Celebrating White Cane Safety Day: Raising Independent Children

Mickey DamelioWhite Cane Safety Day was first observed in 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, as a way to celebrate the independence and ability of people who are visually impaired. Independence and ability does not just happen, it has to be taught, fostered, and encouraged by the team of people surrounding your child, most especially his family, because unfortunately our school systems are taking an ever greater focus on the “core curriculum,” math, English, etc., and how he’ll perform on a standardized test this year, and even less interest in what your kid will be doing with his life when he’s 28 years old and dating, job seeking, or buying a house. The core is important, but it is that “expanded core curriculum” that your child will draw on every day of his life.

Our job as parents is to best prepare our kids to be fully functioning, successful, contributing members of our society. Too often folks come to the table with lower expectations for the ability of their children.

So what can you do with your child? How can you raise them to deserve all the great qualities that people have come to believe when they see someone with a long white cane? It starts by seeing the child first, the visual impairment later; the person first, the cane later.

Children have the same wiring: they love games, they love to explore, they love to learn, and they love fun. When kids have disabilities, our society often robs them of many of these things that all kids REQUIRE to properly develop. People don’t do this on purpose; they just don’t think these kids are capable. They’ll say they think they are, but their actions tell us differently. This is not deliberate, they’re good people, and they want to do the best for your child, but society has been conditioning them that blind children can’t, when they really need to believe they can.

It will be a struggle to change these perceptions, the best way to do it is to lead by example, and take it slow. Show people that your kid can. Kids with visual impairments can often engage in many of the same activities that their friends can, with just a little bit of creativity, or often a parent that is just willing to let them try. Take your kid out, let them play outside.

In a preschool setting the challenge is to teach the staff what your expectations are. You want your child treated just like the other children; you want her to be held to the same standard that any other child is held to. This includes the same time outs, as well as the same opportunities.

I can tell you from experience, the biggest objection I get with school staff is fear of liability. They are terrified that your child will scrape her knee and you will come to them with a lawyer and a court date. In reality, and I know this will sound strange; a scraped knee on a kid with a visual impairment is cause for celebration. Why? Because it means your little girl was out there pushing the limits.

So, you need to tell the school that it is ok if your kid gets a bruise; it is ok if he falls down. If it is ok for the other kids, it is ok for your kid, and not only is it ok, but it is your expectation that it be this way. Set the expectation, and just like kids, the adults will rise to it. We humans are suckers for expectation, we can’t help it, we are wired to respond to them.

Now, I am not advocating just taking your kid and depositing them on a playground without showing them around, or heading into the school with your independence guns blazing, this won’t win friends for you or your child. This is where the orientation and mobility specialist can help, or the teacher of students with visual impairments, but you can do it too, so don’t wait around for someone else to be there if it looks like it will be awhile.

If it is going to be a while before the O&M specialist is on board, then get out there and show your kid around. Walk them through the different structures. Show the kids how to do sighted guide if it is needed with your child. Stop the hand holding stuff before it starts by the kids and the adults; proper sighted guide is all you want for your son or daughter. You can hold her hand, because you “get it,” and you know when to stop it (when other kids aren’t having their hands held anymore).

The reason for this is that unconsciously, I believe that hand holding with blind kids puts our minds in a place of care taking. It is a place of dependence, and it seems to nurture that belief in the person holding the blind child’s hand, as well as those watching. So teach them sighted guide, he can grab onto someone’s wrist if he’s small, but he’s still in control, if he’s not comfortable he can let go, and he’s not being drug anywhere, this shows belief in his ability, and subconsciously communicates to him that the person doing the guiding believes in him.

Most of these tips apply in the school setting as well, the major change in the school is that now you have a whole class full of mommies and daddies that want to mother and father your child, even though they are the same age. Again, this is the expectation that your child may unconsciously respond to, and we don’t want this. Talk with the school staff, and tell them what you expect for your kid, remember the same expectations they have for the other kids, and you need to ask that they not allow the other kids to drag your kid all over the place and mother him.

If your kid was independent in preschool, he’ll probably not allow kids to mother him in school, but it is amazing what kids will allow when they think they are getting a friend. Teach your child words to use like, “No thanks, I can do it myself.” This falls right into the “use your words” philosophy most schools are adopting now. This is teaching your child to be a self-advocate, a useful skill for everyone to have, and a skill he will use the rest of his life.

Following these few tips, adjusting your expectations, encouraging independence, teaching others to believe in the success of your child, and asking yourself how you can make your son or daughter more independent in every situation, will, I promise, set your child on a road to the success, independence, dignity and freedom that the long white cane is meant to represent on White Cane Awareness day, and let’s be frank, it is what everyone deserves, regardless of ability. Would you like to read more on this topic? Can I help you with more ideas and tips? What suggestions do you have for parents reading this? Let’s get a discussion started in the comments. We want this site to be what you need; you have a voice, let’s hear it.