Walking Development in Visually Impaired Children

OVERVIEW

Although vision does not affect muscle use, lack of vision can indirectly affect a child’s ability to walk. According to the nonprofit Blind Children Center, “Without special training, fully capable infants who are visually impaired may not learn to crawl or walk at an appropriate age and gross and fine motor skills will not properly develop.” Parents and therapists can help the child to overcome these obstacles and speed up learning of walking and other gross motor skills.

Head To Toe Development

Gross motor skills develop in head to toe order (Reference 5). Typical children learn head control, then trunk stability, eventually progressing to standing and walking. However an important motivator to head control is vision stabilization (Reference 2), an incentive visually impaired children don’t have. Development of head control is delayed, which slows acquisition of the skills which follow.

Distant Objects

Mobility is driven strongly by the desire to reach an attractive object such as a toy or a parent (Reference 1). When a child is unable to see a desired object, there is no motivation to try to reach it so the child is less interested in learning to move independently.

Modeling

Children don’t learn to walk just by trying. They observe other people walking and imitate them, picking up skills faster than through simple trial and error (Reference 1). When a child lags peers in a certain skill, seeing those peers perform provides motivation to keep trying in an effort to keep up. Neither of those motivations are available to visually impaired children.

Professional Assistance

Visually impaired children may need physical therapy services to help them learn gross motor skills at a faster rate. Ideally, the child’s therapist has experience working with the visually impaired and understands the unique needs of this population. However any physical therapist will be able to help the child learn to walk. Some vision therapists have experience with gross motor activities because of the challenges faced by their clients.

What Parents Can Do

An hour a week with a therapist isn’t going to be as helpful as the dozens of hours available to parents. Rather than always doing things for the child, family members should encourage the child to act independently. For example, rather than getting a desired toy, parents could tell the child where the toy is so he can move toward it on his own. Engage the child’s other senses, say by activating a musical toy so the child can find it.

Patience

Every child is on an independent development schedule, and this is especially true for children with special needs. Parents need to avoid focusing on where the child “should” be compared to peers. Focus instead on the progress which is being made toward walking, always challenging the child to move a little further toward the goal.

REFERENCES

  1. “Children with Visual Impairments: A Parents’ Guide”; edited by M. Cay Holbrook, PhD; 1996
  2. Pediatric Services: Visual loss considerations in developmental assessment
  3. Blind Children’s Center: Infant Services
  4. Wonder Baby: Development Charts for Blind & Visually Impaired Babies & Children
  5. “Gross Motor Development in Infants with Multiple Impairments”; Rita Snell, MA, RPT; 1997