Learning Independence Skills Starts Early for Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
When any parent is asked about their dearest hope for their child’s future, 100% say that they want their child to be happy and independent. Parents whose children are typical and parents whose children have other difficulties want the same thing for their child’s future…happiness and independence.
Independence (rather its lack) can sometimes be the subject of jokes. The Lockhorns, an old cartoon, can make us laugh because a character is not acting capable and independent, possibly reminding us of ourselves or someone we know. In one cartoon, old Mr. Lockhorn is shown stretched out in his easy chair, bag of chips in one hand, newspaper in the other. A most disgruntled look is on his face. In the next frame Mrs. Lockhorn is shown standing on the other side of the living room looking back at him with her usual disgusted expression. “Okay, okay!” says the mister, “I’ll get my own water……….where do we keep the water?”
Now that’s just plain funny. Right?
Well, maybe seen another way it’s not so funny.
What if Mr. Lockhorn were blind or visually impaired? The scenario would change for readers and become one that is pathetic and not funny. Why? Maybe because some people have old stereotypes about people who are blind or visually impaired, and think without sight a person cannot be independent or even find the faucet in the kitchen. Yikes! Not funny. But the cartoon can help us realize that learning to building independence really is essential for our children to be seen as capable by others.
There are endless numbers of role models, books, articles, and opinions giving guidance to parents on how to help typical children gain independence and become happy adults. Parents of very young children with vision issues don’t have the same abundance of avenues for guidance. (Thank heaven for FamilyConnect and its wealth of information and support!) Some parents report that they feel inadequate and grieve deeply thinking that they will not know what to do to help their child become independent, happy and successful. Some parents don’t really know what ‘independence’ might mean for their child, or that independence like all development has levels, or even realize that it is important. More difficult is the fact that many parents do not even realize that their child can be independent on their own level. Repeatedly, parents say they just don’t know where to begin to help their child become as independent as possible.
What can parents of blind children do?
- Parents can have expectations about their child’s independence and demonstrate those expectations daily to both the child and others interacting with the child. For example: let him try to hold that bottle by himself, help her try to pull up her pants, ignore that whining, be firm about biting and rude behavior.
- Parents can build a support team including resources, professionals and helpful experienced parents. Key word: support. If someone isn’t helping you build knowledge and confidence, find a different team member.
- Parents can learn about the difficult and inevitable stages of emotions that necessarily accompany having a child with challenges.
- Parents can learn about positive role models who are blind or visually impaired who demonstrate abilities and independence.
- Parents can communicate positive messages to the child about their abilities.
- Parents can routinely implement suggestions and strategies from their chosen professionals. Independence skills are not learned spontaneously by our children. They cannot see how others do things and may get an impression that letting others do for them is the right thing.
- Parents can insist that the child develop positive social skills including polite manners, consideration, and respect of others—’nice’ kids get more positive attention from others including teachers and therapists.
- Parents can enjoy their child and include play, fun, and snuggling into every day. Love and fun are key ingredients to building the confidence that independence requires.
So one day when your little person is a bit older, and you’re comfortably plunked on the couch for a moment, be thrilled when you hear: “Would you like me to get you a glass of water?”