Paths to Literacy

for students who are blind or visually impaired

Gift Ideas for Kids Who Are Blind, Visually Impaired or Have Additional Disabilities

 
People often wonder what to get as a gift for a child who has a visual impairment.  Every child is unique and has their own interests, preferences, and abilities, so any advice must be considered with the thought of what the particular child would like. Having said that, ideas are always good, and we who work in schools get a first-hand look at what makes our students excited and happy to use or play with.
 

Infants

Infants who are visually impaired may be premature or medically fragile, and so may not be interested in reaching out and exploring the world at the same age as other babies. Sometimes friends and family members give them visually cute soft plush toys because they are soft and safe. For little ones with vision this is fine, but babies who are blind may not like such toys. An occupational therapist once told me that it’s the indistinct tactile boundaries of such toys that is aversive to them. For a tactile explorer, reaching for and knowing where the object is when it’s furry and soft is confusing. Having soft things around is fine, but look for variety. 

Toys for infants

Another issue for infants and kids of all ages is plastic toys. Plastics are good, they’re generally safe, sturdy, brightly colored, and easy to clean. But being surrounded by items which are virtually all plastic doesn’t provide the developing mind with enough variety. Lilli Nielson in her Active Learning literature tells us to look for items of different sizes, weights, and types of materials. Having more than one item of a kind is also good. So look for safe, sturdy items made of metal, wood, and cloth. As babies gain more fine motor skills, look for items with internal movement, parts that twist, bend or spin. Most people know to look for toys that make noise, but also look for noise producing toys which are not electronic, to provide different experiences and fine motor challenges.

Cloth book with textures

Because our babies with visual impairment may have spent much time in the hospital and may be at risk of health problems at home, they may have spent a lot of time on their backs. So look for blankets and baby items that they can lay on to have “tummy time” where they practice pushing up against gravity and reach for toys and interact with people. These pushing up movements are the first steps to sitting independently and later to walking. 

  • Wooden toys
  • Plastic links to keep dropped toys nearby.
  • Wind up or battery operated musical toys
  • Cloth books, board books
  • Safe everyday objects 

 

Toddlers

Typical children reach the age and have the motor coordination to begin to walk around 12 months of age. Our students with visual impairment may reach this stage later due to medical issues, additional disabilities or delays due to the unique effects of blindness on the developmental milestones of early childhood. As youngsters begin to move about more independently, gross motor play dominates their time and their fine motor and communication skills may plateau for a while. Toddlers with cortical visual impairment (CVI) may make rapid gains in their visual processing skills as they move about more and gain more experience interacting with objects in space. To encourage functional gross motor skills such as crawling, cruising and walking, avoid prolonged use of devices such as baby “walkers” or standing play stations. Also avoid over use of equipment that confines them to a space such as the “Johnny Jump Up” or “Sit ‘n’ Spin.” These devices may keep a young child safely contained, and safety is important, but experienced vision professionals have had many experiences trying to break self-stimulatory habits such as jumping and spinning that young children with blindness may have. So look for items such as riding toys that the young child can self-propel, and toy grocery carts or lawn mowers which give youngsters some support in standing and a “bumper” to provide good experiences to build on for cane use. 

  • Push toyspush toy
  • Riding toys
  • Nesting/stacking cups or blocks
  • Safe small blocks
  • Duplo blocks
  • Balls: koosh balls, nerf balls
  • Large cars and trucks 
  • Buckets, shovels, scoops for playing in a sandbox, water table, or outside in the garden
  • Toddler books

 

Play truck

Ages 3 to 5

Around the third birthday, children usually begin to focus somewhat less on gross motor play and settle down with longer attention spans and more imaginative play. More significant gender differences are evident at this age, with many boys interested in vehicles and things that move, and many girls interested in imaginary play, dressing up, playing family roles, and socializing.

Train on tracks

Move away from the push button light and music show toys.

