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Visually Impaired Parents Raising Sighted Children

Mother and Child

 

Before the Baby Comes

This section will be particularly helpful to those parents who are expecting an infant or those who want to know about the parenting process. Parent interviews and articles written by blind parents provided the basis of this section. For additional information see the reference section.

 

A little knowledge is important

Before the baby arrives is the best time to get organized. After the baby is born, there is little time. If you already have carefully considered ideas about your philosophy of child rearing and infant care, you have a good beginning foundation. If other people realize you have ideas and opinions of your own, they may be less likely to interfere. For example, my daughter was plagued with diaper rash. Everyone had their own remedy, from taking off her diaper to using corn starch. I learned from other parents and my pediatrician that corn starch would only exacerbate the problem, even though it was used in my family for years. Therefore, when well-meaning relatives kept telling me to use corn starch, I could say I had talked with the doctor, and he said to use cream and take off her diaper as much as possible. This gave me a feeling of more confidence, even though I was going against family tradition. If you have not had the opportunity to care for children, a child care class may be in order. The American Red Cross has such classes and may be another valuable way of gaining some hands-on experience. Also, many hospitals facilitate free prenatal and child care classes. Reading books on child care from the National Library Service may be helpful before planning the nursery and purchasing supplies.

 

Creating a support network

Talking with other parents, sighted and blind, can also be helpful. Parents love to talk about their children and you can get good ideas. By contacting blind parents, you can learn some of the concerns that are unique to this group. If you know a little about the parenting process, then the feeling of being overwhelmed may not be so great. Feeling overwhelmed at times is a natural part of parenting. Stories and ideas from other parents may help you feel more confident and give rise to your own spark of creativity. Since there are many ways to do the same task, we are all different and must find our own way. Though many blind people have both blind and sighted friends, there are some who have no contact with other blind people. A good way to meet blind people is through participation in politically active groups (see referral list for names and addresses). Also, in the referral section, there is an on line computer mailing list for blind people and their families and a newsletter that will answer questions. American Foundation for the Blind has a web page for parents with limited vision.

 

So many decisions to make

Now that you have some knowledge and know of places to get support and additional information, a number of decisions need to be made before the baby arrives.

  • What type of diapers will I choose?
  • Will I nurse my baby or use a bottle?
  • What type of car seat will I need to purchase?
  • What equipment will I need?
  • Where should I have my baby?
  • Will I need to make special arrangements with that place?
  • What will I need to ask of my Doctor and the Nursing staff?
  • What type of child birth experience would I like?
  • Will I need help when the baby first comes home?
  • What will I need to get started?
  • Who can I count on for help?
  • How should I choose a pediatrician?
  • What will I do in a medical emergency?
  • Is it important that I choose a pharmacy ahead of time?

These are questions that the blind parents I interviewed feel are important to answer, before the baby comes. Knowing the answers can alleviate the stress of the moment. It is also clear that many sighted parents may also want to consider these questions before they bring home their new infant.

 

Getting organized is a fundamental key to success

Organization, though time-consuming, will be a life saver. All parents felt that organization was extremely important and saved them stress.

When planning the nursery, it will be important to think about the way you may care for your infant’s things and where they will be placed. For example a baby hamper or basket will keep the baby’s clothes separate, enabling you to conveniently use special soap. If each item has a place and is returned to that place, you may find it possible to locate the item easily. This is especially true when things need to be found quickly, such as in the event of a leaking diaper. There is nothing more disconcerting than trying to find baby wipes at the same time as holding a dirty, squirming baby.

I found it very useful to discuss where things would be kept with my husband, so that when he changed the baby he could find things easily in the same place. I also asked other helpers to please try and leave things in the same place after use, because it would be much more convenient for me.

As the baby grew and I became more adept, it was still important for me to keep things organized. When the baby wanted a toy, ball, or blanket, I was able to find them quickly.

Most kitchens are already organized. I found it extremely helpful to keep baby items in a certain drawer. I also used a separate drawer for bibs and clean-up rags for after mealtimes. It is a good idea to think about how to keep track of the items the baby uses before he/she is born.

In my complete ignorance of pacifiers, I did not realize when my second child started using one that keeping tabs on it would become an issue later. Using a short ribbon and baby safety pins was my answer to the pacifier dilemma. Naturally, this only occurred to me after several nights of getting up to a screaming baby and crawling on the floor in a sleep delirium trying to find this most prized object. It did not help that my youngest slept rarely, so I was sleep deprived.

No one can be prepared for all situations. Trying to plan ahead and figure out what you might need will help you when you are frustrated, tired, and people are telling you what you should do.

 

Adaptation to Everyday Tasks

 

General Comments

People who are blind are required to perform daily tasks they adapt to meet their unique circumstances of living without vision. Some people learn these skills from their families, while others learn from schools for the blind and from orientation and rehabilitation programs. Yet, others learn to perform the same skills through their own ingenuity. In the case of blind parents, this fact is particularly true. Parenting with little or no vision requires the ability of the blind parent to adapt tasks from highly visual ones to hands-on skills with little support from others. While adapting the tasks, the blind parent may have to overcome the attitudes of friends, family members, and strangers with whom the parent and child come in contact.

In this section, ideas are presented concerning the adaptation of tasks. This section is taken from printed materials and interviews conducted with blind parents. This is not a formula for doing tasks, but a spring board for ideas which may provide parents with information and reassurance for adapting tasks. Parenting is an art, and it is my hope that individuals who read this will feel supported and informed. This section will also be divided into subsections pertaining to each age. For example, feeding will be discussed under infancy, because it first becomes necessary at this time. Toilet training will be discussed during the toddler age, because this is the time parents begin thinking about this issue. In fact, many children are not toilet trained until three years of age.

 

The Infant

 

Safety

Bringing home an infant is a happy time, and one in which the parent can start to develop safety habits that will be important through the first years of life. Though most infants don’t move much, this is the perfect time to start using all those safety buckles. It also is a good idea to never leave your child unattended, unless he or she is buckled or in his or her crib.

Though your infant is not yet mobile, this is the time for child-proofing your home. Some measures that can be taken early to insure your child’s safety are using safety plugs in the electrical outlets, putting cleaning products or dangerous chemicals that can be swallowed out of reach, and placing safety latches on cupboards and medicine cabinets. It is surprising how quickly infants become mobile, and these precautions will help protect your infant.

I remember bringing my son home from the hospital and laying him on the bed in our master bedroom. As I was sitting next to him, he began wiggling his body and slowly moving down the bed. I was totally surprised and called my husband Jim to come and watch. New born infants were not supposed to move, and there he was scooting down the bed.

You can also buy covers to place over your door knobs, so toddlers will not be able to unlock or open doors. Several parents mentioned how well these covers for knobs worked. I found my son could take them off and open the doors anyway. We needed to place an additional lock much higher up on the door.

A choking baby is a concern to all parents. Visually impaired parents discussed the ways they could tell if their infant was choking. Blind parents listened for gasping sounds, coughing, unusual noises, and changes in breathing. Parents, who relied more on their vision, could also check the child visually. This might mean taking the infant to a room where there was better lighting. Several parents felt it was important to take a CPR class. CPR classes are given through the Red Cross and some hospitals. All blind parents mentioned choking and how important it was to keep small objects out of the reach of infants. This may be the time you will want to continue working with your older child concerning picking up toys. The emphasis should be upon small toys on which a mobile infant may choke.

