A Father’s Perspective: Keeping a Blind Child Active and Interested

Editor’s note: In honor of Father’s Day, we asked Alabama NAPVI rep David Hyche to share his thoughts on parenting a child who is visually impaired. We hope all of you dads are having a wonderful weekend with your children. Happy Father’s Day!

By David Hyche

One of the biggest fears I have had since I learned that my daughter was blind was that she would have to sit in her room and not be able to participate in life. This could not be further from the truth. Now that she is eight she has participated in and enjoys activities on par with or even to a greater level than many sighted children. Much of this can be attributed to her adventurous spirit and outgoing nature. This is great but there are also many times when we have to work hard to find ways to keep her involved and interested due to her lack of vision.

Television and video games are both a very small part of her life, and our family has greatly reduced the amount of time we all spend in front of the TV thanks to Rachel. Be careful what you wish for, though. Not having the TV or X-Box babysitting service means that you must interact more with your kids.

I was a bit older than most dads when we adopted my kids so I don’t judge. If I had been in my early to mid-20s when Will and Rachel came along I would not have been able to spend nearly as much time with them as I do now. I would not have been as established in my career and work would have taken much of the quality time I have with them now.

Rachel really only watches TV or plays video games when she has someone to interact with. She likes for you to describe the visuals or to discuss the movie with her even if it is descriptive audio. I try and get both kids outside to play every day when I get home, even if it is dark. Movement and exercise are always a challenge for a blind child so I want Rachel to be active every day. I have seen many blind adults with poor physical fitness and poor posture and I want to develop good health habits for her now.

To keep Rachel active I have to be very creative with the kids. She doesn’t participate in neighborhood baseball, basketball, Frisbee, soccer, etc. Another thing I have noticed with Rachel is that her friends will be playing with her and then based on a visual clue they will all run to another part of the play area and leave her standing. The sighted kids pick up on whatever is attracting the kids and take off. I don’t blame the kids, and it is not reasonable to expect them to always remember to slow down and tell Rachel we are going to the swings as they take off like a frightened herd of gazelle.

Rachel, however, gets frustrated and often feels left out. I see her sweet friends try really hard to keep her included but when kids get together and play, things move fast and she often gets left behind. We were at a birthday party a couple of weeks ago with a mildly low vision child and her 20 or so school friends. Rachel did not know any of the friends so after she was introduced the kids started playing and pretty much ignored her. She has excellent self-confidence and is outgoing but she does get frustrated when she cannot fully participate in activities.

This past weekend it was hot and I had to work hard to keep my kids entertained and to avoid them assaulting each other as bored siblings tend to do. Friday evening we decided to take the plastic baby pool and place it at the bottom of the kids’ slide in the back yard. The kids started sliding into the water and had a great time for a while. This got old so we added shaving cream to the game by spraying it on the sliding board. This increased the velocity of the kids and made the game more fun.

We then tried crawling up the slide while I sprayed water on it and the kids would slide back into the pool. The last thing we tried involved the kids sliding down the slide while sitting in a plastic tub. To make this reasonably safe I waited on the far side of the pool to catch the kids as they slid across.

Saturday we decided that we would set up the slip-n-slide in the front yard. We do this quite a bit and my kids are now large enough that a slip-n-slide lasts about 30 minutes before it rips. Another problem with the slip-n-slide is that Rachel will sometimes miss it all together because they are fairly narrow. This sounds terrible but it is pretty funny. Her brother and I laugh with her and it doesn’t seem to bother her a bit.

We now stake down a plastic tarp and turn a sprinkler on it. The tarp is much wider so she doesn’t have to be as accurate with her runs.

This works great but as you can probably surmise; it ain’t fast enough for the kids. We next go to dishwashing soap on the tarp which does increase the speed quite a bit. When this got old, we decided to blow up an air mattress and let the kids run and dive onto the mattress and slide. The first time down, my son Will told Rachel to sit on the front of the mattress at the top of the tarp. Will then ran and dove onto the tarp. The kids flew down the tarp and scared me to death when they made it to the driveway and barely stopped before hitting it. I then put a piece of grass carpet I have at the bottom of the hill to stop them before they reached the driveway.

These activities are great fun for the kids and we try and use our imaginations to come up with new ones all the time. Some of this might seem a bit dangerous but these things aren’t really much different than things kids come up with on their own and do. At least I am there to minimize the risk for injury.