  • Blocks and Legos  Closet with clothes for dress-up
  • Smaller cars and trucks
  • Fire trucks 
  • Trains or cars on a track
  • Dolls (for both boys and girls)
  • Play dishes and tea sets: made of tin, plastic, or ceramic if you dare
  • Metal pots and pans
  • Real food on a temporary basis: apples, pears, carrots, potatoes, onions,
  • Crackers, cookies
  • Clothes and old costumes to dress in (Goodwill and thrift stores)
  • Wearable accessories, such as purses, tote bags, coin purses, hats, jewelry, cell phones, make up mirrors, combs, belts, scarves 
  • Baby dolls and child dolls
  • Play characters and props such as Play Mobile sets, doll houses with small dolls
  • Books

 

School Aged: Elementary

Elementary school is a busy time for young minds and for families at home. Many of us who are teachers see children who don’t have enough leisure time and don’t get enough sleep. It is common for typical elementary aged children to be involved in a variety of lessons, sports, and programmed activities during their after school hours. Our students with visual impairment may spend many more hours completing their homework than their peers. However, it is very important for young children to have unstructured leisure time. Such time allows them to play and engage in social and creative activities, to read and investigate interests of their own and to develop and practice using new skills. Look for engaging toys to keep them occupied and to minimize “screen time,” time watching television, playing video games or texting friends. 

Snap Circuits Jr.    Library card

  • Lego setsWeaving loom
  • Train sets
  • Model cars or planes 
  • Kid-proof camera
  • Digital audio recorders
  • iPad, iPod or other digital music player
  • Microscope, magnifying glasses, telescopes, binoculars
  • Science kits, robot kits, electronics kits
  • Art sets: paint, markers, crayons with paper or canvas
  • Beading, knitting, crochet or weaving supplies
  • Books, audio books, ebooks
  • ebook reader, such as the Kindle
  • Library card
  • Board games, playing cards, dice

 

Middle and High School

In middle and high school, if kids don’t already have electronic devices, it’s time to get them.  Check around with teachers and parents of students who have visual impairment, and others to find out about electronic devices which are accessible to students with visual impairment. Most Apple devices have built in voice output capability without adding software like JAWS. Many other recreational activities are also appropriate, but actual “toys” generally are less of an interest. For young people who may still like to have their toys, collecting toy items such as dolls or model trains is a way for them to enjoy their favorite things and expand their interests in an age-appropriate way. 

  • Laptop computeriPod Touch
  • iPad or other tablet computer 
  • iPod touch (It has all the features of the iPad, but smaller. Good for kids who are blind.)
  • Cell phone (check for accessibility)
  • iTunes card
  • Karaoke machine
  • Books, audio books, eBooks 
  • Hobby and craft-related supplies
  • Science kits, robot kits
  • Mass transit (bus) pass, if available in your area
  • Skateboard or non-motorized scooter 
  • Flash (digital storage) drives

 

Accessible Hobbies

As students get older, they may be less interested in toys and more interested in other things. It can be challenging for adults who are not their parents to come up with ideas. Most kids do get involved in hobbies or sports, and if they do not, then encouraging these activities is a good thing. Do you worry about teenagers who sit around and watch TV and play video games all day? Help them find alternatives by showing them the things you enjoy, taking them on outings related to your interests, and making things with them. Here are some activities which can be accessible even to totally blind individuals. Young people with vision will be able to enjoy a broader array of choices.

  • Playing a musical instrumentWe Can Cook set
  • Beading
  • Crochet or knitting
  • Weaving
  • Pottery 
  • Gardening
  • Cooking 
  • Short wave radio listening
  • Ham radio operating

 

Accessible Sports & Athletics

  • Running, walkingCover of Trekking on a Trail
  • Hiking
  • Camping
  • Swimming
  • Wrestling
  • Gymnastics 
  • Cheerleading
  • Dancing
  • Goal ball 

Tandem bicycle

With a partner or guide:

  • Bicycling (on a tandem bicycle)
  • Rowing
  • Rock climbing
  • Geocaching 
  • Horseback riding

 

Thanks to Terra Toys of Austin for tolerating me while I stalked around taking photos of their many wonderful toys.

Originally published in Texas SenseAbilities, Fall 2012

 

Collage of holiday gifts for children who are blind or visually impaired

 

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