Can you do too much for your blind child?

I should start this post by saying I’m not a parent. And even if I was, I’m sure I would make a lot of mistakes…doesn’t everyone? So, this isn’t going to be a guide to parenting a blind child because no two blind children are the same, and I have no right to tell anyone how to raise their children.

So take this as what it is, my thoughts on how I was raised vs. how I see blind children being brought up now.

Intervention was pretty much unheard of when I was born. Not because it didn’t exist, but because I grew up in the country and if you live in the middle of nowhere good luck getting any kind of services. I was lucky enough to go to a primary school with a good vision resource unit, and then when we moved to the city another school where the teacher for the visually impaired was also excellent. You can read about my educational experiences as a child and how I think they shaped my future. I was lucky. I always had books to read, things to play with. I went to good schools and my parents advocated for me the best they could. Did they make mistakes? Of course they did. But I believe that every parent does, and that’s ok.

As for blindness specific things…I had very few. I had a computer with a screen reader and I learnt to read braille, but that was about it. We adapted where necessary, I had braille cards and in art class at school I had tactile paints. But really, much of what I did was very normal. I played football with other kids and much to my disgust was forced to attend brownies.

I think, I hope, I turned out ok in the end. I am a young adult who can advocate for myself, who knows what support I need to be successful in education. I can cook, although the standard at which I do it is probably similar to most students. I find organisational tasks boring, yet I can complete them. I only ask for help when there is no alternative, when I have tried to work out a solution on my own.

And why do I have these skills? Because my parents made me. They didn’t make a big deal out of the fact that I was blind. We adapted educational materials but in every other setting I was expected to be the one who adapted, because like it or not that’s what happens in the wider world. I never had a plate guard, or non-slip mats. I didn’t even know those things existed until I met other blind children and discovered that was what their parents had brought them up to use. They attended a huge amount of therapies for no other reason than because they were blind. Music therapy to encourage social interaction, art therapy to help them express themselves…the list goes on. These things aren’t necessarily bad; especially when you have a child with multiple disabilities, in those cases I think they can be really useful. Games were centred on teaching the child things they might not pick up on because they were blind. Essentially every aspect of life was part of blindness training.

I think sometimes it can be tempting to make more of blindness than it is. My child doesn’t like social interaction because he/she is blind. Never is it considered that perhaps the child in question isn’t a big socialiser, blind or not. It’s acceptable for sighted children to be shy, or reserved, yet it never is for blind kids, because people assume that behavioural trait is a result of their disability. Every aspect of life doesn’t need to be devoted to blindness training. You don’t have sighted kid training, so don’t do it for your blind child. If you’re going to play maths games, fair enough. If you are the kind of parent who favours educational games then that’s ok. But if you would encourage your sighted child to go out on his/her bike and yet you want to teach your blind child something that they might not understand because they are blind, please think again. Actually putting them on a bike and encouraging them to do the same as their siblings is in my mind, the more beneficial of the two.

I’m seeing blind kids who are growing up now who only identify as blind. There is literally nothing else about them, everything they do must be celebrated because they are blind and isn’t it wonderful that they have done x and y. Well…not really. I understand that parents want to celebrate the achievements of their children, but when you have a video going viral talking about how wonderful it is that a blind child has stepped off a curb independently we really need to be asking ourselves some important questions. What is that doing for blind adults? What is that saying to society? Do we really want to be spreading the message that a blind child taking an independent step is something to cheer about? Because it’s not. It should be an expectation that a child who is blind can walk independently. When we start talking about these things like they are grand achievements we perpetuate the stereotype that blind people struggle to get around, that they need help from society constantly. This isn’t true, and all it does is make things worse for blind adults today, and the children that will grow up in this society. The media storm after that video went viral was incredible. And all everyone could talk about was how heartwarming it was that a child stepped off a curb…really. This would have been nothing to cheer about if the child in question was sighted, why are we sitting back and saying it’s ok for it to be celebrated if the child is blind. We are then saying that blind children should be set lower expectations, that every single small thing they do is a cause for celebration, rather than something that should simply be expected of them.

