Vision and Your Child’s Development

Screenshot of webinar Julia's Lessons with bullet points - Scent-based story box (for all abilities) - Alphabet scavenger hunt. The Sweet Smell of Christmas book, Various toys including a teddy bear, school bus and a box of swiss miss cocoa, a candy cane and a cute up orange

Before I was a Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI), I became a parent to a beautiful little girl who was born with severe visual impairments. My decision to switch careers from chemistry to education was based heavily on the incredible support that my family received during our years in Early Intervention (EI). 

All the services my daughter received while in EI made a difference in terms of her developmental progress, but the area that seemed to make the greatest difference was vision. As my daughter’s visual functioning increased, so did her skills in all the other developmental areas. She became more curious about exploring objects and learning how to use them. My daughter began to roll around, crawl, and cruise furniture. She learned to feed herself with a spoon. For the first time, she turned her face to mine and smiled at me.   

My education

Inspired by these changes, I took an online course for parents named “Reach Out and Teach.” It’s offered by Hadley Institute for the Blind. The course showed me how to view the world from my daughter’s perspective. It taught me to use daily interactions for teaching. I started to address her developmental needs by engaging her other senses. This made me realize I was her main teacher, pushing me to learn more about educating children with visual impairments.

Once I entered the TVI program at UMass-Boston, I began to understand how vision drives skill acquisition in all developmental domains. Vision is a consistent sense that provides information about objects, regardless of their size and location near or far. It integrates information from other senses and provides a “whole picture” of the environment. 

Concept and skill development

Children with typical visual functioning learn concepts and vocabulary by pairing verbal labels with visual images of objects they observe in everyday routines. They begin to build a visual image library that is stored within their memory. They can use these stored images to generalize concepts and to connect new information to previously learned concepts. Since many objects must be viewed at a distance, children with visual impairments miss out on many learning opportunities throughout the day. 

Vision plays a large role in motor skills development, from providing the initial motivation to move to coordinating and refining small motor movements. Children with vision loss may lack the ability to imitate new movements and gestures, often motivating children with typical visual functioning to explore and play. Vision also gives information about spatial concepts and environmental features, which are critical for safe mobility. 

Social skills are acquired through visual observation of caregivers and other family members. Children practice social skills through visual imitation of gestures, facial expressions, and body language. In addition to interactions with others, social skills also include self-identity and self-image.  As you can imagine, these abstract concepts are difficult for a child with visual impairments to understand. 

Daily living or adaptive skills are often learned through visual modeling. Think about all the tasks that you perform in a day. Skills for daily tasks are learned through observation and imitation. Young children understand toys belong in the toy box after seeing caregivers tidy up. They learn spoons are for eating, not just for making noise on their highchair tray.

Vision and development

Knowing the link between vision and development changes how parents interact with their babies. They offer multisensory details about objects, involve their children in daily tasks, and promote independence. While most parents don’t pursue a career in visual impairments, they become experts in aiding their children’s growth.

Watch Julia and Sara for the webinar “Impacts of Vision Loss on a Child’s Development” as part of the Early Intervention series: