Cultivating Socials Skills In People Who Are Blind Or Visually Impaired

In my previous article (Understanding Social Anxiety and Blindness), I talked about how a lack of social skills can lead to social anxiety in people who are blind and visually impaired. In this article, I am focusing how building social skills can prevent or reduce the risk of having such anxiety.

A group of adults sit around a table smiling, two are shaking hands with each other across the table.

Studies have shown that people who are blind and visually impaired have higher risk of social anxiety than sighted people because they cannot observe visual cues such as facial expressions (e.g. smile, frown, wink, crying) or body language (e.g. crossed arms, eye contact, mannerisms) (Augestad, 2017; Dehghan et al., 2020). Both facial expressions and body language are essential pieces of development. The sighted person will develop these skills naturally by observing others and receiving visual feedback from the people they interact with. However, the person who is blind does not have access to the visual feedback naturally which can affect their social development. This can lead to unintended inappropriate behavior or interactions from the person who is blind. For example, standing too close to a person, touching a person’s body, eye-poking, rocking, or not looking toward the person who is speaking.

As Hatlen (2004) stated, “social interaction skills are as important as learning to read.” This is particularly important for people who are blind or visually impaired because in their life this will affect their ability to build and maintain relationships. In a previous article (Building a System of Support), I give tips for supporting your child to learn self-efficacy and for helping others to understand how to interact with your child who is blind or visually impaired. The key is to verbalize your actions when interacting with the person who is blind or visually impaired and to use very clear and descriptive language. To support a child who is blind or visually impaired in their social development, explain to them specific behaviors and what they should or should not do in certain setting or situations. The following are some quick tips for how to support the person who is blind in building social skills:

In a New Place or Meeting New People

  • When meeting a new person, introduce the person by name and ask the person who is blind to introduce themselves and shake hands (if that is culturally appropriate).
  • When entering a new place with a person who is blind make sure to explain for them their surroundings and what other people are doing.

When In Public in General

  • Teach them how to conduct themselves in public appropriately such as how to eat with the silverware and keep food off of their face and clothes when eating.
  • Remind the person who is blind that sighted people can see their actions clearly and they should watch their behaviors in front of people such as picking their nose. Especially with children, you may need to explain explicitly what is and is not appropriate. Kindly remind them of this if they do something that is not socially acceptable.

 When In Conversation

  • Teach the person who is blind to understand and use conventional gestures such as thumbs up/down, pointing, waving, etc. and if possible, help them do those gestures to get the right meaning of it.
  • Teach them nonverbal behaviors such as nodding their head or smiling to indicate excitement, agreement, disagreement, etc.
  • Teach them how much space is appropriate to leave between themselves and another person and how to determine that space based on the closeness of the other person’s voice.
  • Encourage them to direct their face toward the sound of the speaker.
  • Help them to practice how to position their body when sitting with someone else.
  • Teach them use an appropriate tone and volume based on the setting.
  • Help them recognize behavior that can lead to social isolation such as poor hygiene or physical appearance.
  • Encourage the person to always listen carefully to their environment and what is being said so they can participate effectively.
  • Encourage and support the person to answer questions about their needs and blindness.
  • Always remind others, and encourage the person who is blind to ask others, to verbalize their actions such as smiling or frowning so the person who is blind can fully engage with them.
  • Encourage the person who is blind to always call others by their name and ask others to do the same when interacting with them.
  • Support the person who is blind in listening to the changing tone of a conversation to know when to begin, continue, or end the discussion.
Four children are standing with their arms around each other

These are general tips. Remember, too, that any skills that are valuable to a sighted child are valuable to a child who is blind or visually impaired as well. By cultivating social skills in your child at a young age or correcting their skills as they get older that can reduce the risk of being isolated or developing social anxiety. These are my tips; please share any of yours as well. Please also share with me any topics you would like me to cover next. Don’t forget to like and share if you find it useful!

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