The Social Development of Blind Children

From: Tara Phillips
Course: cd 169: Motivation of Children and Adolescents
College: San Jose State University
Instructor: Eugene Matusov
ChildrenObservations: No
Date: 21 May 1997
Time: 01:52:50
Remote Name:


My focus is on the social development of blind children. Visually impaired children have many setbacks in life. They must deal with their disability, their peers, and an academic setting. Any added effort in improving a child’s adjustment, is well needed. Both parents and teachers need to work together. Although, it is impossible to completely mainstream a blind child, their are ways of encouraging them to become as close as possible.


Many resources have stated that blind children are lacking in social skills because they often focus on their own interests and actions. They ask numerous questions, make several demands on their partners, abruptly shift topics and are unresponsive to their partners language, behavior, or concerns. All of this is understandable, because when you are unable to see it seems logical that you would focus on the one thing you know for sure exists, and that is yourself, except it does not mean that it is a productive way to cope in society. Visually impaired children must recognize their differences then deal with them so they can better adapt socially.

Play skills, language skills, and motor skills, of visually impaired children have often been studied. During play children were found to engage less in functional play and instead in more stereotypical play than sighted children. Blind children also often wandered away from their toys so they could involve themselves more in adult interactions (Parsons, 1986). Language skills are another area of difference. Blind children use more echolalic speech which means they are more repetitive than most. And they speak of past events and activities more often than the present. They ask more questions and a lot of the time the questions are irrelevant to the occurring activity. And the most apparent difference and/or setback is motor skills. Most people rely on their sight when moving due to our ability to perceive other objects and our depth perception. Without those abilities a child must compensate which can take longer to do and causes them to be lacking in the confidence sighted people have. School aged children need to be properly oriented within the classroom in order to refine their mobility but out at recess other problems arise. They must be able to handle the open space and the quick pace of the activities.

I think after reading a description of what is considered social skills, it is obvious why a child would be hindered. (Sacks, Kekelis & Gaylord-Ross, 1992):

  1. Perceptions of other people= the ability to respond effectively to another’s needs or desires.
  2. Taking the role of others= the ability not only to recognize another’s feelings, but to understand what the other person is thinking or feeling.
  3. Nonverbal accompaniments of speech= during an interaction, a combination of speech and nonverbal cues to acquire appropriate proximity and orientation. Such elements are highly contingent on hearing and sight.
  4. Rewards= the ability to acknowledge and reinforce another’s social behavior or initiations through a smile or head nod, for example.
  5. Self-presentation= the ability to send cues to another person to indicate one’s role, status, or identity.
  6. Situations and their rules= the ability to obtain the full meaning of a given set of rules that structure a specific encounter, sometimes through visual feedback if the rules are intricate.
  7. Sequences of interactions= the ability to place a series of verbal and nonverbal cues in a certain order to obtain a positive outcome.

"The ability to monitor a social situation and to establish goals involves the integration of a visual sense along with auditory and cognitive skills. Without vision it is "difficult to perceive another’s actions and feelings, and mediation, and interpretation by another individual may be required." (Jones & Chiba, 1985)

Peers are an important factor in a visually impaired child’s development. They can have both positive and negative affects. Peers are less likely to accommodate a blind child in their language and/or behavior thereby causing a lack of opportunity to interact. And because of this barrier, a blind child initiates fewer interactions, responds less to their classmates and usually waits to be approached by others. There was even a study once done that said blind children were rejected more often than most other disabled children.

"Interactions with peers give children unique opportunities to develop and refine skills that are important for social development and acceptance by their peers. During such social exchanges, children learn how to gain access to play groups, engage in conversations, develop friendships, and resolve conflicts. Children who lack these skills are often ignored or rejected by their peers and may later develop psychological and physical problems.

Visual information plays an important role in the acquisition and refinement of skills that are critical for positive social interactions. Eye gaze regulates turn taking, gaze and gestures establish topics of conversation, smiles and gaze acknowledge and invite responses from partners and contextual information enables children to monitor and respond to the interests of peers. For visually impaired children, the challenge of initiating and maintaining interactions with peers is considerable. Many children fail to master basic social skills and encounter rejection when mainstreamed with sighted children." (Sacks, Kekelis, & Gaylord-Ross)

Some factors that make it important for visually impaired children to interact with their sighted peers, are their abilities to develop, learn, and to be accepted. These interactions enable the child to acquire interpersonal skills which helps them learn how to attract the attention of other children, involve themselves in make believe, resolve conflicts they may have, and overall maintain friendships. But if they are unable to achieve the needed acceptance of their peers, many difficulties may arise. Both their childhood and adulthood are affected and some may become delinquent, do poorly in school, or suffer from emotional/physical problems.

The visually impaired have many negative setbacks they are forced to deal with when dealing with mainstreaming. First off, a major influence on a person’s social standing has to do with their physical attractiveness and academic/athletic abilities. But in addition to that, a blind child has to struggle to locate friends on the playground or to even find a friend that is accepting of their disability. And because they feel sighted children are superior, they are reluctant to join activities, or may feel the tasks are too difficult or dangerous. Feeling shame about their impairment prevents the child from seeking out the popular kids as friends but instead settle on the kids that help them the most. Their disability sets them apart from sighted children which keeps them from ever being able to blend in completely.

"The goal of the teacher of visually impaired students was to provide equipment, materials, and specialized training to enhance the children’s academic performance in the regular classroom." The philosophy among educators has been (still somewhat is) if you do things properly, blind children can and should be educated along with sighted children. This idea hinders blind children’s development. They can not compete on a similar level as a sighted child, they are not superior or inferior, they just have different needs. Except most instructors are only aware of these needs (acceptance by sighted peers, social skills, etc.) not properly equipped to handle them.

Many teachers either cater to them or ignore the differences, more need to find that happy medium. But there are ways to do so. Enhancing a child’s learning could be done by having the teacher give descriptions of the social environment and not just the physical environment. They can also give both direct and indirect prompts which will encourage the child’s motivation. Teachers should also teach the child a systematic way of playing and focus more on the child’s activities, possessions, and feelings, something most peers do not do. Teachers have a major influence on any child and they must encourage each of them to the best of their abilities. Some suggestions for teachers of visually impaired students are: (Sacks, Kekelis, &Gaylord-Ross)

  1. establish a buddy system so a blind child must assume the responsibility of selecting a peer,
  2. allow time for the child to cooperate within a group project or game,
  3. design activities that promote cooperation and sharing,
  4. include sighted children in the special lessons for the visually impaired student, and
  5. create activities that do not isolate the visually impaired child.

By following these guidelines, adapting within the classroom is made easier for the blind student.

As it is shown, visually impaired children have a tough obstacle to overcome. Fortunately, with the help of others, they need not do it alone. Social skills are an important factor in anyones life and eventhough it, may be more difficult to acquire as a blind child, it is once again, not impossible. Visually impaired people are as much of a part of our society as anyone else, all we need to do is be accepting of their differences.

Last modified August 06, 2015