All parents with little or no vision would physically get down on hands and knees to feel an area before placing the baby down on a blanket. Most of the parents had daily routines of vacuuming and sweeping floors. This seemed to become more important as the babies began to crawl and scoot around the house. Most visually impaired parents used a play pen, though the amount of time the baby spent in the play pen varied greatly.

 

Carrying an infant

Carrying a baby is a new and exciting adventure. At first, the parents need to support the back and neck. Many of the blind parents interviewed felt comfortable carrying their new infants. However, a few expressed concern about tripping or bumping into something while walking with their infant. One blind father, with a small amount of vision, carried the baby cradled in his left arm and used his right arm as a buffer as he walked. This would protect the baby if he bumped into a wall, doorway, or other large objects. In addition he shuffled his feet along the floor to prevent tripping.

All the blind parents were concerned about tripping over toys when the baby was a second child. These parents tried to keep areas picked up, but they knew at times there would probably be some toys on the floor. The “mother’s shuffle” was an adaptation developed by the parents interviewed. One mother coined this phrase because she spoke with a number of blind mothers that all described a similar walk. The visually impaired parent, while caring her baby, would slowly slide her feet across the floor. This way of walking would prevent tripping over objects and help the parent navigate around obstacles.

Parents, who had more vision and did not need to use a cane, described walking more slowly when carrying a baby. They also expressed more concern about tripping or bumping into things.

One mother carried her child in an infant carrier even in the house. She felt the infant carrier provided additional protection for her child in case she bumped into a doorway. Another parent used a cloth pack attached to the front of her torso to carry her baby around her home and outside the house. While working, she could carry her young infant and they both would have physical contact. She liked having her hands free to use her cane while traveling.

One family used an infant backpack for transporting the infant when the child was able to sit. The parents used this means because they also needed their hands free to hold another child’s hand and use a cane. These parents said this method worked well after they turned the child around back to back with the parent.

Another concern with this method was that the parents needed to be aware of the ability of the child to reach and touch objects. Once the parents left distance between themselves and other objects, this method worked well for them. I used an infant backpack with my son. In addition, I would give him things to hold to keep his hands occupied and that I did not care whether or not he lost. I also tied toys to his carrier so he could play with them if he wanted. This method of travel worked well when caring for two young children.

Some parents’ vision fluctuated depending on the amount of light. These parents would use sunglasses or on cloudy days not wear any colored glasses.

One mother altered her schedules according to the weather. All parents discussed the need to be flexible. They altered activities, forms of transportation, and appointments if necessary. Another totally blind mother spoke about her concerns traveling in extremely windy weather. She used a cane as a mobility aid. Her concern pertained to her inability to travel safely, since she was unable to pick up on auditory cues.

Though all parents expressed the feeling that changing a schedule at the last moment could be very stressful, they also had contingency plans. Calling a friend, family member, or neighbor might be necessary if errands or appointments were a necessity. Other parents called taxies or ride services. The ride services were many times unreliable and caused a great deal of anxiety concerning arriving at appointments on time. Several parents said they would call the pediatrician’s office and tell them they might be late. One mother used this means to relieve her anxiety.

Feeding a newborn infant

Feeding an infant is the same whether you are visually impaired or sighted. The only difference is that the sighted mother can see the flow of milk from the bottle to the baby’s mouth. The visually impaired parent will learn to tell by the feel of the bottle and the baby tugging and swallowing the milk if the baby is eating. Half the mothers said there was a different sound and feel when the baby was sucking in air. In addition, these mothers also said they could tell by the sound and feel of the bottle, if the baby was getting milk. Likewise, parents discussed hearing a very hollow sound when the baby had finished the bottle. All parents checked the nipples regularly to insure the holes were not clogged. About half of the blind mothers interviewed breast fed their infants. No special adaptations for this way of feeding are needed.

 

Diapering an infant

Diapering an infant is a hands-on experience for visually impaired parents. The choice of cloth or disposable diapers is one decision that must be made. The baby will need to be cleaned and the ways of doing this vary from parent to parent. Some parents strap their infant on a changing table, while others use pads on the floor. Also, some parents use pads in the crib to change the baby. Whether you use baby wipes, wash cloths, or put the baby under the faucet, all parents felt it important to make sure the baby was clean. If this meant some extra cleaning to make sure, then it was ok. Each parent developed his/her own system for convenience and safety of the baby. If safety pins were used, all parents had a system for keeping track of them and keeping them out of the baby’s reach. Some parents used pockets in the changing table or pinning them to the diaper hanger on the wall. Other parents pinned them to their own clothes while changing the baby and stored pins in a box out of baby’s reach. Other parents stuck pins in the pads or mattress used for changing their infant and replaced them in the clean diaper. All parents stored pins and other objects the baby could swallow out of reach.

 

Checking for rashes

As most parents know, babies get all types of rashes from their feet to the top of their heads. Cradle cap, diaper rash, and food allergies are all common causes for rashes among infants. Rashes are all different: some are warm, others feel rough or puffy, and still others are bumpy. These can all easily be detected by touch, as one parent who is blind told me. Another mother suggested asking a sighted neighbor or family member about them, because some rashes are red and blotchy with little tactile surface skin changes. This mother also said that if her infant was particularly fussy with no apparent cause, she would have someone check the baby for rashes.

 

Taking a temperature

Taking a temperature is not such a chore any more. The talking thermometer works well for blind parents, though it is rather expensive. Those parents who are able to read print may find a digital thermometer to be a less expensive option. In addition, one parent discussed her ability to feel accurately her infant’s temperature. She was able, after three to four months, to feel her child’s head and determine approximately the degree of that temperature.

 

Care of nails

When it came to the cutting of nails, five ways were discussed by the blind parents interviewed. A few parents used nail clippers on the infant’s nails. Most parents used small nail scissors to cut baby’s fingernails. A couple of parents expressed concern about using sharp objects around a squirming baby. These concerned parents chose to bite the baby’s finger nails. Still another parent had her sighted friend cut her infant’s nails. One more parent chose to file her baby’s nails.

 

Using an aspirator on the nose

Some visually impaired parents had no problems using an aspirator on their infant’s nose. Others expressed an inability to use the device. One mother used a corner of a wet rag to clean her infant’s nose, while another parent used the tip of a wet Q-Tip. Still other parents used tissue. It took both my husband and I to aspirate my daughter’s nose. She was very congested and the doctor suggested sucking the mucus from her nose with a baby aspirator. The aspirator is a hollow rubber ball and at one side is a nozzle. The tricky part is keeping the nozzle in the nose while the baby is squirming. The idea is to squeeze the ball while it is in the infant’s nose, drawing out the mucus. Jim and I found the aspirator useless and began to use an edge of a wet cloth for cleaning the inside of her nose.

 

Bathing an infant

All parents interviewed had their own ideas about bathing an infant. However, most agree on the importance of the following strategies. First, choose a time for the infant’s bath that is good for you and the child. When the infant first arrives home from the hospital, sponge baths are needed until the excess cord dries up and falls off the infant. Before preparing your infant for a bath, have all the supplies ready. Fill a small tub or sink with warm water.

