Building Knowledge in Blind Infants and Toddlers
Your child begins life without an understanding of the world around her. Sighted children learn to make sense of their world by observing daily occurrences. Your child will learn to make sense of her world by gathering information using any vision she may have. She will learn by interacting with the world—physically exploring objects and processes. She will need your words to make sense of experiences and matters. Each time she understands the properties of an object or comprehends an activity, she has learned a concept.
Now, while your child is very young, is the ideal age to introduce her to as many concepts as possible. Begin with her immediate environment and routine and give her opportunities to hold and manipulate a variety of real objects (ball, spoon, shoe, bottle, blanket, cup, braille book, toothbrush, dog, etc.) in their natural environments. Demonstrate their purposes and talk with her about their properties. (Note that a stuffed dog has very different characteristics than her pet dog—allow her to explore the real objects.) She will likely enjoy the attention, and she will benefit from hearing the vocabulary and, eventually, understanding the concepts. You can read more information on teaching concepts through this article on incidental learning.
Every aspect of transitioning into the adult word is made possible with each understood concept. Whether your child eventually moves into an assisted living home or dorm room, she will adjust to her new environment because she understands the concept of living spaces. Whether your daughter chooses to volunteer daily or pursue a professional career (both are extremely valuable), she labors because she understands the concepts of work and social interaction.
Concepts learned in early childhood that prepare for the transition from high school to adult life include:
- Independent living: brushing teeth, eating, food preparation (spreading, peeling a banana, stirring), bathing, combing hair, dressing, organizing (picking up toys), exposure to money, having an understanding of time (breakfast in the morning, nap in the afternoon, and pajamas in the evening)
- Beginning travel: walking, basic body parts and their functions, outside versus inside, directional terms (up, down, exposure to right and left), road, and sidewalk
- Social interaction: smiling, handshakes, “hi!” and other greetings, emotions, manners (please, thank you, excuse me), and the back and forth of conversations
- Technology: listening to a computer screen reader or watching a screen magnifier, magnifier use, and exposure to a phone or computer
- Functional academics: book, story, and continuous exposure to braille or print
- Recreational: play, toy, ball
- Self-Determination skills: help, “no”
- Listening: what is heard and where the sound originated
With the exception of introducing your child to blindness-specific technology and braille, opportunities for teaching these concepts occur naturally on a regular basis. A toddler may not master activity concepts such as brushing teeth. By learning about the elements of an activity—teeth, toothbrush, toothpaste—she forms the foundation for eventually performing that activity as independently as possible.