Social Interaction Skills

What Are Social Interaction Skills?

Well-developed social interaction skills are critical for developing positive self-esteem, building relationships, and ultimately for acceptance into society. To communicate effectively with others, establish friendships, positive social relationships, and be perceived as likable, a person must demonstrate good social skills.

Inherent in social interaction are the verbal or signed expressive and receptive language skills required to converse. Mastering nonverbal communication is vital. It involves recognizing the subtleties of facial expressions and body language to express various emotions and feelings.

Social skills are key for interaction. Often, these skills are picked up by casually watching others. However, children who are blind or have low vision are unable to observe these interactions. They require structured, deliberate teaching to acquire social skills.

Why Teach Social Interaction Skills as a Specific Area?

Research has shown that youth with blindness or low vision are at risk in social skills. They also tend to have smaller networks of friends and acquaintances.

Research also showed significant relationships between youth who are blind or low vision engaging in social activities and being employed. The importance of children and adolescents with blindness or low vision participating in structured learning of social skills is supported in research, and these activities can and should be supported by families, the TVI, school staff, and service providers.

Infants and Toddlers

Humans begin to learn social skills in infancy. For young children, social development focuses on bonding and communicating effectively with parents, caregivers, and other significant people in the child’s life.

Infants and toddlers with blindness or low vision may show unique signs of seeking attention, differing from sighted children. Instead of becoming noisy to signal a parent’s approach, they might quiet down. This quietness allows them to listen for cues of feeding, diaper changes, comfort, or playtime. Sighted parents could misinterpret this silence as a desire for rest or lack of bonding. However, it could actually mean the child is actively engaging and seeking interaction.

Primary caregivers of infants with blindness or low vision must learn a different “social dance” to communicate effectively with the child. Instead of visual cues and eye contact, these interactions use hearing, touch, smell, and taste to establish social connections. These children benefit from caregivers providing auditory descriptions and cues, such as speaking to explain what’s happening before touching the baby or bringing food to the child’s mouth.

The parent may also want to hum, whistle, or make other pleasant noises when approaching the child’s room to let the child know someone’s coming.

Interactions with family members in the first three years of life set the course for a child’s social development. Therefore, early intervention is especially important as parents of newborns with visual impairments learn to cope with their feelings about having a child with a visual disability.

Understanding Behaviors

Teaching parents how to read their child’s behaviors can help prevent difficulties later. Parents may need to be encouraged to use touch as a substitute for visual cues like smiling; for example, massage or cuddling while rocking and a soothing voice may be more rewarding for the child than things they can’t see. The critical thing is for parents and other caregivers to bond with the child so that they feel safe and loved.

Elementary Age

As children mature, their siblings and other children will play an important role in their social development. For example, siblings and peers might teach children with blindness or low vision skills such as turn-taking and social interactions as they pretend to play or play games: “Watch this,” and “Did you see that!?!”

For elementary-aged children, social skills development moves from building relationships within the family to developing relationships with others: classmates and friends, teachers, or adults in schools and community settings.

Middle School and Beyond

By the time kids reach middle, junior high, and high school, they’re expected to understand common social rules in their community. Thus, children and adolescents with blindness or low vision should have mastered basic social skills. This knowledge enables them to fulfill their social objectives.

At this stage, they will be expected to recognize social challenges, problem-solve, and resolve those difficulties. Teachers and family members should offer verbal feedback to students with blindness or low vision. It’s important to highlight which social skills are effective and identify areas for improvement. These students might not notice cues from their sighted peers or the community. Therefore, insights from sighted friends, family, and teachers are crucial. This feedback helps them grasp how their actions affect others.

Kid in white stripped t-shirt and glasses with crossed arm across his chest.

Nonverbal Communication Skills for Blind Children

Help your child master effective nonverbal communication. Think about a potential employee who does not turn to face the interviewing panel as they speak. Imagine someone joining a recreational club to make friends but expressing disinterest or unapproachability through their body language. Last, envision a young adult on a date who stands uncomfortably close to […]

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A toddler working on imitating sounds with a family member.

Expanding Meaning by Combining Words

Single Word Development Different categories of meaning are represented in a child’s first 50 words. The following are examples of meaning represented by single words. These single words will be combined in this stage of development to represent more complex information. Categories or Grouping Words Another way to think about these words is to place […]

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[10:56 AM] Melisa Matthews Mom make hand gesture practice nonverbal talk with little girl child, positive female teacher 

Alternative Methods of Communication: An Overview

The ability to communicate our needs and wants is one of life’s most basic activities. Communication involves the exchange of information between a sender and a receiver. It’s a two-way street—the sender and receiver are both necessary for communication. For communication to be effective, the sender and receiver each need to understand the message and […]

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A student's supported hand using a communication binder with weather tiles. 

Symbol Systems for Communication by Children with Multiple Disabilities

When children cannot use speech effectively, they may need to use other types of symbols to represent their thoughts or understand the messages others want to communicate. Symbol systems for children with blindness or low vision and other disabilities usually use pictures or tactile symbols that can be felt, depending on the child’s ability to […]

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A student working with a teacher using a symbol communication system.

Augmentative and Alternative Communication

When a child is blind or low vision and additional disabilities, they may need to use alternative methods to communicate their thoughts and needs. Your child needs to have a variety of methods both to express their thoughts and to understand what others are communicating. The term “augmentative and alternative communication” (AAC) refers to alternative […]

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A teacher and boy using sign language to communicate in a class.

Should My Child Learn Sign Language?

Effective communication is key for sharing and understanding thoughts. For children who are blind or have low vision with additional disabilities, sign language can help express their needs. Basic signs like “more,” “help,” “play,” and “drink” enable them to communicate desires beyond crying or reaching, enhancing their ability to inform others of their needs. What […]

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Two students sitting at a table doing art and talking.

Social Interaction Skills at School

How Do TVIs Approach Instruction of Social Skills? As children grow up, the social skills they learn tend to build upon each other. Therefore, children who are blind or low vision need ongoing instruction in age- and culturally-appropriate social skills. As students age, they should learn more advanced social skills and continue practicing those previously […]

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two preschool-age girls crossing a wooden bridge in a park

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 […]

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Young blind girl smiling with hands together

Eye-Pressing in Children Who Are Blind or Low Vision

Does your child who is blind or low vision engage in prolonged eye-pressing? Perhaps you’ve noticed your child aggressively rubbing or poking their eyes with their fingers, knuckles, or fists, and you are concerned or even disturbed. You may wonder why it’s occurring, whether it’s acceptable, and how to address it. If this describes you, […]

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