Summer Friendships: Helping Your Child Who is Blind or Low Vision Develop and Maintain Connections

Summer offers most young people additional free time due to fewer academic responsibilities. The season is ripe for your child who is blind or low vision to develop and maintain friendships through planning and attending get-togethers. Consider with me who your child can meet up with, any social skills needing improvement, and any accessibility concerns—all with the goal of helping your child develop companionship and the skills necessary to foster friendship well into the future.

Relationships to cultivate

Who can your child spend time with this season? If your child doesn’t have one or more evident close friends, perhaps you can consider potential friendships to foster.

  • Ask your child who they played with at recess or sat with at lunch.
  • Ask your child or their teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) if other children at your child’s school are also blind or low vision.
  • Ask your child’s teacher(s) if they recommend a particular friend who would or did get along well with your child.
  • Consider peers who live in your neighborhood, even if they are younger or older than your child.
  • Are there children with similar interests in your child’s community—whether from a sports team, club, or camp?
  • It may be a good season to pursue friendships with children who live elsewhere. Your child can virtually meet with cousins, others who are blind or low vision, or peers with similar interests over Zoom, Skype, or Facetime.
  • Visit a nearby, familiar playground regularly. Tell your child what others are doing or playing, and give your child the opportunity to interact with them. If a child plays well with yours, don’t hesitate to ask the parent for their contact info in hopes of meeting at the playground again. Older children can ask for this information themselves.

Social skills

As you know, children who are blind or low vision will not pick up on all social norms and cues without direct instruction. It will be important to teach and review social interaction skills with your child. Social skills include body language, eye contact, introducing oneself, turn-taking, conversational etiquette, communicating needs, emotional regulation, seeking commonalities, listening, analyzing social situations, and playing/interacting with others.

As your child learns and rehearses social skills, remember we are all a work in progress! The goal isn’t perfection but your child and their friend enjoying each other’s company.

With gentle instruction and practice, and the feedback and guidance peers provide, your child’s social skills will mature.

Accessible meetups

The extent of your planning and intervention of meetups will depend on your child’s age and developmental stage.

Children without fully developed orientation and mobility (O&M) skills may be most confident playing familiar games and activities in a well-known environment. You may want to plan an initial playdate at your home. When meeting in unfamiliar locations or for unfamiliar activities, help your child practice activities and orient to locations before the occasion. Was your child invited bowling? Visit the alley and learn adaptive techniques beforehand.

Older children and teens should be encouraged to plan and prepare get-togethers and outings with increased independence. They may ask a friend what they’re wearing in an attempt to dress appropriately; they may ask a sibling knowledgeable in bowling for a mini-lesson before a group bowling activity; and they may ask an employee of the alley to help them orient to the unfamiliar facility prior to a party. While at the get-together, they can ask a friend for information about who’s in attendance; they can utilize their sensory efficiency skills to detect what others are doing (and ask a friend for confirmation if unsure); and they can utilize their social skills to initiate or enter conversations.

Notice how the older child/ teen is learning to seek data about social situations. Such skills are taught and rehearsed over many years to develop and maintain friendships without the direct support of a parent. This doesn’t mean complete independence is your child’s goal—simply knowing how and where to collect information, and having the ability to do so, is a wise aspiration.

The goal feels lofty—think only of the next small step. Now is the time to equip your child with friendship-forging skills and opportunities to practice.

May this summer be filled with playdates, pool parties, and picnic lunches!

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