How do you teach a blind child to smile?

Dave was blind with multiple disabilities. He was 5 years old and I was his teacher 20 years ago.  Despite his challenges, he had many gifts including the ability to talk perfectly well, to sing and to respond to stimulation in his environment.  He was sharp and often retorted quite cynically at others especially when things did not work out in his favour.

One day I decided to get some photos of him.  As I was about to snap the photo, I said “Smile Dave” but he showed no response. He stood there like a rock.  I said “Come on Dave, smile”.  After a pensive moment, he asked quietly “What does smile mean?  What do I have to do?”

I was shocked for a moment.  How could I explain what a smile is to a blind child.  It is something we learn automatically through observation.

I said very foolishly “Smile, is like laughing.” To that he responded curtly “I don’t have anything to laugh about.  What is “smile”?”

I put the camera away and told him I would try to explain it to him later. I needed to think about this.  “Come here.” I said.  “Let us play with the ball.”  He enjoyed rolling the ball on the floor and finding it. His face beamed with a smile every time he found the  ball and rolled it back  to me.

“Dave you are smiling!”  I said.  “You smile when you roll the ball.”

“I don’t know what smile means.” he said. “What is it that I am doing that you call a smile?”

This was getting hard.  I tried to explain to him how to move the muscles in his face and his mouth to create a smile but he could not get it.   When he did it, he was just stiff without any emotion.  We rolled the ball back and forth and he squealed in delight each time he found the ball.

Then I asked him ” Dave, how do you feel when you find the ball?”

He said “happy.”

I asked  “When you feel happy, how do you show it?”

He shrugged and said, “I don’t know”

I said, “The next time I roll the ball to you, and you find the ball, tell me what you feel in your face?”

He found the ball and then said, “I feel happy when I get the ball and I think that my face smiles.”  There was an “Aha” moment on his face!

“What part of your face smiles Dave?”

He responded “I feel my mouth and my eyes smile” 

I never forgot this statement. Even though he was blind, I could see the sparkle in his eye and he was so right when he said  “I feel that my mouth and my eyes smile.”  His eyes were smiling. This was a profound teaching /learning moment for me –  when a 5-year-old child, who is blind, could connect that his eyes and his mouth created a smile.  How authentic and true is that!

Dave reinforced to me that we can’t smile if we don’t feel happy.  We don’t really smile when we simply poise our mouth to show our teeth.  Our smile is an automatic response to the happiness we feel.  After four years of working with him and teaching him how to use his residual vision, one day he said to me, “Ms Maxwell, I can see you smiling at me.”  He moved closer to me and let his hand touch my face and then my lips.   I can only imagine with the  little vision he had,  how I must have looked to him.  I have a feeling I looked like this 🙂


LookGood!!! and FeelGood!!! by smiling from within.  It will show on your face.





One thought on “How do you teach a blind child to smile?

  1. What a beautiful story! It really resonates when you reminded your readers that one’s smile is not a true smile if only his/her lips move without the eyes showing the emotion and feeling of happiness and joy. The smile of lips without the eyes is really insincere.
    Someone said, “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” Our eyes really say a lot to others, and this is true even for those who are blind, as your vignette shows.
    Thank you for this.

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