Building Friendships: A Preschool Priority for Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

The following is an excerpt from the transcription of the AFB eLearning Center webinar "Building Friendships: A Preschool Priority" presented by Mindy Ely. The excerpt describes why social skills in preschool are critically important to lifelong success and happiness and discusses the barriers that blind or visually impaired preschoolers face when attempting to develop social skills.


Hello. Today we're going to look at the very important topic of developing friendships. It really is a preschool priority. I spent most of my years in early childhood, and it's during these years that children really begin to explore relationships. They learn cooperative skills and their friendships really begin to develop. This is such a vital part of life-long happiness. We are social beings, and we need friendships. As adults, we work in the lives of preschoolers with visual impairments, and it is important that we focus on helping these children learn skills for success in building peer relationships.

So in this webinar, I'm going to explain kind of my own approach, but I want to preface this by stating that social skills develops in a really complex manner. It's a pretty complex topic. For purposes of discussion, I have broken the process into simple pieces, but we have to keep in mind that the process really is not simple. In fact, the pieces overlap and the components are dependent on one another. It's just—it's so interrelated, it's hard to pull it apart, but we just have to in order to discuss it and really take a critical look at what we're doing.

When we observe children with visual impairments, there are definite barriers to social development. These barriers are especially pronounced during unstructured play time, such as free choice. If you look at early childhood curriculums today, or preschool rooms today, free choice is a major part of the day. In fact, in my area, in a two-and-a-half hour program, usually 50 minutes of it is spent in free choice. But our kids, and the research shows, our kids have a really difficult time participating during free play, so there's a barrier there. What's going on? And what are our kids learning? And what are they doing?

First of all, one of the biggest barriers is motivation for interaction. Children with visual impairment are often wandering around the room or playing alone or engaging in self-stimulating behaviors. They are not motivated to engage other children, and they're not motivated to play with the materials within a typical environment.

Another barrier is initiated interactions. Children with vision loss seldom initiate interaction with their peers, and when they do, if they don't do it in a socially acceptable way, then they're rebuffed. In addition, children with visual impairments are often unresponsive when peers attempt to initiate interactions with the child with the visual impairment, and so not only are our kids not initiating, but they're not receiving others' initiations to interactions.

A third barrier from vision loss is building friendships. That appears to be caused by the inability to sustain play. Sustained play is important because we know that sustained play leads to higher-level play skills, and that means children with visual impairments have reduced opportunities to engage in high levels. When they're not engaged in high levels of play, then they're missing out on opportunities for building curiosity and that deep-level learning that really takes place through high levels of play.

So in order to sustain a play situation with peers, children must follow acceptable rules of play. If the rules are not followed, peers will end the play interaction and find somebody else or find somewhere else to play. Rules of play are unspoken and they tend to evolve over a play scenario. This makes it very difficult for children with visual impairments to follow those rules. So within this webinar, we'll address these three basic areas, and then we'll look at some long-term implications.


For more information, you can purchase the entire Developing Friendships: A Preschool Priority webinar for viewing/listening.

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