Kayla’s second-grade class left the lunchroom and headed out for recess. Once she was outside, Kayla walked around the edge of the playground with her cane in hand. Although she sometimes stopped to listen to the small groups of children playing, she never asked if she could join one of the groups. The other children didn’t seem to notice her.

Kayla’s experience at recess is not uncommon. Many children have trouble making friends, but without the visual cues that other kids use to interact, children who are blind or visually impaired sometimes need extra help in knowing how to get started. Consider a different scenario:

Joshua arrived early at school, where he joined the children who were eating breakfast in the lunchroom. As he sat at his assigned table, he heard some of his classmates greeting each other. Joshua spoke up, “Hey, did anyone see ‘The Simpsons’ last night? Man, the part where Bart got an ‘A’ on his test was really funny!” Alberto, who was sitting right next to Joshua, sounded uncomfortable when he said, “I didn’t know you could watch TV. I mean…” “Sure I do,” Joshua answered. “I can understand a lot from the voices and the sounds, and some programs have a special description track that tells me what’s happening. ‘The Simpsons’ is my favorite program. What’s yours?” Soon all the boys were laughing.

Tips for Promoting Friendships

Most people and adults are somewhat social by nature and being able to form ongoing relationships contributes in an important way to your child’s overall development. However, your visually impaired child may need help from you and other family members in learning how to make and keep friends. There are a number of things you can do to make it easier for your child to socialize with others her age.

  • Find out what kinds of activities, books, and television shows are “in” for children the same age as your child and expose her to these things at home. If she is familiar with things other children enjoy, she’ll be more comfortable joining in a conversation about them, and she’ll have topics she can use to start a conversation that another child will be interested in.
  • We live in a society that often judges people by their appearances. You don’t need to agree with that idea to realize that other children are more likely to socialize with your child if she dresses and acts like others in the group. If you pay attention to the clothes and hairstyles of other children her age, you can help her to dress to fit in.
  • Encourage your child to invite one or two classmates to your home. It may be easier for your child to follow what’s going on in social situations and to respond to other kids if the group is small, and she is in a familiar place. Be prepared to make some suggestions if your child needs help figuring out what to do. Perhaps you can involve the kids in doing an art project or playing a game. If your child is holding her own socially, then back off and give her some space to interact with the other children.
  • A child who is visually impaired is often in the position of being helped. Encourage your child to think of ways she can help others in order to reciprocate. If she is good in math, for example, she can offer to help another student with the homework. But avoid having your child give things such as cookies, candy, or toys to other children as a thank you; they might look like a “bribe” for friendship. Sometimes a verbal “thank you” is all that is needed.

Practice is Important

Because children with typical vision usually learn how to interact in social situations by observing and copying others, we may not always realize that specific social skills can be taught and learned: for example, how to approach a potential friend, how to ask and respond to questions in a conversation, and what kinds of gestures to use when talking and listening. As with many areas of development, your child may need to practice social skills like these in order to really master them.

  • Role play with your child about how to approach another child she would like to be friends with. You can take turns with you each playing your child and then the new friend and practice different ways to start and maintain the conversation. Give your child realistic feedback about what she is doing.
  • Use role playing also to practice having longer conversations with other children. Give your child suggestions about how to keep a conversation going with another person, such as saying “uh huh” to show you’re listening and asking questions about what the other person is saying. Give her opportunities to talk with other family members and friends. Encourage these people to give her feedback on what she is doing well and what she can improve on.
  • Teach your child body language, like facing someone in an alert, relaxed, and friendly way, and talk to her about how and when people use body language and gestures for communicating and socializing. Your child may be missing the chance to interact with others because she doesn’t see their smiles, waves, nods, or winks. Practice these nonverbal gestures together so that she understands them more fully.
  • Stand back when your child has an opportunity to interact with another child her age. Afterward, when the two of you are alone, give her feedback on what she did well and what she might have done differently. You may find that with feedback she is able to learn to monitor her own social interactions.

Focus on Common Interests

Just like adults, children tend to gravitate toward others with whom they have a common interest. Think about your own friends for a minute, and you may realize that in many cases your friendship began because you had something in common. Your child may similarly be more likely to make a true friend if she has something in common with that person. So, help her find something she enjoys doing that she can do with others. If your daughter likes animals, perhaps volunteering at the local animal shelter with other children her age will give her a way to make a new friend. If your daughter likes to read science fiction, then a classmate who also likes science fiction may want to come over to your house to watch the latest video based on a book by a popular author.

With your encouragement and some practice, your child can enjoy the rewards of socializing and friendship. If you can provide opportunities for her to meet other children her age, she’ll get a chance to practice her socializing skills and may have a good time as well.