 

Giving medicine

All of the visually impaired parents stored the baby’s medicine out of the baby’s reach. Some parents attached Braille labels to the bottles, while other parents operated from memory. Spouses, friends, neighbors, or pharmacists were chosen to read directions and expiration dates on medicine bottles. Those parents with more vision had little trouble reading the bottles. To administer the medicine, a medicine spoon, eye dropper, or syringe was used. Some parents could feel the teaspoon lines on the medicine spoon and could feel the chilled liquid being poured into the spoon. This only worked with medicine that needed to be kept in the refrigerator. Some parents would purchase a dropper the appropriate size for the amount of medicine needed for this medication. They would fill the dropper, place it in the infant’s mouth, and then release the dropper. One parent described using a syringe without a needle. She would purchase the right size syringe for the prescription, then fill the syringe, and squirt it into the baby’s mouth. Her pediatrician showed her how to use the syringe. If she needed a refresher, she would go visit her pharmacist.

 

Feeding solid food

Feeding solid food to my infant was one of my most surprising and bewildering experiences. I had fed many infants as a babysitter and an older sister, but it was different teaching a small infant to eat as the primary caregiver. After a while, it did get easier. With my second child, it was not nearly as difficult. First of all, I tried to find my baby’s mouth by using my fingers at the corner of her mouth. Then I put the spoon in her mouth. Shortly after it went in, the food came gushing out. This would happen repeatedly. She did not know how to swallow or what to do with the food. I began to place the spoon immediately under her lip, and then return it to her mouth. This worked. However, she put her hands in the food and on me. We were both covered with food often during the first few months of learning to eat. I kept thinking there must be an easier way.

Most parents with low vision used similar adaptation when feeding their young children. One mother interviewed placed the baby on her lap propped against the edge of the table. The baby’s hands were below the edge of the table, and the blind mother could place the bowl in front of them on the table. Then the mother would place one hand by the baby’s mouth, and feed the child with the other hand. This method of feeding kept the mother’s hair and face clean.

Most mothers complained about the mess. Many tied back long hair. Most expressed the need to wash themselves and the baby after the feeding. One mother, with some vision, said she had to get so close to the baby to see the infant’s mouth, that she was covered with food herself. Only two mothers used an infant-feeder to feed their young babies. They would place the food in the bottle and then put a large nipple on the bottle. This would enable the child to receive solid food and there was none of the mess.

Feeding a child finger foods was much easier. Some mothers would give their babies cheerios by placing one in the baby’s hand, and then putting the hand to the mouth. Another technique was to put the baby in a high chair and place small bits of food on the tray. The mother would pick up a piece of food and let the infant copy her. Some babies need help picking up the food from the tray, and then they are able to put it in their own mouths.

Finger food is messy and requires a clean up of the child, high chair, and floor around the eating area. Most parents gave their babies small amounts at a time to cut down on the mess and waste. Most of the parents, with low vision, would touch the baby’s hands and the high chair tray to see if they were empty. If the child still seemed interested, they would provide additional food.

In an effort to cut down on the mess, I purchased a plastic square sheet that could be picked up after each meal, dumped in the sink, and placed back on the floor under the high chair. This seemed easy for me and cut down on the mess.

 

Care of clothing

Some parents discuss the importance of pinning outfits together, and keeping socks pinned together. This cuts down on the time it takes to match clothes, especially socks. Other individuals fold socks together and use a mesh laundry bag, so baby things stay together while washed. Still other parents use the method of tying socks together to keep them joined. Buying socks in only one color and style is a strategy that parents find useful. Other parents buy all different colors and styles of socks that can be easily identified. In the drawers, parents most often fold outfits together for easy finding.

Many parents mark clothing with tags or threads as they do their own. Other parents buy outfits that are different so they know the outfit by touch. Still other parents buy colors that are interchangeable, so that, whatever the choice, the child’s clothes always matched.

Care of the clothing is also an issue. Many parents spray clothing with stain or spot remover before washing as a general rule. Other parents check for stiff spots or areas that feel stained, and just spray those areas. When parents realize the clothing is soiled, they immediately treat the clothing, and wash as soon as possible. This saves the chore of remembering which outfit is soiled with grape juice, or which outfit has the spinach rubbed into it. If the clothes are not washed immediately, they are placed in the basket or hamper with the other dirty baby clothes.

 

Using a pacifier

There are many pros and cons concerning the use of a pacifier. A pacifier can help a baby who needs to suck, or can be used to calm the baby. Fingers will also sometimes be used. Using the pacifier is much easier to stop than fingers. In some cases, the sucking of fingers, thumb, or pacifier is of concern because this can cause misalignment of permanent teeth.

However, the issue that concerned me was the loss of the pacifier and my inability to locate it when it was wanted. When my baby was small, this was not such a problem. As my son grew, he began to lose them much to his anguish. Because of my lack of transportation and inability to go to a 24 hour drugstore in the middle of the night, I kept extras in the house.

I also learned to keep a pacifier pinned to his pajamas, after I had been awakened from my sleep for several nights. I pinned a pacifier on a two-inch ribbon, near the top of his pajamas. My concern was that the ribbon not be able to wrap around his neck. This length of ribbon seemed to solve the problem. I just had to remember to replace the pacifier ribbon often.

 

Providing visual stimulation for your child

Providing a stimulating and interesting environment for your baby is important. You may want to put colorful pictures on the walls. Some parents buy toys that could be easily attached to the crib, such as mobiles or busy boxes. Other parents buy musical crib toys. A bird that moved and sang was the favorite in one family. A musical train that moved along the top crib rail was the first choice in another family. Whatever the choice, most parents were concerned that their infants found interesting things to see while in their cribs.

Several parents purchased quilts with toys tied to them to lay on the floor. The infant could look at something, even though the child could not yet reach or hold the toys.

Parents also took toys along on outings, before their children could use them, to use for distracting or keeping their interest. Most parents were concerned that the outings might be long, so they wanted to keep the baby occupied. All parents tried to make visual contact with the child. Even parents who could not see still made faces and sounds to get their infant’s attention. Many of these parents played peek-a-boo. Parents covered their face with their hands or a blanket, and then pulled away the item and said “boo”.

 

Books and music

Many parents read to their babies. Books not available in Braille can be purchased and then Brailled. Some parents choose simple books and attach a Braille label. Other parents buy simple books and memorize the pictures on each page. Two mothers bought tactile books. These books are made of cloth or heavy cardboard. They contain pages with different surfaces in the shape of an animal or object. One mother suggested the “Pet the Bunny” series. All parents said their baby’s enjoyed music. Some parents felt it helped soothe their babies. Music tapes were purchased at a variety of locations, such as K-Mart and Toys R Us. Two parents frequented specialty book and music stores for children. The extra help by the sales person offset the more costly price. As one mother stated, “I could listen to the tape in the store and then decide if I wanted it.”

