When babies are born, they depend on their caregivers for virtually all of their basic needs. A newborn needs to be fed, bathed, dressed, and of course cuddled and loved. However, as most parents can attest, this complete dependency doesn’t last long. Although children are still reliant on their caregivers in a number of ways, from a 2-year-old needing help on the potty to a 15-year-old needing yet another ride to dance practice, children are constantly developing skills that allow them to live more independently in the world around them. Infants learn to pick up food with their fingers and to take off their tiny socks, which they happily leave for you to find all over the house; toddlers learn to hold a spoon and use the toilet; preschoolers learn to zip their coats and to wash themselves in the bathtub. As they grow, children develop increasingly complex skills that allow them to eventually live independent lives. Although some of these skills take hands-on assistance to practice and learn, many daily living skills are typically learned and reinforced through observation. A young child who sees his mother stirring some soup in a pot on the stove will copy her in play and later in his own cooking. Children watch, learn, repeat, and experiment, and take these skills with them as they grow.
How do children with vision impairments learn independent living skills?
Children with vision impairments who do not have the same ability to visually observe the activities of those around them will likely require specific teaching to pick up on how to perform various daily living activities. The boy who does not see his mother tending to a pot on the stove may need additional instruction when it is time to learn cooking skills (i.e. what kind of spoon should be used to stir something hot on a stove? What are strategies for staying safe when working with a stove?) His method of learning these independent living skills may be different from that of a child who is sighted, but the skills he will need to learn as he grows are quite similar to those of his peers.
What are independent living skills?
Independent living skills are skills that an individual needs in order to perform activities of daily living, including eating, cleaning, and maintaining personal hygiene. Like their sighted counterparts, children with vision impairments can and should begin learning independent living skills from birth. Since children who are visually impaired or blind cannot learn through visual observation, they will need to pick up on these skills through hands-on practice and experiences. Independent living skills can be taught by a number of people in a child’s life, including parents and other family members, friends, teachers of students with vision impairments, and vision rehabilitation teachers. Teaching independent living skills to students with vision impairments may involve additional adaptations to the activities in order to make the activity accessible. However, teaching these activities is crucial in helping students to become increasingly confident and competent individuals.
Independent living skills encompass a number of daily living skill areas, including:
- Personal hygiene: bathing, hair care, shaving, feminine hygiene, using deodorant, tooth brushing, etc.
- Toileting skills
- Clothing skills: clothing identification, attire selection, matching, laundry, stain and wrinkle care
- Meal skills: using utensils, cutting food, meal preparation, safe use of stove and other kitchen appliances, cooking skills
- Money skills: coin and bill identification, making change, keeping a wallet, understanding costs of various items, budgeting, check writing, bill pay, using a credit card for purchases
- Cleaning skills: tidying/organizational skills, cleaning countertops and other surfaces, washing dishes, vacuuming/floor cleaning, bathroom cleaning, safe and proper use of cleaning supplies
- Medication and health management: understanding health conditions, knowledge of or maintaining a list of current medications, keeping track of time/dose information, understanding dietary restrictions or allergy needs
Independent living skills such as the ones listed above are key for all students with vision impairments, with or without additional disabilities. Some students may have the goal of living without any staff support in adulthood. Some may require a supported living environment in an apartment or in a residential program. Whatever the ultimate goal, skills for independent living are essential. Students naturally move along different paths; one child may be learning to use a fork and spoon while another is working on meal preparation. However, both students are learning skills and strategies that will empower them to make choices, move forward towards new goals and approach their futures with hope, self-confidence, and self-respect.