Tom Sullivan Addresses Parents at Preschool Conference

This weekend I enjoyed being with 300 parents and their children with visual impairments with their brothers and sisters at the New England Regional Seminar for Families of Children with Visual Impairments that is held each spring on campus of Perkins School for the Blind in Massachusetts. Most of the parents were attending for the first time with their blind infants wondering how will they cope, what is the future for their child, and what do they need to know as a parent?

One of the most meaningful parts of the conference is the interaction amongst parents with each other through the Parent to Parent Support Groups—parents have the opportunity to meet other parents of children that have the same eye condition. Given that all causes of childhood blindness are rare, most often it is difficult for families to find and meet other families that have a similar experience. Parents for the first time realize they are not alone. It’s heartwarming to see new parents who have been devastated by their child’s diagnosis actually gain hope by attending the conference and discovering it’s not the end of the world to have a child diagnosed as blind.

You could see the tears running down the audience members’ faces as Tom Sullivan, actor, singer, author, and producer, gave an inspirational keynote about his life. Tom, who is totally blind due to retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) spoke of the doctor’s insensitivity relaying the news to his parents and their reaction to the diagnosis. His mother became suicidal and his father went on a drinking binge. He disclosed how his parents were very overprotective of him and they didn’t have expectations as he was growing up. Tom spoke of how he overcame his challenges with his rebellious spirit, and how he further developed his talents and skills to become a very successful person in his many careers with a very productive life of adventure and fun with his wife and two children.

As parents we worry about our children and sometimes overprotect them or do too much for them whether they are blind or not—even more so when we have a child who is blind and/or with special medical considerations. How can we find a balance in raising our kids and not overprotecting them? What’s been your experience with this?