 

Transporting outside the home

When transporting an infant or small child, it is important to have an appropriate car seat for the size and weight of the child. Many states require car seats for infants and young children. Parents interviewed used the car seat in a number of situations, such as taxies, airplanes, and friends’ cars. Because the car seat will be installed in and removed from many different vehicles, all parents felt it important to purchase one that is easily maneuvered. Because rides in public transportation may be lengthy, parents felt it was important to bring more than you need in the diaper bag. As the infant grows, many parents take snacks such as finger foods in zip lock baggies. Some parents bring books and toys. All parents bring extra diapers and clothes. In addition, some parents found it difficult to find trash containers after changing babies. They packed extra plastic bags for storing dirty diapers until they could find a trash can. Most parents preferred using disposable diapers when not at home.

 

Using a stroller

A small collapsible stroller (folding quickly) can be very handy for bus rides. Several parents pulled the stroller behind them, while using the cane in their other hand. Some parents used a longer cane which could be held in front of the stroller. While using the cane they could safely push the stroller with the other hand. This method works well unless you have another young child that needs a hand held. The trick is to hold the other child’s hand and push the stroller at the same time. Fortunately, my daughter, Tiffany, enjoyed holding onto the stroller and talking with her baby brother. This worked well for me because I always knew where she was and her brother was entertained.

 

Other travel alternatives

Three of the fathers interviewed discussed walking with their young children perched on their shoulders. These fathers did not use canes. They found it easier to carry the children this way, than trying to encourage them to walk and keeping track of a cranky child. Though some travel options changed, many stayed the same until the child reached preschool and kindergarten. Then the stroller was given up when the child could walk longer distances. Backpacks were used when children were small.

 

The Toddler

 

Safety

As an infant develops into a toddler, many exciting and challenging changes occur. Each baby is different from their activity level and interests to their amount of determination. This can be such an exciting time, since the child changes daily. Each life experience is new to the child. With increased mobility, the child will need to be watched closely, and the environment will need to be kept clean and safe. Keeping living areas clean and free from small objects on the floor was a part of my daily routine. Vacuuming each day was a regular part of my daily work list. This also included mopping the kitchen floor.

 

Keeping track of your mobile child

Using gates to portion off parts of the house was a strategy used by about one third of the parents interviewed. This gave them a sense of knowing where the child was and what was in these gated areas. A few parents used a play pen for short periods of time during this period. Other parents closed doors and placed locks or knob covers on the doors. These strategies were used by parents to keep the toddler contained and monitor his/her behavior. In addition to these strategies, one mother kept toys in different rooms, which encouraged the child to stay close to her while she was working. I kept a drawer in the kitchen for my children. This drawer had plastic containers and other plastic and wooden objects they could play with while I worked in the kitchen. One parent used a baby monitor while her child played outside or in a different room. She also said she would check areas for small objects before leaving her toddler. She would then take the other monitor to another part of the house or yard. Also she felt comfortable leaving her child alone outside in a locked yard with the monitors on. All the parents used some form of baby proofing in their homes. They felt the measures they used were the same as most sighted parents and did not do anything special. Baby locks for cupboards, outlet covers, and door knob covers were all devices parents used.

 

Games to play

Toddlers love playing peek-a-boo and all the visually impaired parents interviewed played this game with their children. Children at this age love to play with balls and there are a great variety of balls available. Some blind parents purchased balls with bells in them so they could easily be found.

 

Things to do

Taking a toddler on a walk is an exciting experience. Though my children and I went on many outings, they enjoyed a leisurely walk. I would talk about trees, mail boxes, cars, the sun, and green grass. I would walk and talk to my daughter, wanting her to see all the wonders of her neighborhood. Collin, my son, would walk on the curbs, and seek unseen treasures which he proudly brought back to me. When interviewing parents, I realized many parents did not live on quiet streets or did not feel comfortable taking a leisurely walk.

Reading time at the library is always a good activity if it fits into your child’s nap schedule.

Another great activity for meeting other parents and providing your child experiences outside your family is to join a “Mommy and Me” class. These classes can be inexpensive if given through the city Department of Recreation and Parks. Many Churches and Temples have similar programs. Some school districts also offer these programs. Most of the parents interviewed had some experience with these programs and felt they were positive. However, a few parents expressed negative feelings about the social experiences they had with their young children. They expressed feelings of isolation and were treated as incompetent parents. If one program does not work for you, then try a different class.

The parents who experienced positive interactions felt they contributed to this event by being open and willing to discuss their visual limitations and educate other class members about blindness. Some parents felt this helped with the isolation and was as important to them as their child. A few parents felt uncomfortable in groups and provided extra stimulation at home. They invited family members over with young children. They also invited friends with similar aged children from church to visit on a weekly basis. One parent ran a babysitting service; therefore, her child always had other children around with whom to play.

Having art supplies at home was felt to be important by a few parents with visual limitations. Markers and large crayons can be marked with Braille labels so that the parent knows the colors the child is using. Most parents kept these items put away and brought them out periodically. Some parents drew with their children, while others traced puzzle pieces. Still other parents watched, listened, and talked to their children about the colors as they drew. For example, green is the color of grass or your big bird dress is yellow. As the child grew and expressed interest, some parents provided paints, glue, etc.

If the parent lives near a park and is comfortable taking the child there, it is a wonderful place for toddlers. Some parents had a sighted friend watch their child, while others interacted directly with their child in order to monitor his/her behavior. My family did not live near a park, and the bus that only ran once an hour was not an option I wanted to consider. I purchased small play equipment for my yard, such as a covered sandbox and a pool for the summer. As the children grew, a swing set was a must. My children and those in the neighborhood played for many hours on all the equipment. The atmosphere was much more relaxed than taking a long bus ride. As my daughter became interested in classes provided by the local park, I spent more time with my son in the sandbox and on the equipment in the park. I always packed small sand toys, a few cars, and some cups for using in wet sand. I also carried lots of clean up wipes for dirty diapers and sticky hands. Drinks and snacks were a must.

 

Other play items of interest

The following information is a list of play items that parents frequently used with their toddlers and/or older children. These items can all be purchased at local toy stores or other large department stores.

  • clay for molding and shaping
  • large wooden beads
  • children’s records and tapes
  • music tapes or records for learning and relaxing
  • simple wooden puzzles
  • stacking toys
  • A shape sorter
  • wooden blocks

 

Toilet training

Toilet training requires no special adaptations, though lack of vision prevents some parents from receiving visual cues, as when the child is having a bowel movement. These parents used auditory clues, such as grunting. The parents interviewed also said they took their children to the toilet often, because they did not want to miss an opportunity.

 

Reading to your toddler

Many parents begin reading to their children at an early age. Braille and Print/Braille books can be purchased. In the reference section are lists that provide places to purchase or buy books. However, many titles are not available in these formats. Some parents Braille their own books. Clear plastic sheets were used instead of paper to Braille. After the pages were Brailled, the backing was removed which provided a sticky surface. These plastic sheets were pressed over the print pages. Some parents cut out the Braille and placed it on the pages of the books in strips. Other parents used Braille paper and made their own books. Books can also be purchased on cassette. Parents memorized simple books for reading with their children. Books were also labeled in Braille by other parents. Simple picture books were also memorized or Brailled. Parents using adaptive equipment, such as closed circuit TVs, read with their children. Using magnifying glasses is a method several used when reading with their children. As children grew older, parents who had computer Braille equipment available downloaded books from the internet and read to their children.

