Motor Skills Development for your Child with Blindness or Low Vision
Balance and Trunk Control
Balance is a child’s ability to hold his body parts upright. Balance is part of running, jumping, standing on one leg, bicycling, and ball throwing. As with all motor development, balance develops from head to toe; your child won’t be able to sit until they have head and trunk balance or to stand before they also have hip and leg balance.
- Carry your child, if young enough to tuck into a chest, back carrier, or sling, as you do some of your daily chores. This provides balance and movement in space, even if you’re the one doing it.
- Give your child lots of time lying on their tummy. Your child may act as if they do not like this position. And they probably won’t—until they have learned to balance, turn their head, and lift it up off the floor. One key to achieving that is to make the position interesting. Try getting down on the floor with your child. Talk to them and encourage them to hold their head up. Use sound—a rattle toy or a small bell—to get your child’s attention. As your child lifts their head toward it, move the sound higher and higher.
- Provide chances to sit or stand alone.
- Offer some support and then letting go for a few seconds. See if your child can catch themself before losing their balance.
- Encourage opportunities to balance in different positions such as while on tummy and reaching for objects that are placed directly in front and to the side; balance while sitting and twisting the torso to reach to either side and even behind; and balance while standing and bending to pick something up. Such transitional movements are important for coordinated motor movements in the future.
To help your child practice walking, you can:
- Give your child a chance to walk frequently. It builds up self-confidence.
- Be sure your child has an opportunity to walk on many different surfaces—rugs, bare floors, grass, sidewalks, gravel, tile, etc.
- See that your child has a chance to walk on both even and uneven surfaces—steps, hills, sloping driveways, etc.
- Make games out of balance activities. Trampolines are good for balance but so are old inner tubes. Seesaws help balance too.
Once your child begins walking, making your home safe for your toddler becomes a number one priority. Look around your home for “toddler traps” and then find ways to make each area of the house safe for your child.
- Place a gate at the top of a flight of stairs going down.
- Tape down the edges of small rugs so the floor doesn’t suddenly slip out from under a running or walking child.
- Try to remember to keep room and closet doors closed or put a heavy object against a door to prop it all the way open.
- Sharp edges on tables can be a problem when your child is the same height as the table. Adding foam strips or padded tape along the edges can help to prevent injuries.
- Remind all your children, including your child, to put their toys away and not leave them on the floor where they can be tripped over.
- Keep glass items such as lamps in a protected place, say, in a corner with a chair on either side.
- Kid-proof your cabinets. Keep household cleaners and medications of any kind in cabinets that cannot be opened by your child. Keyless locks that are easily opened by adults but difficult for children are available.
- Cover electrical outlets with an outlet shield so that plugs are not exposed and unused outlets covered.
As your child becomes more and more active, you’ll need to teach them more and more about “orientation”—the word used to describe vision-impaired people’s ability to know where they are in space. To help your child develop a good idea of the space around them, try these ideas:
- Different rooms in your home have different odors, floor coverings, and sounds. As your child begins to walk around on their own, point out these differences.
“Feel the cold tile on your feet? You’re in the kitchen.”
“That’s right, you found the rug that leads to the living room.”
“The ticking noise is from the big old clock in the hallway.”
“The traffic noise is louder when you’re in the front of the house.”
“Do you smell the cookies baking in the kitchen?”
- Tape a piece of cloth that has a pleasant texture on the door to your child’s bedroom. Self-adhesive paper with a raised texture is good too. Use the same fabric or paper on your child’s chair at the dinner table and on the kitchen drawer or cabinet that it’s okay to play in.
- If you move the furniture around, either ask your child to help you do it or be sure to let your child know what you’ve done. When you’re used to finding things in a certain place, it can be very confusing not to find them there. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t rearrange furniture—it’s actually good practice for your child to think about a new way of doing things—as long as you include your child in the process.
- Begin teaching compass directions (north, south, east, west) early. Knowing that the sun always rises in the east and sets in the west may someday help your child find their way home.
- As you walk around the neighborhood with your child, point out driveways, corners, mailboxes, trees, etc. These will become useful landmarks when they begin getting around alone. For example, “If I walk out my front door, walk left, and count three driveways, I’ll come to the mailbox.”
- Teach your child to use sidewalks as clues. If you’re supposed to be following the sidewalk and you’re walking on grass or dirt instead, something’s wrong.
- Play follow-the-leader in such a way that your child has to follow the sound of your voice as you walk around a room. Do this outside too as your voice will be more difficult to locate in a large space without echoes.
- When walking with an older child, ask them to tell you where you have been and how to get back to where you came from.
- Set up travel games. “You got to the kitchen by walking through the hallway. Now can you go back to the hall without walking through the kitchen?”
- Teach your child to trail walls, both to find the way and to provide a sense of control over where they are and where they are going. Trailing is done by lightly curving the fingers and holding the back of the hand against the wall but slightly ahead of the body. The wall isn’t used for support but as a guideline.
Any one of these could happen. But because there are so many benefits to running, the best idea is to help your child to run safely. You can do that by:
- Carrying your child as you run.
- Running together, hand in hand.
- Running together, each holding the end of a rope.
- Asking a playmate or a sibling to run with your child.
- Making sure the area is free of obstacles.
- Stringing some clothesline at your child’s waist level to make a running track in the backyard. Place a sound cue (bell or something that rattles when shaken) at one end and have your child run toward it holding on to the rope.