Individuals with vision impairments, especially those who have been blind since birth or infancy, have a tendency to develop repetitive self-stimulating movements. These behaviors might include rocking, spinning, head-wagging or weaving, hand clapping, rolling the eyes back, or light-gazing (Brame, Martin, & Martin, 1998). Historically, there are many factors that have been proposed as contributors to the persistence of these “blindisms.” These include boredom (Warren, 1994; Troester, Bambring, & Beelmann, 1991) and communication problems (Bak, 1999).   In a comprehensive review of the research on stereotypic rocking, McHugh and Lieberman (2003) found this behavior to be persistent and chronic in many children, although it declines with maturation in others. Considering the negative effect attention to these behaviors may have on children, these authors question the wisdom of devoting energy to attempting to change some of these “blindisms”.  In another research review, DeMario and Crowley (1994) found that increased focus on students’ positive behaviors in general is an effective way to reduce activities considered to be negative.

Suggestions:

  • During counseling sessions, as in the classroom, use distraction whenever possible to focus the child on more goal-oriented tasks.  A simple re-direction to bring the student’s attention back to a discussion or activity can be accomplished by a question such as, “What do you think about Joe’s comment?” or by handing a smaller child a crayon to encourage completion of a drawing.
  • Make sure the student is appropriately challenged in the activities planned. A review of the child’s educational records, teacher interviews, and classroom observations can give you a good idea of abilities and interests.
  • Give the child simple verbal feedback about inappropriate mannerisms.
  • With older children, direct instruction in socially appropriate behaviors is effective. Help students find ways to interrupt the mannerism when they notice themselves engaging in a blindism.”
  • Pay attention to when “blindisms” occur in your counseling sessions as they may indicate discomfort or anxiety around a topic.
  • Evaluate whether these behaviors are interfering with important aspects of the child’s life.  If they are not, ignore these “blindisms” and encourage others to do the same (McHugh & Lieberman, 2003).