Emotional support advice for children with vision impairment

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Craig Brown helps breakdown barriers.

The Covid-19 pandemic has had an enormous impact on children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities. Those with a vision impairment had new barriers to overcome with no forewarning.

Alongside the difficulties of accessing educational materials and specialist provision, came a high volume of concerns from parents, carers, and young people themselves regarding the need for emotional support.

Some of these were themes common to all children and young people such as issues with confidence, resilience, and self-esteem. All children and young people face hurdles and challenges as they grow, live, and learn. Learning to manage feelings, face problems, resolve differences and difficulties and develop resilience and coping strategies is a common part of growing up. This was amplified during a time of real uncertainty where daily structure and routine was taken away, pretty much overnight.

Children and young people with vision impairment experience the same everyday experiences, feelings, and reactions as many of their peers. There may also be some particular issues relating to having a vision impairment, where it is helpful for parents, siblings, friends, family and other people to give support. This article will look at some of the concerns that parents, carers, and young people highlighted that are specific to having a vision impairment.

Many parents and carers will have experienced concerns for their children around isolation and anxiety but there was an additional element for those with children having a vision impairment. Children and young people across the UK were being guided towards a virtual world in which video communication software, social media platforms, messaging apps and video gaming were not always accessible for those with an eye condition. This heightened the feeling of isolation for some as they were unable to socialise with friends in person and were coming across barriers to accessing alternative options.

The importance of maintaining relationships through phone calls, socially distanced meetings and creating accessible waysof interaction was – and remains – imperative for their wellbeing.

Even those who were able to attend their education settings found new systems for social distancing such as one-way routes. While there were practical and logical reasons for these routes to be put in place, often the impact of these on students with a vision impairment were missed. This added an extra layer of anxiety for some children and young people. It was, and still is, vital that these concerns are communicated and finding solutions must always involve the relevant specialists such as Qualified Teachers of Vision Impairment (QTVI) or Habilitation Specialists (RQHS). Guidance is available to articulate clearly and directly the responsibility settings have and the ways in which they can make suitable adjustments to support students.

Enjoying a book

Craig Brown helps breakdown barriers. Emotional support advice for children with vision impairment

For parents and carers, often one of the most difficult and distressing parts of finding out their child has a vision impairment is knowing how to talk to their child about it. This challenge has been amplified during Covid-19 because support from professionals has been difficult to access at times, with non-emergency visits to medical professionals often being cancelled and face to face support groups ceasing. So the pull to hold off on having these conversations is heightened. This lack of support for parents has a knock-on effect for the children and young people they care for. There is no set way or right time to have a conversation with a child about a vision impairment.

If a child starts asking questions about their sight, it’s a great opportunity to have that conversation. An important aspect is making sure that parents and carers feel supported and have all the information they require. They are the experts when it comes to their individual child and there are several resources available to support with that difficult but essential conversation.

Over the last year, parents also reported an increased concern about their children being able to talk to other people about their eye condition. This may be friends, family, school staff or any other individual they are in regular contact with. This was possibly due to notable differences in the way students with a vision impairment were accessing online classes and resources.

RNIB believes that raising awareness and understanding of vision impairment is essential. Many sighted people do not know what it actually means to be registered severely sight impaired (blind) or sight impaired (partially sighted). Various websites, resources and apps are available to model how a particular vision impairment may affect individuals as well as give specific information on the variety of different eye conditions. If awareness of those around children and young people with vision impairment can be raised, this supports understanding and acceptance. Some children find it useful to give explanations of their eye condition themselves; some prefer to have a class presentation/ discussion. It could be held by a class teacher or another professional who can help the child’s classmates know more about different eye conditions and how the child sees and accesses the world around them.

Emotional confidence

Education settings may have a general discussion about difference and diversity if this feels more comfortable. The importance is that children and young people feel supported and understood, and that they can access the same provision and experiences as their peers.

When a child or young person is having to deal with issues affecting their wellbeing, it will inevitably have an effect on their educational attainment. Education settings should be aware of the additional emotional and social support that may need to be put in place for students with a vision impairment. It is vital that parents, professionals and all those around children and young people with a vision impairment are aware of the additional concerns they may have, and work together to support them to feel equipped to overcome barriers. RNIB has created a series of podcasts in partnership with a Specialist Vision Impairment Clinical Psychology service which start to address some of these emotional support issues, but it is imperative that specialist provision such as a QTVI and RQHS are contacted and their advice sought about the needs of any child with a vision impairment.

Craig Brown
Author: Craig Brown

Craig Brown
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