Future Reflections Jan/ Feb/March 1985, Vol. 4 No. 1

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Reprinted from the VIP Newsletter, Vol. 4, No.

Once a visually impaired child has begun to feed herself at the table, most parents wish their child to eat efficiently, and in a socially acceptable manner. Many problems parents encounter are not related to a visual impairment, but rather to the age of the child. Few three or four year olds are ideal dinner companions. There are however, some techniques specific to the visual impairment.

Manners: Children learn table manners by observing and imitating the behavior of others in the family. Your child misses this incidental learning experience, and may need extra help to understand how to behave at the table. Some alterations in what is acceptable will be necessary for the visually impaired child. For example, allowing her to briefly touch food with her fingertips will help her locate and identify the food on her plate. At first, she may need to load the spoon with her fingers.

Table manners are necessary as part of learning to get along with others. A young child can learn to say "Please" and "Thank You," use a napkin, and eat as neatly as possible. You may wish to establish mealtime rules which are consistently followed by family members and caregivers.

A common concern is the child who eats for a minute, leaves the table, wanders about, and comes back to eat again. Prevent mealtime wandering by permitting the child to excuse herself when she is finished; if she leaves the table to wander, remove the food until the next snack or meal time.

Nutrition: A variety of foods provides proper nutrition for growth. Many young children need snacks between meals and tend to eat four or five small meals instead of three meals a day. Purchase healthy snacks (cheese, fruit, fresh vegetables) and show your child where they are stored. Discourage snacking on cookies, potato chips, or candy to prevent later problems with overweight. Young children frequently develop definite food preferences and refuse to eat certain foods. As long as she is gaining weight, is healthy, and has a balanced diet, don't worry about it. Offer new foods matter-of-factly and encourage her to try a small portion, but don't let the table become a battlefield. Because children enjoy eating food they have helped prepare, have her participate in food preparation. Be aware also that foods appealing to the visual sense may not be appealing actually. Orange and apple slices, for example, feel cold and clammy.

Eating Out: Many families enjoy eating out occasionally. It's wise to choose a restaurant frequented by families with small children. You may want to bring along her special mug and eating utensils and a toy or book to keep her occupied. If she has never been to a restaurant, prepare her by playing restaurant beforehand. She'll learn the meaning of new words (menu, waitress) and will be intrigued by the idea of a great, big kitchen and lots of people eating in the same room.

Consistency: Setting the table in the same way each time will help her become independent. As soon as she is able, teach her how to set the table, and allow her to assume part of the responsiblity for the family mealtimes. If she knows her spoon is always at her right, and her mug above the spoon, she can locate them herself.

When you place food on her plate, describe where the food is on the plate -- at the right, left, top, or bottom. Older blind children and adults use the hands of a clock as reference points.

Neatness: Because she will be using her hands to locate food at first, establish the practice of washing hands before and after a meal. Show her how to wipe her hands on a napkin. A bib may be necessary if she spills frequently; discard bibs as soon as possible (big kids don't use bibs!) and use an appropriate alternative, such as a bright bandanna or dad's old shirt.

Spills do happen; she can help wipe up accidental spills or sweep the floor after the meal is over. A mug that is half-full is more stable than a full, tall glass of milk. Put crackers in soup to make it easier to spoon up. Sticky foods, mashed potatoes or pudding adhere to the spoon and will not fall off. Show her how to use a piece of bread, rather than fingers, as a "pusher." Some children use a fork to stabilize food they are trying to load on a spoon. In the beginning, have her use the same mug and eating utinsils each meal so she can learn to judge if food or liquid is present by the weight.

Eating from a dish or plate can be messy at first: the child's action may move or tip the dish or food may spill off the side. To anchor plates, try: dishes with suction cup or non-skid rings on the bottom, a thin rubber mat or damp napkin under the plate, or a small "Octopus" with suction cups on both sides. Dishes or plates with high sides prevent spills. "Scooper" bowls with a reverse curve edge guide food onto a child's spoon (availabe from Toys to Grow On, P.O. Box 17, Long Beach, CA 90801.)

A weighted mug with a large handle is more stable than a tall glass, and is not apt to tip when she is feeling for it. Avoid training mugs with covers which prevent the visually impaired child from judging the amount of liquid remaining.

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