Chuck had a knot in his stomach as he lined up for Phys Ed. He dreaded that class because he knew they’d be playing volleyball again. He always tried to follow the white volleyball as it was hit back to his side, but he couldn’t see it clearly coming toward him. Last week, he had missed the ball every time and been “booed” by his own team for costing them the game.

Chuck isn’t alone. Many students with visual impairments are uncomfortable in gym classes because most of the activities require eye-hand coordination, quick visual responses, and coordinated eye-motor skills. Because many physical education teachers don’t realize that visually impaired students can take part in sports, children with visual impairments are often given the role of scorekeeper or timekeeper. They don’t get to play with their classmates on a regular basis, and they don’t get a chance to develop their physical skills. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Help Your Blind Child Make the Grade in Physical Education

Given the increased rate of obesity observed among children today, helping your child have success in PE class or in other organized sports is important if he is going to grow into a healthy, active teen and young adult.

If you’re concerned about your child getting enough physical activity in school, talk with members of his educational team, especially the teacher of students with visual impairments as well as his orientation and mobility instructor. Ask them to spend time observing your child in PE and make recommendations to the PE teacher about how to help your son participate more fully.

  • Ask the teacher of students with visual impairments to suggest any special equipment that would make it easier for your child to participate, such as a ball with a bell in it to use during soccer or a brightly colored volleyball rather than a white ball. The teacher might also propose modifications such as adding high-contrast tape to a post your child needs to reach or placing a beeper or other auditory cue behind the post.

  • Find out what sports your child will be playing in gym class or wants to play in an after-school program, and practice them with him. If you’re not athletic, ask a family member or friend to help your child learn to do things such as throwing a softball or diving from the edge of a pool. That sort of one-on-one learning with a supportive teacher can help build your child’s confidence and skills before he has to perform with a group of sighted children.

  • You may want to talk with the teacher of students with visual impairments and PE teachers about noncompetitive activities that could be incorporated into gym class. Dance, for example, is noncompetitive and many children enjoy the activity. Gymnastics is another popular activity that needn’t be competitive.

There may be times when your child can partially participate in an activity. For example, a youngster like Chuck might become a very effective server in a volleyball game and not be expected to receive the ball from the other team. In baseball there are pinch hitters and pinch runners, so why not in volleyball?

If your child agrees, you could suggest that the gym teacher ask him to be the model when a new activity is being demonstrated. That way your child will get first-hand experience in what’s being taught. Also, if running activities are part of the PE curriculum, your child may want to run with a guide. In this arrangement, two people run side by side as each person holds an end of a short guide rope. The guide needs to communicate with the other person about turns, obstacles, and so on.

Two sports have been developed specifically to enable children with visual impairments to play with their sighted teammates on an equal basis.

  • Beep baseball uses auditory bases and a ball with a sound cue built in. Players, other than the pitcher, are blindfolded.
  • Goal ball is played on a court with three players per team, all of whom are blindfolded. A ball with bells is rolled by one team toward the other team, whose players protect their goal line with their bodies so that the ball doesn’t cross it.

When sports, fitness, and recreation become part of a youngster’s life at this stage in development, there are often long-lasting health benefits. Being active as one enters into adulthood can lead to a number of advantages, including health and an attractive physique. You can help your child build a strong foundation now so that he can enjoy sports and recreational activities throughout his life.