 

Finding an answer to the toy deluge

By the time the child is a toddler, most parents feel the need to keep the toys in their children’s rooms organized. Containers or baskets were used to separate toys. A few parents kept all toys in one large toy box. Other parents place toys on shelves. Some parents kept items with many small pieces put away and the child could use them upon request. Writing materials were also put away until the child asked to use them.

 

The Preschooler

 

Providing a learning environment

All the parents interviewed say they actively tried to provide experiences that would help their children develop basic skills, e.g. learning the alphabet or colors. The parents did not want their visual impairment to become an impediment to the child’s learning. Magnetic plastic letters were used to teach the alphabet. Also wooden blocks with carved letters were used by several parents. Parents with no color vision tried teaching their children about colors by relating the color to an object. For example, “the grass is green” or “the sky is blue”. One mother memorized the colors of her daughter’s outfits saying to the child, “your socks are pink.”

My children were very interested in unusual animals. Therefore, I had to refresh my knowledge pertaining to the colors and some distinguishing features of these animals. I gained information by calling friends and watching animal specialists on television. Also, I collected books about animals. The parents did not want their visual impairment to become an impediment to the learning of their children. They express concern about this topic and use a number of strategies to insure the continuing development of their children.

 

Taking your children to enrichment activities

Helping your young children get acquainted with museums, zoos, and other enriching activities, can be an extra burden and not stimulating to the parent unless some advanced planning is done. First of all, going with a friend and her child or a single friend is one way I handled this issue when my children were little. As the other adult talked to the children, I would also have a picture of what was happening. Sometimes the adult would also describe some of the objects, animals, or activities to me. I helped by carrying bags and pushing strollers, as well as hanging onto children. Also, I always helped with the cost of transportation and food.

 

Maintaining discipline when with sighted parents

One of the issues discussed by most parents was maintaining discipline when with a large group of children and other sighted adults. The parents who have more vision did not find this as much an issue. A few parents talked and maintained constant verbal or auditory contact with their child, in order to maintain discipline. Other parents monitored the children’s behavior by listening to the play of the children. It they were not sure what was happening, they asked another parent. The parents interviewed carefully monitored the children’s behavior and knew what the children were doing, so if an issue occurred, they would have the knowledge they needed to intervene appropriately.

 

Choosing a preschool

Most of the parents I interviewed felt some school exposure was important before kindergarten. Generally, these chose preschools which were accessible and affordable. Another primary concern was that the school staff, including the teacher, was open and comfortable in working with visually impaired parents and their children. A few parents mentioned the importance of the educational program of the school.

 

Providing social experiences

Many of the parents interviewed felt it was important to help their children develop social experiences during the preschool period. Thus, the need began for the child to develop relationships with school friends. These children would no longer remain in the close circle of friends and family, which heretofore were their main source of socialization. All parents felt they needed to prepare the child concerning the more specific differences within the family. One parent who was totally blind pointed out differences between people in a non judgmental way. Then she told the child that she was different from some people because she could not see with her eyes. She let her child know that she used her ears and hands to see. Parents wanted their child to have a positive view of their abilities to see differently and hoped this would give the child something to use as a buffer against thoughtless people. Parents, who had little vision, explained to their children that some of the rules for their family might be different from those of other families; e.g. “answer when called” and “it is important to use words in this house.” All parents reported that children adapted to these rules quickly and this strategy worked well. Parents felt it was important to be honest and answer questions in an open manner. Several parents felt it was very important not to give children too much information they could not understand.

 

Adapting games and toys

There are many three-dimensional games and toys that visually impaired parents can use with their preschool child. For example, board and card games can be easily Brailed on, while cards can be placed in a Braille writer and Brailled. Demo-tape can be Brailled on and attached to board games. Masking tape can be placed on board games or small grooves can be cut into the board. In many cases, a sighted friend or family member can be enlisted to help modify games.

The American Foundation for the Blind publishes a toy catalogue for blind children. Some parents used these catalogues for purchasing some of their children’s toys. Many parents got ideas from other parents concerning toys.

Tupperware has plastic toys that many blind parents purchased. Also, some toy catalogues have unusual toys which are not of such a commercial nature. I frequented a specialty toy store when my children were young. They had many toys on display, and many of these toys were tactile. The store was small and I could get personalized help. They also had a section where my children could play.

 

New challenges outside the home

Using public transportation is challenging for all parents with small children. All the visually impaired parents interviewed, expressed difficulties in using public transportation. Waiting for late buses, trains, or taxies can be frustrating for an adult, and for a child this seems like an interminable length of time.

As the child becomes cranky, restless, or excited, the frustrated parent may start feeling overwhelmed. I know that by the end of a day transporting children on public transportation, I was often fatigued, frustrated, and impatient. I began to try and make this time more of a quality experience that we all could share.

First of all, rushing to the bus in the morning was always an issue. We always dashed out of the house, and having a bus to catch, we could not always dawdle. I always left early, but it always seemed that by the time we walked three blocks to the bus stop, we were running late. I began, with the help of my children, to devise games to play. One of the favorite games was “freeway.” The children pretended to be cars. I was the one who called out traffic lights. Red light meant “stop”. Green light meant “go at regular walking speed”. Yellow light meant “go slowly”. And, “on the freeway” meant to go fast. The last direction I used was “getting off the freeway” which meant “slow down”. I alternated these directions to help monitor the speed, so we arrived laughing and feeling great at the bus stop. By having the slow down signals, I kept my children from getting too far ahead of me. This worked on those days when we just needed a little extra help getting to the bus stop.

While waiting at the bus stop, we talked, told stories, read, or played games. An early morning story at the bus stop was a treat. Some mornings we talked about the day ahead or whatever else they wished to discuss. Many bus stop discussions were about things that had happened in school. When the bus was late – often the case – we told made-up stories and everyone had a turn telling a story. There were many times when, out of a sense of complete desperation, I made up a game and we found ourselves forgetting about the bus while we were having so much fun. One of the first games we played was, “Guess what I’m thinking about?” We started out with animals. Someone thought of an animal and the others asked questions such as, “does it have hair?”, “how many legs does it have?”, or “can it swim?” The person, who thought they knew first, would guess and, if correct, it would be his/her turn to think of an animal.

We also played, “Who am I?” another favorite game played almost the same way, was with the thinker being a person instead of an animal. We used Muppets, cartoon characters, friends, characters from books we had read, and family members. As the children grew, we used famous people such as presidents, singers, actresses, athletes, and historic figures.

In order to pass time and teach our children, we also played the letter game. One person made the sound of a letter and the others guessed what letter it was. We played counting games. One person started by saying, “One.” The next person said, “Two,” and the game continued in that order. Sometimes the game was modified by counting by twos, threes, fives, tens, etc. The game was also changed to teach multiplication tables and other math skills.

As the children grew, we graduated to “Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral.” One person thinks of an animal, vegetable, or mineral. They then tell those who are guessing which category and the first letter of the name of the object. States and capitals were played the same way. We also played a version of the game with countries and capitols.

The parents interviewed all tried to use the time spent waiting for a bus to communicate with their children or work on basic skills (i.e. math and/or spelling). For afternoon bus rides, I carried small toys, drinks, and snacks in my very large tote bag. It always seemed to be a part of each extended excursion. Some parents chose to carry a thermos insulated lunch box which kept snacks and drinks cold in hot weather.

