5 ways to help a child who is blind develop social skills

From practicing eye contact to making causal conversation, a Perkins teacher shares essential lessons parents can reinforce at home.

Good social skills can help students who are blind establish and maintain social relationships, achieve academic success and gain employment.

If you’re blind, how do you know where to look when someone is talking to you? Or when to shake someone’s hand? Or what “personal space” means?

These are just some of the skills children who are blind must explicitly be taught, since they don’t have the benefit of observing the actions and reactions of their family and friends in social situations.

“It’s never too early and it’s never too late to teach social skills,” said Jeff Migliozzi, who teaches high school students in Perkins School for the Blind’s Secondary Program. “When it really comes down to it, it’s up to the individual to advocate for themselves, to access the world around them, to make these connections.”

While social skills are taught at Perkins as part of the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) – disability-specific skills that kids who are blind need to succeed in school, work and everyday life – parents also play an essential role in developing their child’s interpersonal skills.

Here are five ways you can help your child to achieve social success, as suggested by Migliozzi at a recent Perkins “Skills for Social Success” webinar:

  1. Put your child in different social situations: Give your child opportunities to engage with others in the community. That could include asking for directions during a walk, saying “excuse me” as you act as a sighted guide through a crowd, or greeting a friend’s parents when he or she goes over to their house to play.
  2. Explain social cues your child can’t see: A child who is blind can’t see a wink or a wave, so you should explain what they signify and when they are appropriate. That way, your child can incorporate them into his or her communications “toolkit,” and will understand their significance when encountering such behaviors in social situations (or in a book or audio-described movie).
  3. Practice verbal and nonverbal social interactions at home: If your child makes occasional social gaffes like inappropriately loud comments or intruding into someone’s personal space, spend time at home explaining and modeling more socially acceptable behavior. You can also practice nonverbal interactions like handshakes and eye contact, as well as verbal interactions like chatting about current events, asking someone out on a date or answering questions at a job interview.
  4. Partner with educators to develop a comprehensive plan: As you work with teachers, therapists and social workers on your child’s IEP (Individualized Education Program), make sure you incorporate social skills. Keep up a regular dialogue with your child’s educators to make sure you’re all on the same page about the specific skills your child is working on and how they can help your child achieve their goals.
  5. Reinforce the idea of reciprocity: Children who are visually impaired or have other disabilities often receive extra attention from family members, teachers and friends. Remind them that it’s a two-way street, and that it’s as important to give as it is to receive. This can range from the basics, like saying “please” and “thank you” to caregivers, to more complex concepts, like asking them to think about a relative’s hobbies and interests so they can pick out a relevant birthday or holiday gift.  

Want to learn more about social skills – or any of the other essential skills that are part of the Expanded Core Curriculum? Watch Perkins’ archived ECC webinars, starting with “Skills for Social Success,” presented by experts with real-world and classroom experience. And follow Perkins on Facebook  or Twitter to find out about upcoming webinars and events.

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