Find out more about how to support children with vision impairment to perform the routine activities of daily living, such as moving around, washing and dressing
Mobility and habilitation
Mobility with children with vision impairment means helping them to learn to move safely and independently, to learn routes and strategies for getting around familiar and unfamilar places, and to use support like sighted guide, long cane and to prepare for use of a guide dog if that becomes appropriate or desirable in teenage years or adulthood.
Habilitation is teaching and learning daily living skills with increasing independence. For example: dressing, washing, eating and drinking, finding and taking responsibilty for belongings, and generally learning all of the everyday skills and abilities that children acquire as they grow and develop.
Habilitation (as opposed to re-habilitation) refers to the fact that children are learning these things for the first time, and are not getting used to a new set of skills having performed them as a sighted person first. Rehabilitation more commonly refers to the learning of everyday living skills for adults and/or people who have lost sight.
Professional support with mobility and habilitation for children with vision impairment
Your child will benefit from access to a Habilitation Specialist (sometimes called Mobility Officer or Rehabilitation Officer) who can support in these areas.
Different local authorities provide mobility and habiliatation services in different ways. Your child may need more intensive support from a Habilitation Specialist when they are learning particular skills, for example in the early years or starting school, and then need further periods of intensive work if they are changing settings, between primary and secondary school for example. There may be times of less frequent or intensive work with a Habilitation Specialist in between. A programme of mobility and habilitation work should be developed by your local service depending on your child's needs.
Your Qualified Teacher of (children with) Visual Impairment is the best place to start regarding setting up mobility and habilitation support for your child. For details of how to contact your local QTVI visit our section about your child and visual impairment first steps.
Tips to help you support your child with daily living skills
It may be easier and faster to do things for your blind or partially sighted child, and you will have a natural instinct to help them as much as you can. Try to balance being supportive and helpful with enabling them to learn to do things for themselves, as your son or daughter will get a lot of happiness and reward from developing his or her own skills, and this is essential for their well being and self-esteem.
Start with undressing – it’s easier to take things off than to put them on.
- Teach your child to put their clothes away properly – good organisational skills are essential for blind and partially sighted people so that they keep track of where belongings are.
- Choose clothing that is easy to put on and take off.
- Choose zips instead of buttons where possible.
- Choose large buttons rather than small fiddly ones.
- Choose garments that have obvious fronts and backs.
- As image becomes important when your child gets older, shaped buttons (slate colour) can be purchased from RNIB and sewn inside garments to ensure that, for example, blue tops match blue bottoms.
- Be consistent – follow the same pattern and use the same language each time you go through getting dressed or undressed.
- Guide and work from behind. It is easier for children to feel movements from behind, and it feels more natural to be moved from behind than to be pulled forward.
- Shoes – start off with velcro fasteners until your child has learned the necessary manual dexterity for buckles and then shoe laces. Teach your child to tie shoelaces in stages, with your support from behind, co-acting each movement.
- What shall I wear? It is helpful for your child to learn about appropriate clothing – for example when to wear jeans and strong shoes, when not to wear a party outfit etc.
Bath time is a great opportunity for babies and young children to learn about body parts and to understand relative size with brothers and sisters if everyone’s in together.
- If your baby is afraid of water (wet, or unfamiliar substances can be upsetting for blind and partially sighted children), you may want to put him in a small baby bath, or use a sponge insert or baby bath seat to make things easier.
- Scented soap and bubble bath make bath time more interesting.
Teach your child to put the toothpaste onto their finger and rub it onto their teeth directly and then to start brushing. This way you avoid the problems of co-ordinating the end of the toothpaste tube with the toothbrush.
Children learn to use the toilet at different ages and stages – it is important that you and your child are both comfortable to embark on this project. Accidents will happen and may require patience on your part as a parent or carer.
- Have you got a potty with a solid base, and can you put it in a place where it’s easy to locate, for example, within reach of a wall?
- Have you got a toilet seat for when they are older?
- Does your child know that Mum and Dad go to the toilet?
- Are they happy to be in the bathroom?
- Have you got the time to sit and talk to your child while they are on the potty so that they feels more secure?
- Talk to the teachers at playgroup or nursery and agree on a routine which works at home and at nursery.
Food glorious food
Feeding is an important daily living skill to teach your child. Mealtimes should be fun and are a good opportunity to develop social skills, though eating can be a difficult or stressful experience for blind and partially sighted children. The tips below may help to avoid difficulties:
- Prepare the eating area and protect carpets and floor coverings with plastic sheeting or newspaper
- Your child may like to practise eating skills with you in private rather than learn “on the job” at family meal times.
- Use a “Dycem mat” under the dish to prevent it from slipping. These are available from our Helpline on 0303 123 9999.
- Ensure that children understand the words you are using, and be consistent.
- Give children an opportunity to enjoy different smells, tastes and textures.
- Start with finger feeding and then work from behind, at first guiding the child’s hand from the dish to the mouth and then gradually reduce your involvement.
- Choose dishes with a rim at first, and cups or mugs which do not easily tip over.
- Give small portions.
- Praise any success, however small.
- With older children, use the points of the clock to explain about the position of foods on the plate. For example, carrots at three o’clock, potatoes at six o’clock.
- Cooking and baking are great ways of learning about food and different textures – if a little messy!
Tips to help you keep your child safe in the home
Children are naturally inquisitive and it is important to put safety precautions in place before they reach the next stage in their development.
- Do not leave a baby on a high surface – today might be the day your child learns to roll for the first time.
- Put up stair gates before your child can crawl and climb.
- Use childproof locks on cupboards and drawers containing medicines or poisonous substances such as bleach, breakables such as glass or china or sharp objects such as knives, graters or blenders.
- Protect your children from hot ovens, hobs, kettles and irons.
If someone in the family is blind or partially sighted there are additional safety measures that you can take:
- Learn about your house from your child’s height and size. A parent suggested crawling round it on your hands and knees to get a child’s perspective and discover any safety hazards.
- Different floor coverings (carpet, textured rugs, laminate or wood floors) will help a young child understand different rooms and locate herself in the house.
- Encourage tidying of toys into plastic crates to avoid tripping hazards. One blind Mum has a rule that no toys are to be left in the kitchen, where she could trip over while carrying something hot. Putting things away will develop organisational skills that are also helpful for a blind or partially sighted child in locating items they want to play with next time.
- Leave doors fully open or fully closed to prevent head injuries.
- Pin back trailing wires from telephones or computers.
- Pad sharp edges of furniture, shelves or on fireplaces.
- Knowing where they are: some blind parents find it helpful to attach bells or a charm bracelet to children to help with locating them.