By Emily Coleman

Eddie and his big sister

Because the average family has more than one child, common sense tells us that children who are visually impaired often have a sibling. When a blind child is diagnosed, those siblings are required to take the “back seat” as their blind brother or sister receives services from many therapists and members of the medical community. From the beginning, this can make the siblings feel left out or simply not as valued. I suggest the following ways to encourage healthy relationships between children who are blind and their siblings.

1. Have the same expectations. For example, if you are a parent that has your children help with chores, make sure your visually impaired child helps, too. This is not only important to avoid sibling rivalry, but it’s simply a good education. Expect your blind child to do their share of the work. This can require some adaptations on your part and creativity at times, but if children in your home have a chore list, make sure EVERY kid does and not just the sighted ones.

2. Inclusion goes both ways. Children who are blind benefit when they can be included with their peers, which means their siblings, too. Parents work really hard to not leave out their blind child. I suggest you do the same for the sighted kids. If you are working on braille or cane skills, teach the siblings, too. Most kids LOVE to learn braille because it is like a secret code. Knowledge about anything blindness related will certainly lead to greater understanding and possibly shared interests.

3. Find activities that are fun for the whole family. This is difficult for all families, regardless of who their children are because every kid is different. However, we know that family activities are the most fun when they are fun for everyone. Before planning a vacation or even a game night, consider all sides. Don’t make everyone play “Bop-It” for three hours because your visually impaired child loves it. Make sure everybody gets a turn to pick an activity because showing favoritism will only hurt somebody’s feelings.

4. Teach your visually impaired child how to interact with their siblings. Social interactions are often learned visually when a child is very young and are, therefore, picked up faster by those with sight. Children who are blind may have to be taught how to be polite and what is appropriate. If you’re not sure where to start, consult with your child’s teacher of the visually impaired (TVI). Don’t let them get away with anything their sighted peers would get in trouble for…see my point #1. Have the same expectations!

5. Be an open book. Make sure you are always available to answer questions. Explain your child’s diagnosis with all the children in your family, which will lead to discussion. Start young with the basics and continually provide them with more as they’re old enough to understand. Make the visual impairment something common in your home so that it isn’t feared and so ALL of your children are comfortable talking about it. Also, they will realize that it is just one aspect of your family and not the thing that defines them or you.

Siblings are sometimes told that they will have to look out for their brother or sister who is visually impaired and that responsibility is an unfair burden. Ideally, children who are blind should become as independent as possible and can then look out for themselves. To build a path towards independence, I suggest you focus on equality. If your children feel they are all valued and get the same amount of attention, they will want to look out for each other and will have healthy two-sided relationships for life.