Improving “School Confidence” in Your Child Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

A girl and boy swinging, big smiles on their faces

For many of us, summer break is already but a memory (cue the sad music). As we look to the start of a new school year, we anticipate our children engaging in meaningful friendships and advancing in their academics and the blindness-specific Expanded Core Curriculum. We know there’s tremendous potential growth right around the corner.

But in order for our children to actually advance in the classroom and in their Individualized Educational Program (IEP) goals, our children need to be uninhibited by a poor self-concept. You see, it seems to me that when children perceive they are failing and incapable, they have a blanket poor sense of self-worth, and their ability to learn and develop is almost “frozen” or stuck.

We desire, instead, for our children to be comfortable and confident in themselves, knowing they are valuable, they are able to learn, they are worthwhile friends, and that they have areas of strength. They can do this “school thing.”

So how can we develop their self-confidence, preparing them for success and progression in school academics and relationships?

Foundations of Education (2nd ed, volume 1, ch. 6, by Tuttle and Tuttle) states that children’s self-confidence increases when they are successful. But there’s more. Here’s the kicker: The books says children’s self-confidence increases when they are successful in areas they care about! You, as the parent or grandparent of your child who is blind or visually impaired, may be concerned about your child’s math or reading skills, when at this point, your child may not care about academic success. Find out what your child cares about, and help him or her find success in that area.

Maybe it’s finding a good friend, swinging independently on the swing set, learning to swim, learning to read, building a tall tower with Legos, getting around the neighborhood independently, using a cell phone, or (for teenagers) going on a date. I don’t know what it is that your child values, but give him or her the tools for success and help your child practice. When your child is successful in what he cares about (even success in very small goals), he will feel like a success.

Here’s the value of helping your child succeed in an area she cares about:

  1. A child who “feels like a success” knows she’s capable of success in school-goals with enough continued practice.
  2. You now know your child’s “currency,” or what she regards as important and motivating. You can utilize your child’s currency to teach her academic and social skills. If your child loves to swim and feels successful in the water, you can read books together about swimming, teach her to tell time so she can speed up her swim time, teach her math with dive rings, teach her technology skills when researching online swimming tips, teach her about money when you help her earn chore money and purchase swim gear, and learn the social skills necessary to succeed at swim meets. In other words, you’ve found a tool for engaging your child’s interest and connecting it to academic and social goals.
  3. A child who succeeds in areas of interest is more accepting of herself and her visual impairment. She doesn’t get stuck thinking “I can’t do anything because I am blind.” Instead, she realizes she often uses a different approach than her sighted peers to achieve a desired outcome, but she is plenty capable nonetheless.

So over the next several weeks before school begins (and beyond!) take the time to give your child the tools and training to succeed in goals related to his interests. You’re giving him the gift of improving his self-concept and confidence. You’re increasing his “school confidence”.