After a while, an interesting circumstance arose for my husband and me. We realized that when a child was being potty trained, we needed readily accessible bathrooms. On a Saturday afternoon at the mall, the bathrooms were crowded with small children, who could scarcely make it to the bathroom. This was not a problem unique to blind parents, but the circumstance of blindness made it difficult to locate facilities quickly. We began to find bathrooms before we needed them, and before long, we had most of the bathrooms we frequented committed to memory.

 

The School Aged Child

Choosing an elementary school

When choosing an elementary school, the following criteria were important to me and other blind parents. Most parents sighted or blind were concerned with academic performance, that the school would meet the needs of their child. They wanted enrichment activities, and the shortest possible distance from home. In the case of blind parents, additional concerns included:

  1. The ability of the school to meet the needs of the parents who are blind and their child
  2. The flexibility and attitude of the school concerning working with a blind parent and his/her child
  3. Accessibility to public transportation
  4. The availability of extended care
  5. The emphasis on parental participation

 

Make personal contact with school staff

Many blind parents felt it was important to maintain contact and communication with their child’s school. This need for open communication was often true for all parents, but in the case of a blind parent the extra effort to maintain this communication could be extremely important.

 

Getting Involved

Becoming involved with your child’s school is a great way to maintain communication, meet others, and make your presence known. Being at class parties, participating in Parent Teacher/Association (PTA) functions, and making yourself available to volunteer will help break the ice with other parents, and help you get to know the children with whom your child will be interacting on a daily basis. This will probably cut down on the teasing and misunderstandings.

 

Homework

There is no easy answer for dealing with homework. Your personal philosophy concerning child rearing and the amount of help you want to give your child will determine the choices you make. Presented here are ideas from a number of parents who are blind.

  • Use Braille for spelling words and math problems.
  • Have a neighbor check or read things you do not understand.
  • Use a CC TV.
  • Type notes when there is an issue with the homework.
  • Use sand or clay for teaching letters.
  • Maintain verbal communication with the child’s teacher concerning your child’s needs.
  • Have the child read his or her work aloud to the parents when old enough.
  • Use magnifying glasses or prescription glasses.
  • Make use of adaptive equipment for computers to store assignments and spelling for later reviewing.
  • Call a family member or neighbor to help with projects and visual aids for presentations or in some instances put the project in a modality in which the parents could help. For example, clay, papier-mâché, designing a costume or cooking, if appropriate.

As an example, for my son’s report on Canada, he brought smoked salmon and Nanaimo bars, which are Canadian treats. He also brought books on Canadian art and some pieces of Inuit art. We also have become very familiar with the salesman at the local copy store. I think one of the greatest visual projects Collin ever did was to bring buffalo burgers for his class to taste as a visual aid for an American Indian report. His classmates still talk about that report. My teenage daughter Tiffany required little help with her extra projects. We purchased materials and helped her obtain information if she needed assistance. Several other parents felt it was a positive for their children to be more independent when doing their school work and didn’t give much extra help.

 

Keeping up with printed materials

Keeping up with all the information from my children’s school was a chore. All the visually impaired parents I interviewed mentioned the paper work and how difficult it was for them. Non-print-reading parents used the following strategies to keep up with the printed materials their child brought home. One mother waited for her young child at the door of the classroom and listened to the comments other children made. If there was a note, she would ask one of the other parents to read it to her. She said that after awhile some of the parents would voluntarily read the notes to her. Another mother developed a relationship with several of the parents and asked if she could call them to read her the printed materials. One ingenious mother called the office and asked about the notes sent home that day. Still other parents ask friends and neighbors to read the notes and announcements from school. One parent used a hired reader several times a week for her own school work and had the reader read her child’s notes from school. Other parents had an older sibling or a sighted spouse read the printed material sent home from school. One parent Brailled her child’s monthly calendar of events. She could then refer to the list of events at any time. This gave her a sense of freedom and knowledge at her finger tips. In addition, she felt independent because she did not have to ask for the calendar to be read again. All parents expressed the use of multiple solutions for this task. Once I have computer equipment, I used my reading edge to scan and read printed information. Also, as the ability of my children to read changed, they often could read me the weekly News Notes on the way home from school. Other parents, who can read print, use adaptive devices, such as magnifying glasses, prescription glasses, or a closed circuit TV to aid in reading printed materials. Socialization with the other parents also helped.

 

Learning about new behaviors

Deciding what is appropriate child behavior and how and when the parents should draw limits is a choice parents make weather they are blind or sighted. Several parents interviewed felt it was important to connect with other parents in their child’s school or parents from outside activities that shared a similar parenting philosophy. These parents could be supportive when you saw changes in your child’s behavior, or your child was pushing a limit. You could check out your ideas with these parents. I also found this strategy extremely helpful when my daughter wanted to pierce her ears. I spoke with other parents and eventually we let her have that privilege. I was determined Tiffany would not where make-up until the eight grade. Yet, I felt it was important to speak with other parents, so I could keep tabs on what her classmates were doing. After speaking with others, Tiffany was allowed to wear lipstick and some mascara to her sixth grade graduation. Then, when the time came for make up, I took her to one of the make-up counters at a local department store. The sales person showed her how to apply make-up, clean her face, and which colors would be the best for her. Since I only knew the bear bones of applying make-up, I found this approach very helpful.

 

Setting limits

All parents interviewed spoke about setting limits or having rules for their children. Some individuals checked these limits with their friends. Others renegotiated the limits as the child got older and decided to pick their battles. Other parents, who spoke with sighted parents in certain instances, felt that because of the differences in their family, they would choose to maintain some limits and relax others. For example, one parent gave her children fewer chores, because in other instances her children had added responsibilities. I tried to create chores and responsibilities that were age appropriate. This was an on going process. Parents with older children felt that some chores were appropriate. They also felt the older child should have some additional family responsibilities. For example, the mother of an adolescent felt that her daughter’s driving should be based on the contingency that the daughter drove her mom several places. A weekly market trip, was one requirement. However, this mother was insistent that the daughter go places on her own and not be totally responsible for the family’s transportation.

 

Other activities

During the early and middle school years, the parents with whom I spoke talked about taking their children to extra activities. This was time consuming and some parents felt the extra activities were not worth the stress. However, most parents made the effort. Strategies parents used to help combat the long hours on public transportation were to:

  • Ask another parent if his/her child would be interested in taking a class.
  • Trade babysitting for car pooling.
  • Pay a car pool or individual to drive.
  • Request being on a team with a friend if a sport is a consideration.
  • Use public transportation in many instances.
  • Make car pool arrangements with parents of your children’s friends.

 

Increased need for transportation

As family membership increased and children continued to grow, more juggling of transportation occurred. Strategies such as having children take classes at the same time and place can be used. Also, by this time, older children have been involved in activities longer and have developed a network of friends whose parents could drive. Carpooling was a must after Tiffany graduated from elementary school. I consulted with Tiffany and we approached another mother in the neighborhood. She was responsible, reliable, and very caring. For three years she drove Tiffany to school while I was in graduate school. Two other mothers I knew from church and school picked Collin up two afternoons a week so I could attend classes. I was fortunate to find dependable and caring parents.

