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AFBAmerican Foundation®
for the Blind

Expanding possibilities for people with vision loss

Toddlers and Preschoolers


One area that you will need to concentrate on with your preschooler is self-care—teaching not only how dress himself and how to eat without making a mess of himself and the table, but the finer points of those skills. Start early to help your child toward eventual independent decision making. Here are some suggestions for how to begin:

  • Choosing clothes that look good together—by putting matching or complementary colors together in the closet or bureau drawers, and labeling them with texture or Braille tags. That way, whatever she chooses from a particular drawer or section of the closet will look coordinated. And it will enable her to put away her clothes in the right place.

  • Using a knife and fork as well as a spoon—this takes a fair amount of manual dexterity so both of you will need patience. Explain that it's the way big boys and girls eat; place your hands over his to guide him in the "spearing" and "sawing" motions, which may seem like a game at first and get a little messy; and praise him each time he does it with more control.

  • Keeping food on the plate when eating—when your child first starts eating at the table, put her food on a plate with a rim that curves up. This will help to keep the food within the center area of the plate and make it easier to avoid scattering it on the table.


  • Posture—some blind or visually impaired children tend to keep their head down with their chin resting on their chest, or their shoulders slumped forward. Sometimes they don't know what to do with their hands. All of which isn't surprising because if you can't see yourself in the mirror, or see how other people stand, sit, gesture, and just generally move about, it's hard to know how to do those things until someone gives you hands-on lessons in natural looking motion and posture. Include casual gestures that sighted people do automatically, such as folding their arms or slipping one hand into a pocket to look relaxed.

  • Mannerisms—it's not unusual for visually impaired children to use repetitive gestures such as finger flicking in front of lights or eye poking. This behavior may be annoying or disruptive for others to look at and might make them uncomfortable about interacting with a child who does this. If you can't see yourself, you don't know it looks odd unless someone tells you. And you're the best person to tell your child, before the behavior becomes ingrained or someone teases her about it.

  • Movement—as soon as your child begins to crawl and walk, he is going to want to move around beyond a playpen. You can't always be there to guide him or hold his hand, and he needs to be able to get around on his own to build self-confidence and self-control. Make your home as child-proof as possible, help him become familiar with an area in which he can play, and let him have the run of that area.

  • Conversation—children who are visually impaired need to be able to share information as well as receive it. It's easy to forget that a child who can't see well or at all doesn't have equal opportunity to initiate conversation when she meets a playmate or relative because she has to depend on the sighted person to speak first and identify himself. When she's with you be sure to greet anyone you meet by name so she knows who it is. Encourage her to follow your lead and say hello even before the person greets her.

  • Appearance—without seeing how other people dress or act, it's not easy to figure out what you should do yourself. Let your child know you understand that and teach him how to "put himself together"—with hair combed, shirt tucked in, pants zipped, and face, hands and nails clean. Tell him you expect him to do these things on his own but that he can always ask you to check to be sure he's done it right.

  • Appropriate places and times—visually impaired children need to be told when their behavior is appropriate and when it is not. Virtually every young child will pick her nose from time to time and explore other parts of her body, including the genital area. Let her know that it is normal but private behavior—not something to do in public.

  • Body language—a lot of the way we communicate with others is through gestures and facial expressions. This is another area where children who are visually impaired are at a disadvantage. Your son can't always pick up on the affectionate intent when his uncle teases him because he can't see his uncle's cheerful grin or the twinkle in his eyes. Nor can he see the tension in someone's mouth and jaw when that person is angry. He won't necessarily know that he shouldn't laugh when his brother is crying over a skinned knee. You'll have to be his guide in this area, and it's a delicate one. You don't want to set out a rigid list of do's and don'ts that could be mistaken for "always do this" or "never do that." Spontaneity is important in your child's emotional development. Your job is to help him recognize when it's fine for him to laugh, make funny faces, and just act silly and when that same behavior would not be appropriate and might hurt someone's feelings.

Learn more in Reach Out and Teach: Meeting the Training Needs of Parents of Visually and Multiply Handicapped Young Children, by Kay Alicyn Ferrell, Ph.D.

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