Every week, grandmother of two Sylvia makes the long 50-mile round trip to bring her 4 year-old granddaughter Zoe to one of the Royal London Society for Blind People’s parent and toddler groups for blind and partially sighted babies and toddlers.
Aniridia, the absence of irises, and Nystagmus, the uncontrolled to and fro movement of the eyes, mean that Zoe can’t fully see the world around her.
The journey might be long, but for Sylvia accessing the right support for her granddaughter makes it worth it.
‘Zoe receives occupational therapy, speech and language therapy, individual music as well as group music and mobility training every week. If we couldn’t reach RLSB’s services, she would instead only receive one hour of help every other week,’ Sylvia explains.
80% of learning in your early years is visual, so children with a sight condition need to learn the basics in a different way to help stop them falling behind their sighted peers.
To understand the significance of this early development, we have to fast forward a few years in the life of someone with sight loss.
The impact of sight loss on 11-year-olds-
The Sight Impairment at 11 report is a new piece of research published this week by RLSB and RNIB, in collaboration with NatCen Social research, which shows the impact of sight loss on children who are aged 11.
It underlines the fact that not being able to see fully, or at all, can have a major impact on every aspect of a child’s development and wellbeing.
By 11 most blind and partially sighted children are less confident than their sighted peers, find it harder to make friends, are more likely to be socially isolated, and are more likely to live in financial hardship.
Worryingly, their parents and teachers tell us that children with sight loss are twice as likely to be bullied or picked on by other children.
No child should have this reality to look forward to.
More must be done to stop this kind of victimization, so blind children don’t miss out on the very things that make childhood so important – security, friendship and a sense of self confidence.
Blind children need to learn how to live beyond their sight loss to beat the chances of being bullied in later life.
Teaching children and their parents how to adapt so they learn communication and social skills, how to be mobile and explore all help a child adjust to a world they can’t see. Making them more confident and resilient, which are essential to a happy childhood and being able to cope with difficulties of life later on.
Expanding early specialist support-
However, the importance of early years support for blind and partially sighted children in helping to develop resilience to cope with the difficulties that the research highlights should not be underestimated.
Children like Zoe need support from a young age; giving them the chance to flourish today so they don’t suffer tomorrow.
Zoe’s now attending a mainstream nursery, but she still attends the parent and toddler group once a week thanks to Sylvia’s support. ‘We do still hope new services will open closer to us, but until that time it is worth every mile to get there. We are delighted with Zoe’s progress,’ Sylvia says.
Unfortunately for many other families, the group is simply too far away.
Childhood sight loss is on the increase in the UK. There are over 7,000 blind children in London and the South East alone who require specialist services; and this demand will continue to rise.
As a result, RLSB urgently needs to open three new parent and toddler groups in 2015 so we can meet the demand and reach the blind children who desperately need us.
Without these services, these children won’t have the support they deserve or the helping hand they need in preparing them for a life of aspiration.
Can you help? Please support our appeal for new parent and toddler groups to give blind children the best start in life and help beat a reality of isolation and bullying.