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Encouraging Play Skills in Children with Visual Impairments
By Beth Ramella, M.Ed., TVI/COMS

Fred Rogers once said, "Play is really the work of childhood." As important for learning as play is for a sighted child, it is equally important for a child with a visual impairment. Unlike their sighted peers, children who are blind or visually impaired will not naturally imitate play behaviors because they cannot see them. Children with visual impairments require more teaching or guided modeling for play. Parents engaged in the PALS (Play, Learn, Achieve, Socialize) Play Group at the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children offer ample evidence that children with visual impairments are capable of learning everything their sighted peers learn. As their child's first and most important teacher, parents work alongside a teacher of the visually impaired so their child with a visual impairment aged 2-3 years will gain experiences, build connections and gain confidence to try new things.

At the PALS Play Group, parents of children with a visual impairment learn how to select toys, adapt them if necessary, encourage play and provide appropriate structure and support. As an example, children with visual impairments may benefit from more tactile play; however, consider using hand under hand assistance to guide small hands into unfamiliar textures. Thus, when purchasing a toy for a child with a visual impairment, consider choosing a brightly colored toy that encourages him/her to reach. Be sure to show the child the toy in his/her best visual field.

Another idea is to provide activities that require your child to fill and dump containers. This encourages your child to search for a dropped object and development toward object permanence. Sitting across from one another and rolling a brightly colored ball encourages turn taking, distance vision, language and motor skills. For a child who is blind, consider using a ball adapted with a bell inside.

For more ideas on play for children with ocular or cortical visual impairments or to learn more about PALS play groups for preschool children with visual impairments, contact Beth Ramella, WPSBC Director of Outreach, at (412) 621-0100 or ramellab@wpsbc.org or visit www.wpsbc.org.

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