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- Tip for Parents: Your Baby and Toddler
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Summary: When your baby or toddler is first diagnosed with sight loss, you may find yourself only thinking of all of the things they will not be able to do. Long delays in diagnosis, difficulties in understanding medical terms and long separation due to hospitalisation can make this hard. However, your baby is like any other and their development may be promoted by using some of the hints and tips offered below.
What can your baby see?
It is difficult to assess the precise level of vision your baby has. In the early stages all babies have difficulty focusing and coordinating their eyes. Your baby’s vision may change as they develop.
However, you can use the following guidelines to try to assess how much your baby can see.
- Can your baby follow your face or are they relying entirely on a sound stimulus?
- Does your baby react to the light coming in from the window? If your baby seems to show some response, then tell them each time you pass the window.
You can also tell your baby when a light is switched on to encourage them to distinguish between light and dark.
Hold and touch your baby
Your baby can and must feel and hear the love others have for them. If your baby is premature, they may have started their days in an incubator and may have experienced very little touch from others.
Here are some activities that you and your baby can do together, which will help your baby to explore and learn about their environment.
Encouraging movement and reaching out
Begin by putting your baby on its tummy on a mat on the floor. From about 4 months your baby may be able to lift its head up. Get down on the floor too and talk to your baby to reassure them. Carry out this activity for a little while at least twice a day to strengthen their back and develop their hands, as children with vision impairments will use touch to explore their surroundings. Place an object in front of your baby, such as a bell or a noisy and colourful toy to encourage them to reach out and find what is there. When a new physical activity is introduced your baby may cry, but do persevere as they should get used to it.
Sing and talk to your baby as much as possible. Get up close to them so that they can see your lips as well as hear you more clearly. Make all the sounds of the alphabet, sing rhymes, and speak both loudly and softly, in a high and low voice. Take the baby’s hand and put it onto your mouth so that they can feel the sound you are making. Games with your baby on your lap and songs with repetitive actions are also great. Your baby might need to be shown the movements to the songs you sing, as they might not be able to see enough to learn by imitation.
Making sense of sounds
Gently turn your baby’s head towards sounds. Listen to the bathroom sounds. These sounds might be a running tap, a flushing toilet or a shower. Lounge sounds could include a clock ticking, the television, radio or the telephone ringing. Identify the sound and where it is coming from. Begin to recognise voices and footsteps of regular visitors to the house and traffic sounds in the street. Your baby can practise following you around the house by sound alone.
Learning about themselves
When dressing, changing or washing your baby, take a little extra time to tell them about their different body parts, telling them when you are touching their hands or feet, for example. Massage your baby with talc, cream or oil to give different experiences of touch and smell. Relate different parts of your baby’s body to your own body, for example, ‘this is your hand, this is Daddy’s hand’.
Developing their sense of touch
Babies’ feet give them another tactile surface to find out about what things feel like, so leave their feet bare where possible. Try to do gentle exercises to strengthen and use their feet such as moving their toes independently or picking up objects with their toes.
At eating time
When feeding your baby with a bottle, place their hands on the bottle too. They will learn where the milk is coming from and will gradually be able to hold the bottle themselves.
When your baby moves onto drinking from a cup or beaker, show them the empty cup first, then fill with liquid so that the baby can hear it filling and then give it to them to drink. Let your toddler experiment with feeding themselves. This will give them a chance to gain some independence.
Do little physical exercises with your baby from very early on. If your baby is totally blind and does not want to crawl, create a safe area in the house or garden, with no obstacles, and use cushions for safe playing.
Some toddlers with sight loss are reluctant to take risks. You can encourage your baby to become more independent by playing games such as jumping from the last step of the stairs to the ground, firstly into your arms, then onto a cushion and finally on the ground.
Encourage your baby to move around and reach out by going to parent and baby swimming classes. Begin by taking your baby into the water in your arms. Encourage them to hold your shoulders, have face-to-face contact, talking all the time to reassure them.
Using the stairs
Stairs can be difficult to negotiate for any toddler. You can demonstrate how to use the stairs by helping your baby to go upstairs on all fours and come down sitting on their bottom, taking one step at a time. Always use the rail as a guide to indicate the beginning and end of the stairs. Then, when you’re ready, progress onto both feet.
Guiding toddlers and small children
There will be occasions when a small child will need to be guided by you. Let the toddler take your wrist, which is safer than holding hands. They should remain slightly behind you. If you hold your wrist against your body, it will give warning in advance to the toddler that you are stopping or moving around an obstacle.
What about safety?
All children get bumps – try not to be over-protective. Fear is natural for you and your baby, but this should be overcome by repetition and practice. Take a little time with your child to learn the dangers around the house. What sounds and smells mean danger and which sounds and smells are harmless.
Developing the independence of small children
Small children can enjoy helping around the house and doing tasks. One suggestion is to encourage your child to begin to dress independently. Start by helping them undress, as this is easier than putting clothes on. Buttoning and zipping take a lot of practice. Always fold clothes in the same order as they were taken off. Allocate a specific location for your child to put their coat, a place in the cupboard for their clothes and a box for their toys so that they will be able to locate their possessions. Encourage them to put away their own things and to make decisions about what to wear. Try to choose clothes that are distinctive to feel and talk to them about the features, design and colour combinations of their clothes. Your child can learn that labels are generally on the back of clothes.
Let your child help with clearing and laying the table, getting the post and washing themselves. Begin by first washing face and hands independently and build this up in stages. In play, your child could wash their teddy or doll’s clothes, or give the teddy or doll a bath. Lego, plasticine, play dough, putting on bottle tops – all these help to strengthen hands and fingers.
Visiting teacher service
The Department of Education and Science provides a regionalised visiting teacher service. This service is available from birth and follows through to third level. A visiting teacher visits children with sight loss in their own home. The visiting teacher will carry out an assessment of a child’s needs and provide guidance on the implications of sight loss on teaching and learning. Emphasis is placed on working as a partner with families, enabling them to make informed choices in the education of their children.
Apply to the visiting teacher service on Tel: 090 6474621.
Public health nurse
Public health nurses are employed by the Health Service Executive (HSE) and work from your local health centre. Use the help and support of your local public health nurse who will offer you both advice and practical support about caring for your baby. You can contact your public health nurse by calling your local health centre or call the HSE infoline at 1850 24 1850, Monday to Saturday 8am to 8pm.
Family Resource Centre
The Family Resource Centre in ChildVision offers an extensive calender of event for families who have a child with sight loss.
Féach is another useful support service. Féach is a support group for parents of blind and visually impaired children.
NCBI Community Resource Workers
If you have not already done so, you may wish to make an appointment with a community resource worker at your local NCBI office. As well as giving advice, information and support, your community resource worker can also refer you to some of our other services that you may find useful, including our low vision service, library service or professional counselling service, for example.
NCBI’s Early Learning Centre
NCBI’s Early Learning Centre (ELC) in Clondalkin caters for children with sight loss from the ages of 0 to 6. If you would like some advice or additional information please call the staff at the ELC on 01 405 6950 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.