“Look at me, Grandma,” shouted four-year-old Cody as he climbed the ladder up the slide at the park. “I see you,” shouted Grandma as she turned toward her daughter and said, “Should he really be up there by himself? What if he lets go and falls? He doesn’t even realize how high he is if he can’t see down!” It was a constant battle for Cody’s mom. She and her husband were trying to let Cody do the same things that other four-year-olds did, even though he was born blind. At the same time, almost everyone else treated him like a china doll, concerned that he would get hurt. Once again, she found herself defending to her mother how she was raising her son.

You may find that ordinary family outings can be stressful when family members and strangers alike seem to need reassurance and information about your child’s visual impairment. Some days you may think that it would be easier for your family to just stay home and watch a video or play in the backyard together. Though your family needs time together at home, however, it’s equally important that your family do things out in the community, too. You need to get out, and your child who is visually impaired needs to have different kinds of experiences. Try to come up with a few brief and good-natured responses that will satisfy the concerns and curiosity of friends or onlookers, for example, “Yes, Cody can’t see very well, but he has practiced how to use the slide safely and now he can do it by himself.” You may want to talk with other parents to find out how they handle similar situations.

You can get some ideas for ways to involve your preschooler in community outings from the article “Helping Your Child Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired Learn About the World.”

Family activities can be planned, like Cody’s afternoon at the playground or a trip to the zoo, or they can be spontaneous—a walk around the neighborhood after supper. (Remember to save some time to spend alone with your spouse and other family members as well!) When you’re thinking about involving your preschooler with a visual impairment in family activities, consider the following.

  • If your child is resistant to trying something new (such as going on a new piece of playground equipment or entering a store with low lighting at the mall), don’t push it. You may need to try the same activity several different times before he gets comfortable enough to participate.
  • Relate new experiences to things your child has done previously. Cody, the child in the opening vignette, has had a lot of experience with slides. So, when his parents took him to the water park for the first time, his dad explained a water slide they were going to go on by describing how it was similar to and different from the familiar slide at the park.
  • Be realistic about what you expect from your child. Most four-year-olds get squirmy in a restaurant, so why shouldn’t yours? If you’re not sure what to expect from your child at this age, talk to other parents who have preschool-age children to find out what is normal. You want to have high expectations for your child so that he’ll try to meet them and have a feeling of competence throughout life, but you also want to be realistic about what you’re asking.
  • If you have concerns about your child’s interest in or ability to take part in an activity that the rest of the family is doing, have a backup plan. If your child enjoys music, bring along a MP3 player to your niece’s dance recital, just in case. This way, your child can listen to some music through headphones while the rest of the family watches the performance. Try not to let alternatives like these become a habit, however. You want to encourage your child to participate with everyone else if at all possible.
  • If you’re doing something new, like going on a new ride at a carnival or trying tee-ball for the first time, realize that your preschooler is most likely going to need some hands-on instruction. Be ready to assist by using the hand-under-hand or hand-over-hand technique.

Try to keep your family activities in perspective. Although you may need to do some extra preparation for family outings with your child who is visually impaired, remember that time spent with preschoolers is rarely all smooth sailing. What’s important is to spend time together as a family, while letting your child explore the world outside your home.