond their direct environment. Speaking as a blind person, I would also stress the benefits of giving children opportunities to explore, learn, and discover. Read to them whenever you can to teach them about the world around them, include them, and reinforce a positive image of blindness that will lead to self-confidence and self-esteem.”

Emily Lovett: “My son is two and a half, so right now, we are trying to teach the difference between “nice hands” and “mean hands.” He likes deep pressure touch but not everyone does, so it is important he knows what kinds of touches are okay when playing with other kiddos. I would love to know more about how to get him involved in social situations without becoming fearful and introverted. I should note he is blind with no vision acuity.”

Tabatha Tabby Mitchell: “We simply include Eme in all sighted activities with her sighted brother and sisters, and we describe the events for her. She gets to interact with sighted kids and adults at events, and she gathers knowledge about sighted real-world events and can better socialize with sighted kids later.”

Emily Coleman: “Inclusion is most important—even tech inclusion. Like teaching the use of a cell phone, texting, email, Facebook, etc. What are their peers doing? Teach them to do the same!”

Gillian Gray Pilcher: “I will be teaching more social skills this year. I think that a lot of it has to be done in context. I think that after pre-teaching, you need to set up “safe” activities to practice those skills.”

Jennifer Mattie: “My son is three, and I have a hard time getting him to play in group settings because any toys being played with needs to be touched and very close to his eyes. If it has left his “world,” then it does not exist anymore! On the plus side, he does not want what another kid has because it hasn’t entered his “world” yet. His sisters like to play imaginative games, and he usually struggles with these as he has trouble imitating because of his blindness. His sisters do try to help.”