Early Years Help and Advice

Here are notes and links from the session:

If your child has been diagnosed with an illness, disability or sensory impairment and needs a lot of additional support on a daily basis, they’re described as having “complex needs”. A child might have complex needs from birth, or after an illness or injury.

Early Years Complex Needs Service is a year round education based service for children under five years of age with the most severe and complex developmental needs. The service supports children to achieve success using a small steps, play based, child centred approach

Portage provides home-based, early intervention and support. It has three main elements:

  1. Child-led play, enabling children to initiate play.
  2. Family focus, giving families the opportunity to talk about their caring experiences.
  3. Structured teaching, planning activity and play around everyday situations that families and children can practice together.

Top Tips for parents with VI Early Years children:

  • Enjoy spending time with your baby / infant.
  • Try not to compare them with others the same age.
  • Small steps to success are the best.
  • Tactile books are brilliant.
  • Development through play is fun for both of you.
  • Music and singing are fantastic learning tools- “Head, shoulders knees and toes”, “If you are happy and you know it”…. Endless possibilities.
  • Song bags and story bags encourage association and meaning. These bags contact objects that bring the story, or song to life. Find a miniature london bus for the wheels on the bus for example  
  • Objects of reference bring the world to life
  • Try and find a local play session for children with Special Educational Needs and disabilities or even better sight loss 
  • Try not to worry or panic too much- you baby / young child will reach their milestones with support – in their own time.
  • Let your VI child be themselves. Let them try everything first before putting adaptations in place.
  • When teaching your VI child to do tasks like doing up buttons, stand behind the child so that the child can feel what your hands are doing and copy
  • Make sure you are aware of and claim any benefits you are entitled to.  This can make life so much easier.
  • Try and join local and online groups for Vision Impaired children and their families.  Support from other parent/carers is so important and beneficial for your child.
  • Be aware of the potential impact on siblings.
  • It is ok to feel all the many different emotions that come with diagnosis. Find a person or group where it is ok to share your feelings and get support.

Melanie’s Tips

1. Teach left and right, up and down, in front and behind from the start, to help them locate things around them. Say the words when they are babies, they learn so fast!

2. Do not modify your language, we “watch” television and say “see you later”. The world is sighted, children need to speak normally and understand, no one needs to tread on egg-shells around words.

3. Buy life-like small plastic animal toys, figures, model houses etc to let them feel what shape things are. Syd loved the sea-life centre, she could not see the fish at all but loved the atmosphere and always came away with a new fish, turtle or something to add to the collection.

4. RNIB etc produce good games like feely snakes and ladders that anyone can play and later there are braille playing cards.

5. Build trust with honesty. Never put anything in your child’s mouth with a lie, tell them it’s spinach! I took Sydney to after-school gym club in primary school, the teacher was great and allowed me to help Sydney through the class. Soon I had her jumping off benches building up the height gradually. I would hold her hands and tell her when to bend her knees. Handstands were a challenge to describe, so basically I held her in the end position to give her the idea and went from there.Luckily for me she was tiny 🙂 Syd went to Costa Rica recently and sent me a video of her doing a 200ft swing, I aged watching that video, but I was so proud, she is so brave!

6. Sydney does not like her face being touched without warning, if a child cannot see, remember to tell them what you are about to do.

7. Talk to them about everything, I told Sydney the colour of the sky, grass etc, so whilst she has no idea what colour is, she knows why people talk about it. Explaining colour is one thing that I have found a true challenge, beyond the warmth of red etc. it is not easy but talking about colour is still important.

8. There will be times when you are afraid to let them go, when at 16 she went to the college for the blind in Hereford and I had to leave her alone in a strange place with people she did not know, I cried. The first time I watched Syd walk away from me in a busy high street with her cane, I cried. The first time I left her alone in her own flat, I cried. But no matter how hard it is, you smile and let them go and keep your tears for later. They need to be brave and so do you as parents. 

9. Almost nothing is impossible, I told Syd she would drive a car on her 17th birthday, even if it was my car in a field, I was determined to let her feel what it is like. I then found an adventure school that taught under 17s to drive off-road, I rang them and explained that whilst 16, Syd was totally blind…there was a pause and the chap said he needed to speak to someone and then got back to me and said “yes, we’d love to help”. On her 17th birthday Syd drove a range rover around an off-road course taking verbal instruction.

Eunice and George’s Tips

1. Don’t assume the professionals have all the answers, research, follow blind people and other parents with blind children on social media. Join parent support groups, attend events organised for the blind. Join VIEW.There’s a lot of practical knowledge from all these sources.

 2. Create a soothing environment with music, it can be played aways in the background as this keeps them engaged, it calms them, helps their vocabulary and speech.

 3. Speak with them constantly. Let them know the names of new people they are going to meet before they meet them.

 4. Introduce them to a cane very early on. It boosts their confidence and helps them become independent and they are less likely to reject it. 

 5. Let them know before you touch them. 

 6.  Take them shopping, let them feel the products on the shelves, explain what they are, but if you are in a hurry then it’s best if they stay at home.

 7. Differences are not deficits and blindness does not need to be “fixed”.

 8. There are simple fun activities which can introduce a VI child to STEM. For example , pouring water from one container into two containers, sopping up water with a sponge and squeezing it out, running toy cars down a ramp, or holding an ice cube while it melts and becomes liquid water. Helping them explore at an early age will help build a positive attitude. 

9.  Introduce them to books with blind characters.

Who can get portage? Portage is available to you if you have a young child with additional needs, including with a learning disability. It is traditionally available to certain disabled children until the age of five.

Who can support you:

  • Early Years Complex Needs Team / Portage (they will help you with development through play, small steps to success, starting point = what your child can do, liaison with nursery / pre school).  Discuss the use of the Developmental Journal.
  • Habilitation Officer for Vision Impaired Children (orientation and mobility, equipment, home safety, teaching independent living skills)
  • Qualified Teacher for the Vision Impaired (pre braille skills, tactile skills, literacy, numeracy support)
  • Contact local sight loss organisation.  Many have a specialised children, young people and families service
  • Professionals involved with your blind child | VICTA Parent Portal (victaparents.org.uk)

Resources and Support From Sight Loss Charities

Let’s play – Toys and play ideas for young children with vision impairment (rnib.org.uk)

  • VICTA 

Useful Early Years resources for your visually impaired child (victaparents.org.uk)

Professionals involved with your blind child | VICTA Parent Portal (victaparents.org.uk)

Registering your visually impaired child | VICTA Parent Portal (victaparents.org.uk)

  • Wonder Baby Website

The VICTA Parent Network – Early Years Focus | Facebook

Literacy Support

  • ClearVision- A Postal Library of Children’s books in print, braille and tactile books

Clearvision Project

  • RNIB Library- Braille,large print and audio books available to borrow

RNIB Library > Kids & Teens

  • Calibre Audio Library- brings the joy of audiobooks to anyone struggling to access print.  

Our services – Calibre Audio

 Books with VI characters .pdf

Writing About the Early Years by a Mum of a Deafblind girl