Socialization of Blind and Visually Impaired Students

By Stephanie Torreno

A child learns how to interact with others through seeing and by modeling others. Children with visual impairments, however, may require social skills training due to their inability to rely on visual cues. Read on to see what you as a teacher can do to aid this process.

Students with visual impairments face tremendous challenges in school, both academically and socially. With struggles to keep up in inclusive classes, these students may not put forth the time and effort to learn how to develop social skills. Even if children with visual impairments attend specialized schools, you may need to assist students in socializing in typical environments where the majority of individuals are not visually impaired.

Teaching social skills to blind and visually impaired students differs, however, from teaching students with autism or other developmental disabilities. Social difficulties in children with visual impairments are typically caused by a lack of information about the visual aspects of interacting with others. These difficulties are often reinforced by others’ hesitancy to establish relationships with and communicate appropriate expectations to individuals with visual impairments.

Tips for Teaching Social Skills to the Visually Impaired

First of all, model appropriate social behavior and arrange opportunities for students to learn and practice skills. Make cooperative learning a regular part of the classroom experience. Assign group work, and have students help each other and take responsibility for completing the work as a group. Other classroom activities for reinforcing social skills of visual impaired students include:

  • Have a few students act as peer mentors to a student with a visual impairment. Mentors should model appropriate behavior and should be trained to assist the student in changing specific behaviors. These relationships should be based on cooperation, not on required help which can lead to dependence. Different mentors will lead to learning from different models. To provide balance to these relationships, the student with the visual impairment might provide a service to mentors, such as help with homework.
  • Ask students to listen to conversations between friends and those between adults. Hold a class discussion about when and how to enter conservations. Have students act out scenarios and ask the student with the visual impairment to play different roles.
  • Have students practice nonverbal communication skills by participating in games like charades and pantomimes, or sing songs that involve gesturing. Older students with visual impairments should join the drama club or chorus. Have peer mentors guide the student with appropriate gestures and facial expressions with auditory cues.
  • Ask students to make a list of five activities they do in their free time. Have the visually impaired student make the list, too. Lead a class discussion comparing activities. Have the visually impaired student choose an activity he/she is interested in learning about, discuss how they could acquire the skills, and approach the other student with the common interest to find ways of participating in the activity.

Parents should also help in teaching social skills to blind and visually impaired children by:

  • Encouraging a child with visual impairment to explore the home, school and community with supervision. The child should participate in all activities and be encouraged to interact with typical children in a variety of settings.
  • Building a child’s vocabulary to help him express himself clearly to others. A child with visual impairment must rely on words alone to communicate.
  • Teaching a child how to be polite and respect others. Parents should talk about the importance of sharing and cooperating with others, although it may be difficult for a child to understand these concepts without visual cues. Practice social scenarios to help a child understand these situations before he encounters them.
  • Letting a child feel different types of expressions on their face and describe the feelings behind them, since facial expressions are important in social situations. Guide the child in using these emotional expressions and discuss how they help convey his emotions to others.

Students with visual impairments are like other students in that they want to be accepted, fit in with peers, and have friends. Remember to respect an individual’s learning characteristics, lead lessons in natural settings, and involve typical children who are interested in peer mentoring.