Helping Your Child Who Is Blind or Has Low Vision Learn How to Make Friends
Most people and adults are somewhat social by nature and being able to form ongoing relationships contributes in an important way to your child’s overall development. However, your child is blind or has low vision may need help from you and other family members in learning how to make and keep friends. There are a number of things you can do to make it easier for your child to socialize with others their age.
- Find out what kinds of activities, books, and television shows are “in” for children the same age as your child and expose them to these things at home. Suppose they are familiar with things other children enjoy. In that case, they’ll be more comfortable joining in a conversation about them and have topics to start a conversation that another child will be interested in.
- We live in a society that often judges people by their appearances. You don’t need to agree with that idea to realize that other children are more likely to socialize with your child if they dress and act like others in the group. If you pay attention to the clothes and hairstyles of other children their age, you can help dress to fit in.
- Encourage your child to invite one or two classmates to your home. It may be easier for your child to follow what’s going on in social situations and to respond to other kids if the group is small. Be prepared to make some suggestions if your child needs help figuring out what to do. Perhaps you can involve the kids in doing an art project or playing a game. If your child is holding their own socially, then back off and give some space to interact with the other children.
- A child who is blind or has low vision is often in the position of being helped. Encourage your child to think of ways they can help others in order to reciprocate. If your child is good in math, for example, they can offer to help another student with the homework. But avoid having your child give things such as cookies, candy, or toys to other children as a thank you; they might look like a “bribe” for friendship. Sometimes a verbal “thank you” is all that is needed.
Practice is Important
Because children with typical vision usually learn how to interact in social situations by observing and copying others, we may not always realize that specific social skills can be taught and learned: for example, how to approach a potential friend, how to ask and respond to questions in a conversation, and what kinds of gestures to use when talking and listening. As with many areas of development, your child may need to practice social skills like these in order to master them.
- Role play with your child about how to approach another child they would like to be friends with. You can take turns with you each playing your child and then the new friend and practice different ways to start and maintain the conversation. Give your child realistic feedback about what they are doing.
- Use role playing also to practice having longer conversations with other children. Give your child suggestions about how to keep a conversation going with another person, such as saying “uh huh” to show you’re listening and asking questions about what the other person is saying. Give her opportunities to talk with other family members and friends. Encourage these people to give them feedback on what they are doing well and what they can improve on.
- Teach your child body language, like facing someone in an alert, relaxed, and friendly way, and talk to them about how and when people use body language and gestures for communicating and socializing. Your child may miss interacting with others because they don’t see their smiles, waves, nods, or winks. Practice these nonverbal gestures together so that they understand them more fully.
- Stand back when your child has an opportunity to interact with another child their age. Afterward, when you are alone, give them feedback on what they did well and what they might have done differently. You may find that with feedback they are able to learn to monitor their own social interactions.
Focus on Common Interests
Just like adults, children tend to gravitate toward others with whom they have a common interest. Think about your friends for a minute, and you may realize that in many cases your friendship began because you had something in common. Your child may similarly be more likely to make a true friend if they have something in common with that person. So, help your child find something they enjoy doing that they can do with others. If your child likes animals, perhaps volunteering at the local animal shelter with other children will give a way to make a new friend. If your child likes to read science fiction, then a classmate who also likes science fiction may want to come over to your house to watch the latest video based on a book by a popular author.
With your encouragement and some practice, your child can enjoy the rewards of socializing and friendship. If you can provide opportunities to meet other children, and provide a chance to practice socializing skills and may have a good time as well.