Building Knowledge in Infants and Toddlers Who are Blind or Low Vision

Your child begins life without an understanding of the world around them. Sighted children learn to make sense of their world by observing daily occurrences. Your child will learn to make sense of the world by gathering information using any vision they may have. They will learn by interacting with the world—physically exploring objects and processes. Your words will provide an understanding of experiences and matters. Each time they understand the properties of an object or comprehend an activity, they have learned a concept.

Now, while your child is very young, is the ideal age to introduce your child to as many concepts as possible. Begin with the immediate environment and routine and provide opportunities to hold and manipulate various real objects (ball, spoon, shoe, bottle, blanket, cup, braille book, toothbrush, dog, etc.) in their natural environments. Demonstrate their purposes and talk about their properties. Your child will likely enjoy the attention and 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.

Each understood concept makes every aspect of transitioning into the adult word possible. Whether your child eventually moves into an assisted living home or dorm room, they will adjust to the new environment because they understand the concept of living spaces. Whether your child chooses to volunteer daily or pursue a professional career (both are extremely valuable), they understand the concepts of work and social interaction.

Concepts

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

Except 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—your child forms the foundation for eventually performing that activity as independently as possible.

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