In my last post, I mentioned that I spoke to Eddie’s class. After that post, a friend asked for more information. She said, “So I want to know what you say to the kids? What about his visual impairments and sensory issues?” So, here is the bulk of what I talked about… for those that are curious…and for those considering sharing in their own child’s class.
First up, because his blindness is the most obvious and interesting to the kids, I talked about that. I read them a book called, “Some Kids Are Blind” by Lola Schaefer. It’s a very simplistic approach…that addresses braille, canes, technology, guide dogs, and ways in which they are like all other kids. It also mentions how kids can become blind.
This information always brings the question, “How did Eddie become blind?” That’s when I explain that he was born that way. Just like some of you are blond, have green eyes, are tall or short, boys or girls…Eddie just happens to also be blind. I had an iPad on hand to show eye anatomy…but thought that could wait for 3rd grade at least.
I delved only a little deeper and showed them his brailler (which he uses to write), some braille books (which they love to pass around), and his cane. I explained that a cane is NOT a toy, but a tool…which he gets in trouble for when he uses it as a weapon…especially when he’s upset with his sisters. (Most kids get that.)
I also explained that being “blind” doesn’t usually mean that a person sees only complete darkness. I told the kids that Eddie has some peripheral vision and his left side is better than the right. That his vision helps him avoid obstacles when he isn’t using his cane, which is why he doesn’t always use his cane in the classroom.
After that, I talked about autism a bit and how it affects Eddie. I asked the kids if they had ever seen Eddie throw a tantrum. Most of them raised their hands, because he had a big one the day before. I explained that sometimes Eddie just gets really upset. That it doesn’t mean he is mad at any of the kids, but that they should scoot away when he starts yelling because he may hurt them on accident. (Eddie is a pincher, and I don’t want any small child to feel that wrath.)
I said that when he’s upset, it can mean he doesn’t want to do what he’s told, or doesn’t want to follow the rules. BUT, it can also mean that he hurts for reasons we don’t understand. Maybe there is too much noise. Maybe he hears one sound he doesn’t like (like his little sister’s voice). I then explained how fast he runs from the vacuum at home, which makes the kids laugh. I’m not even joking…he really moves fast.
To explain his sensory issues further I showed pictures from the book, “Why Does Izzy Cover Her Ears? Dealing with Sensory Overload” by Jennifer Veenendall. Eddie doesn’t entirely relate to the main character, but the pictures are perfect. It shows “Izzy” covering her ears, crying, hiding from a blow dryer, using a swing and exercise ball, and listening to music. I think it helps to show these pictures to also demonstrate that Eddie isn’t the only child who acts and feels that way.
Finally, as I said last time, we taught the kids sighted guide. It was great to have an orientation and mobility specialist there for guidance because they are the experts. If you want more information on this technique, I suggest you read: http://aphcareerconnect.org/section.aspx?SectionID=36&TopicID=163&DocumentID=2104.
I didn’t mention his issues with communicating…and how autism affects that. Last year, I asked the kids to say “Hi” to Eddie even though he might not return the favor. This year, I simply didn’t get that far. I should have explained that just because Eddie doesn’t talk doesn’t mean he has nothing to say. I should have talked more about Eddie’s likes and dislikes, because he can’t share that himself. I should have made him more relatable. There is just so much, and it’s hard to sum-up in 20 minutes.
The good news is that I have all year…and the year after that…to help his peers understand him even further. I hope that someday, Eddie will talk for himself. I hope that he’ll show them how to read and write braille. I hope he’ll tell them how he wants to be helped out at school…and more importantly how he does not want to be helped. As always, the ultimate goal is independence, but for his peers, it is simply understanding.