 

Choosing appropriate clothing

Choosing clothing can be a chore. All parents interviewed let their children be involved in selecting their clothing. Small stores were frequented if special help was needed. Other visually impaired parents went to the same department stores and received help from the sales person. As the children became able to read price tags and sizes, the parents needed less help. A few mothers set a price limit before they went to the stores. Mothers did the majority of the clothes shopping or, in some instances, both parents went. In addition, parents used combinations of these strategies.

 

Issues of Concern and Strategies Used By Visually Impaired Parents

 

Infancy-Preschool

Educating your Child

I took my children wherever I went from the time they were very young. I remember my first outing to a department store when my daughter was about one month old. The whispering and comments from strangers made me feel uncomfortable. I particularly hated the comments that made me feel like we were an oddity. One woman said out loud, “Look at those two blind people with a baby!” A group of young people exclaimed loudly upon seeing us, something about our ability to care for the baby. As I thought of these events, I realized that by taking our daughter, we were educating others. They saw us and the sight became more commonplace. As our infant grew and thrived, people could see that we were caring for her. Many visually impaired parents feel it is important to answer questions from strangers so they can be educated concerning the abilities of the blind. Other parents find these questions annoying and resent them. One mother felt that, by giving information, she was doing her part to educate others and make the world a more enlightened place. All parents interviewed felt it was important to correct misinformation conveyed in front of their children. Many blind parents describe incidences in which a sighted adult expressed the attitude that very small children should take care of their parents. Most of the parents interviewed felt it was important to let the sighted person know that they took care of their children. At the same time, they were letting their children know that too.

 

Developing ideas of what to do before the baby comes

As we discussed in Before the Baby Comes, having a plan and information can help all parents feel more confident. Before the baby is born, the blind parent may want to master tasks for caring for the baby and revise the adaptations if needed. This will help the blind parent feel confident and will also give others the message that you know what you are doing. This will make it easier to thwart take-over attempts by well-meaning friends and relatives. It is important to start caring for the baby from the beginning. Building up confidence comes from doing, according to the parents interviewed. Let others do the household chores and expend your energy taking care of the baby. Some individuals interviewed had a sighted or blind friend spend the first few nights when they arrived home from the hospital with the new baby. Others had in-laws or parents help. Some other blind parents took the baby home and managed just fine on their own. Do whatever feels comfortable to you. Know that you are not the first blind parents and you will not be the last ones. Sometimes, the concern of well meaning friends and relatives can be contagious and may erode some of the confidence of the blind person. This may be a good time to contact that network of blind parents and get some support. When needing to receive support, find people with whom you are comfortable and who share a similar philosophy of child rearing. Know that you will not always agree with everyone, and there is more than one right way to accomplish a task. The way that works best for you will be the one you choose. Also, know that simply because you are blind does not mean that you will need to have a relationship with every blind parent you meet. In a similar manner, you will not want to have a relationship with each sighted parent you meet.

 

Having your children help

Having children help their parents is a common issue for all parents. Yet, for blind parents, it is a particular concern. Many people assume and comment concerning the ability of the child to take care of the parent. This totally unrealistic attitude is based on societal attitudes concerning the inability of the blind person. This can become a complicated issue for many blind parents, not wanting to give the impression that their children are doing the major part of care taking. Some people felt the children did not have to help and the parents tried to do everything for them. Other parents started with that philosophy of caring in every way for their children so others would not see them as incompetent. They would adapt their thinking as the child got older. Other parents felt some responsibilities were good for their children and always had children do personal chores when they became age appropriate. In these cases, the child has responsibilities for their own clothing, toys, rooms, and making their beds. As they grew, they took on additional chores, such as setting the table, washing dishes, and taking out the trash. Still other parents felt their family situations warranted different children’s chores. For example, some parents required help when marketing, taking the place of another household chore. This seemed to be an important issue and evoked many emotions in parents who were blind. However, a common theme was to create a balance so the children knew the parents could care for them and the child would learn responsibilities and daily living skills. Know that your family is living under different circumstances and these will call for different solutions. This is an important fact for many families in which one or both parents are visually impaired. Some parents have felt judged critically because of the differences in their families.

 

Knowing you can not be perfect

Knowing I could not be perfect was a very important life lesson I learned during my daughter’s first few years of life. This sounds so simple and uncomplicated, except to me. I felt that if I did not do everything correctly, according to others, I would bring shame on myself, my husband and child, and other blind people. An activity, such as dressing a child, would cause negative thoughts. If she were not dressed in matching clothes, her hair was not perfectly combed, and if she was not spotless, I would be looked upon as an incompetent parent. I felt I would be judged as a blind person and not understand that all children get dirty. Other parents would talk about the stains they could not get out of their child’s clothing and yet the child wore it. They spoke about letting their children dress themselves at an early age and the different ways they would put their clothes on. I always checked my children when I finally let them dress themselves until they were old enough to do it correctly. I probably did not let go as soon as they could do this task by themselves. I felt the same way about entertaining in my home. This created a great deal of anxiety before company came. I would clean frantically and I never felt as if I did enough. This usually left me exhausted. However, one day a thought occurred to me that gave me hope. I was putting so much pressure on myself, while my sighted friends, also parents, were less concerned with these matters than I was. Thus the process of the great letting go began. Please don’t think this happened in a week or a day. It took time and I struggled much with it. In my discussions with other parents, I found they had the same feelings. By changing my attitude, I began to feel much less stressed and I began to receive much more enjoyment in my life.

 

Maintaining control

Maintaining a sense of control is an important issue for all parents and particularly impacts the blind parents and their children. This is much more difficult outside the home. However, it is important the child sees the parent as having power and some control. For example, when you go someplace with a friend who always drives, paying the gas will show your child that you have an important role in daily activities. Also, you can help make decisions, indicating to your child you are involved. A trip to the zoo with a sighted friend and their children can be a very exciting experience. When I went to the zoo with my children, I could not see any of the animals. I listened to their conversations and descriptions of the animals. I made comments about the animals, asked questions, and gave some very basic information I knew about each animal. Smells and sounds are present in abundance at the zoo and are noteworthy.

Ordering and carrying food is an issue for some blind people. Others will naturally ask the other individual to read the menu and easily and comfortably help carry food and watch children.

 

Being assertive

Being assertive is one of the most important skills any parent can develop. If you don’t already have those skills, you may want to learn more about them.

Going to a restaurant with children can always be a challenge, but using the menu was one instance in which I needed to have more information than usual. Asking the waiter or waitress seems like a simple task. Yet, dealing with busy servers does not lend itself to the needs of small children. I became very persistent and felt I wanted help. However, I soon learned where to sit in order to obtain service. Other strategies parents used were to frequent small restaurants, bring home take out, and older children enjoyed reading the menu.

Other parents realized they needed to be more insistent about their needs.

Other situations where parents feel it is important to become assertive are with the doctor, and other health care professionals. One mother told me about a time her pediatrician spoke to the sighted friend who drove her to her appointment. He started giving the friend information concerning the child. The blind mother spoke up and let the pediatrician know that she was the mother of this child.

