Teen Mom 2: After a Diagnosis of Visual Impairment

Joe StrechayLast week on MTV’s reality television show, Teen Mom 2, Leah, a teen mother from West Virginia (not too far from the American Foundation for the Blind’s Huntington office, where I am based) received some tough news about her child. The show started with Leah getting engaged to her boyfriend, who is the father of her twin babies. Leah has noticed some problems with one of her babies’ eyes. Prior to this, the child had shown some other physical difficulties, which doctors are still trying to diagnose. Leah takes her daughter to an ophthalmologist to find out what is going on.

Leah has been confronted by her pastor about addressing her child’s medical issues. Although at first she seems to be in denial about her child having medical problems, she does end up taking her daughter to the ophthalmologist. Also, in an earlier episode, an early intervention specialist visited Leah to teach her exercises and strategies for promoting movement in her daughter.

Leah’s Visit to the Ophthalmologist

When Leah takes her child to the ophthalmologist, he diagnoses her daughter with nystagmus (involuntary eye movement). The doctor also notices that one eye has a propensity to drift. The doctor prescribes eyeglasses that could help correct this problem. Leah is also told that the eye and other physical issues could be brain related. These concerns could be linked to the child’s premature birth. In upcoming episodes, Leah’s daughter will have an MRI, which could help with a diagnosis.

The episode closes with Leah getting into her car and breaking down in tears. Leah has been hit with the reality that her child could have multiple brain-related impairments. This is a lot to handle for any parent, let alone a teen with a set of twins. Often, the diagnosis of a child with a visual impairment or disability is compared to the loss of a child—at least at first. Parents have to deal with the fact that their child’s life may not turn out exactly as they pictured it. The adjustment process of coping with such a diagnosis is just that—a process. There are stages that parents have to go through when dealing with these types of issues.

I wanted to address Leah and any other parent dealing with such a diagnosis, to offer support, resources, and my thoughts.

Dear Leah,

On this week’s episode, you were provided with a diagnosis of at least one visual impairment for one of your twins. I am also a twin and visually impaired, so I thought I could offer my perspective.

I am a professional who works for the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB). I work with teens, adults, and families through online resources and specific content. I also live in Huntington, WV, which is not that far from you.

Finding out that your child has a visual impairment can be tough—so tough that it is often compared to losing a child. But truthfully, with the appropriate resources and knowledge comes a different point of view. It takes time to really become aware of the resources available. We live in an exciting time when individuals with disabilities can excel and succeed in all facets of life. Children with disabilities grow up to be government officials, lawyers, mechanics, teachers, scientists, and more! You can learn more about the careers of people who are visually impaired on APH CareerConnect, under the section Success Stories.

I believe that other parents who have experienced what you are now experiencing can offer the greatest support. AFB and the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments have a joint website called FamilyConnect. This unique website allows parents to connect with other parents through message boards with specific topics, such as their child’s specific type of visual impairment and age. There’s even a board just for those coping as you are with a new diagnosis. The message boards are monitored by experienced parents and professionals who are willing to offer their sound advice.

You can also create a profile and use FamilyFriends, a new social-networking tool that will allow you to start connecting with other parents of visually impaired children today.

Or you can do some research by reading through FamilyConnect and viewing articles, blogs, and multimedia. One great feature that might be helpful to you at this time is a video that features the Bushland Family. This video gives you a glimpse into how one family handled their child’s diagnosis. All of these resources are provided at no cost and are available to you whenever you need some extra help, guidance, and support.

I am not just a professional who works in the field of vision loss, but also a person with a visual impairment and a twin. Just know that there are many resources out there and that you are not alone! If you are ever in the Huntington area or would like to visit our office to talk about resources and see some of the technology available, please let me know.

Joe Strechay
American Foundation for the Blind