Many visually impaired parents feel their opinions and thoughts are disregarded and they are treated like a child. This is the time many parents become angry and begin to be an advocate for their children. One partially sighted parent constantly felt she was always questioning herself because what she heard and saw was not always what the sighted person saw. When she brought this concern to the sighted parent, she was told that because she couldn’t see, she didn’t really know what was going on. Some strategies parents used in this type of awkward situation were to ask the children, ask another adult, and believe in yourself.

 

Provide information outside the family

Many of the blind parents interviewed felt it was important to provide information concerning blindness outside their families. Schools, Church groups, Scouting groups, and community organizations were all places many parents provided information concerning blind people and the way they lived their lives. The parents felt a sense of making the world more tolerable for their children and themselves. They also felt it was important for their children to see them as active and involved. In addition, parents felt they were helping their children by speaking with groups in which their children would have contact, such as church groups. The children saw their parents as active and capable and felt proud of the special abilities their parents had.

Some of these abilities were the use of a cane, the ability to read and write Braille, and the ability of the parents to use their ears and hands to see what others only used their eyes to do. I always mention about reading in the dark as a child with my Braille books, and reading inside my desk at school without the teachers seeing me so I did not get in trouble.

Very young children may enjoy a story read in Braille. A short story with lots of pictures will keep their interest. They may enjoy seeing a talking watch, looking at Braille books, and other specialized objects that blind parents may use regularly. I usually bring my Braille writer and slates and stylus for the children to use. I will write their names or if they are old enough, they can do it themselves. I also make a Braille alphabet card for each child and they are allowed to take it home with their paper they have Brailled on. Over the years this has been a very successful activity and many of the teachers ask for me to come back on a yearly basis. As the groups get older, you may want to vary the activities.

Some suggestions are having more discussion about blindness and describing the way I live my life. Also, I have written information concerning Louis Braille in grade one Braille. The lines are double spaced and there are two to three short paragraphs on each page. Then, the children are asked to figure out what is written on the page by using a Braille alphabet card which I have given each of them. This activity is best done in groups. In addition, they are allowed to use a Braille writer and slates. I usually read an older group a poem. I have a special poem by Maya Angeloue called “The Human Family.” The older children also enjoy seeing more technical equipment. I will bring my lap top computer, which has a screen reader, and they love using the computer and listening to the voice. Elaborate or simple, children seem to enjoy the experience no matter the age.

 

The School Aged Child

Maintaining communication with the school

As previously stated, all parents interviewed kept in contact with their child’s school. Making contact with the office staff and the principal are important. However, maintaining contact with the child’s teacher was seen as important by all the parents. Several of the parents scheduled appointments with the child’s teacher in elementary school. During this appointment, the visually impaired parent would explain how they handled homework and would answer questions the teacher had. The idea for most parents was to open communication. The parents invited the teachers to contact them at any time. Parents who could not read print would ask the teacher to call them.

 

Maintain your own interests

Though maintaining your own interests and outside activities may sound like an impossible task, it is extremely important for your own mental health and the health of your family. Trying to do it all and be all to everyone and still have time or even energy for yourself sounds like an impossible task. Many parents give up many enjoyments to care for their children, but leisure is a valuable part of life for all people. This may be particularly true in the case of the blind parent, because of the need to use public transportation which may take more time. Also, the need to adapt tasks takes time and energy, so there may be very little left over for yourself. Many blind parents expressed the need to give to their children in numerous areas of their lives in order to make sure the children did not suffer as a result of their parents. Other parents felt they wanted their children to have all the opportunities to participate in activities in which the parents were never allowed to take part, such as team sports, art classes, or many social activities. This can be an overwhelming task that is not unique to blind parents. Yet, the demands to create this life style are exhausting and can lead to parent burn-out. One strategy in combating parent burn-out is to participate in an activity you enjoy. This could be something you could do quietly at home while your children are having quiet time, such as listening to music, reading, or exercising. Some parents did craft projects, while other parents wrote or spoke with friends on the phone. Activities outside the home are also important. Lunch with friends or other parents may provide needed adult companionship. Taking an exercise class or some other type of sport may also be helpful. I began to take ice skating, when my son went to school with one of the parents in my daughter’s class. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I felt invigorated and enthusiastic after completing each class.

 

Taking care of your relationship with your spouse

Long before your children reach school age, I’m sure you will find the need to maintain an intimate connection with your mate. Though sometimes easily neglected, the fostering of a rich and loving relationship will be a great source of strength and comfort. This supportive relationship will also be a gift you’re giving your children which will help them feel safe and secure in their parents’ relationship. Time spent with your mate needs to include developing and maintaining the marital relationship, not just discussing home, responsibilities, or children. Going to dinner and a movie, taking long intimate walks, or spending a day at the beach or in the mountains skiing are all activities in which some parents participated. Still others spent time alone at home having a quiet dinner and discussing their goals. Activities centered around the home when the children were young seemed to be more common with parents who had younger children. As the children grew, weekends away from home were planned. The activities were not the important feature as long as spending quality time together took precedence.

 

Planning family outings or vacations

Providing family activities and being able to do activities as a family seem to be important to most blind parents. Families in which both parents were visually impaired required much more planning concerning where the outings took place. Many parents expressed planning activities with friends when their children were young, especially activities such as amusement parks. Transportation was always a consideration and going with another family was our solution to this problem. One couple said they would share transportation with another visually impaired couple, so it was not so expensive. They would stay in a hotel so the day would not be so long for young children. This was very expensive and was not done very often. Other blind parents went with other family members, such as sisters and brothers or grandparents. This also seemed to work very well if that was an option. In many instances, extended family was not there to support the blind parents. In other cases, this was a complete disaster. Grandparents overrule the visually impaired parents and the day was filled with tension. With the improvement of some transportation services, we were able to take are children to an amusement park by ourselves for the first time. We had an enjoyable time with just our family. It felt good to do these things alone. Vacations were handled in many of the same ways as family outings. In addition, couples used airport limousine services, airport fly away services, or made arrangements to have a driver take the family to the airport, harbor, train, or bus station. Parents planned vacations in a variety of ways, from using travel agents to obtaining information from the automobile club. In the instance both parents were visually impaired, planning was more extensive. One family called hotels to find out how far they were from the beach and the bus station when they wanted to take a vacation in Santa Barbara. They wanted information concerning restaurants in the area and costs. Places to visit were selected by talking with friends and the hotel staff before the trip was confirmed.

 

Nurturing your relationship with your child

All the visually impaired parents felt it was important to nurture their relationship with their child. They identified strategies which helped them foster an open, caring, and communicative relationship with their child. These strategies were as follows:

  1. Communicate openly with your child. Some parents found this difficult at times and yet, fruitful. Listening and talking with children which was started at an early age was continued through adolescence. As the child grew parents discuss the child’s feelings concerning the visual impairment of the parent and the impact on the family.
  2. Develop an understanding of normal childhood behaviors.
  3. Understand your own experiences will be different from your child’s experiences.
  4. Learn about what it is like to be a sighted child if you have not had that experience.
  5. Help your child develop positive attitudes concerning your blindness.
  6. Try to negotiate in small areas and hold the limits on the big issues.
  7. Try to create a Positive attitude about differences among people and families.
  8. Remember your child though sighted is after all a child.

 

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