I can’t change how people raise their children, nor is it my place to do so. But I can, as a blind adult ask you to think about the way you talk about your child. Is every single thing they do an achievement because they are your child and you love them, or because they are blind. Do you really have such low expectations for your child that them taking an independent step at age 4 is an achievement? Yes, it might be a success for your child, but in the grand scheme of things, by encouraging these videos to go viral what are you doing to disabled people in society as a whole. Your kids are blind, that’s it. They can still be, and should be functional members of society. They can go to school, they can advocate for themselves. They can also make mistakes, make friends, and lose friends. Essentially, they are kids, kids who will one day grow up. Please treat them that way.

  1. Florian Beijers left a comment on July 3, 2015 at 2:30 pm

    You are touching on a number of interlinked issues here that have negatively affected blind children pretty much globally, in my opinion. I was brought up pretty much the exact opposite of the way you were, e.g. my parents would take chores out of my hands because ‘that would go faster”, took me everywhere because “it was easier, and why should you know how to ride the bus, you won’t need that for ages!” and I could make a list of this kind of behavior. My dad still worries when I go to get some money out of the ATM while I’m almost 23 now because I am apparently easier to rob or mug than my sighted peers. This kind of behavior can really stunt a blind person’s development in a large number of areas, which is why I pretty much forced the issue when I decided to start living in student lodgings for my post-high school studies. In the first six months I was living on my own, circumstances pretty much forced me to learn a whole lot of things that in my opinion I should’ve already known how to do for years. Sadly though, this is only the beginning of a much larger problem. You dodged a bullet by never really attending a so called ‘blind school’ but you will see this very same behavior exhibited by most of the teachers there. You will be cuddled, protected, gently eased into subleveled primary school and high school education and you will barely ever be told you are doing something wrong or bad, because you a a poor blind kid who can’t help it. I am speaking from experience here. Another branch of this problem is the blindness organisations around the world that in some cases promote this kind of behavior, or are slowly, very slowly, starting to turn their way of thinking around. As an example, I heard of a horror story a year ago where a blind person was assured by someone representing the blindness organisations here that a blind person could not read a PDF file, the only option was a Microsoft Word document. This is said by the people who are supposed to represent us to the sighted people curious about blind people.
    In conclusion, let me paint your a scary picture. When a blind kid grows up in this kind of environment, they will likely go to a blind-adapted primary school. Afterwards, they may continue on that school to also go through an adapted high school curriculum. After that, at least here in the Netherlands, there are places where the blind can go to learn independence skills so they can eventually go into the world as well-educated, well-raised blind citizens. Now let me ask you this question: …if these people go to a blind primary school, a blind high school and a blind independence training center, when do they interact with sighted people their age?
    Does this scare you as much as it does me? It should. This needs to change, if we ever want people to get a serious chance at representing what a blind person can do these days. You dodged a bullet, I got hit but recovered …but I’ve also seen people who didn’t get that chance. And let me tell you, that is a sorry sight to see.

    • Holly left a comment on July 4, 2015 at 2:15 am

      I couldn’t agree more. I did go to a blind school for a while, but chose, luckily with the support of my parents to return to mainstream schooling for these very reasons.

  2. torie left a comment on July 3, 2015 at 2:37 pm

    I watched that vidio. I think maybe the parents wanted to film it but didn’t expect it to go viral.

    As for me, thankfully we had a brilliant social worker, and i had 2 brothers and a twin sister so we had to just make the best of things. I unfortunately had to go to a special school as the education board wouldn’t hear of me going mainstream. In some ways, i think i would be better off in mainstream.

    Breaks my heart now to see kids who’s parents don’t have the right support.

    • Holly left a comment on July 4, 2015 at 2:15 am

      Yes, sometimes sadly it is unavoidable. It makes me sad that parents have choices taken away from them because some schools wont provide.

  3. Alice Groombridge left a comment on July 3, 2015 at 8:23 pm

    I am the mother of a 36 year old blind daughter. Who was shot when she was 15 years old by a 13 years old boy with a 12 gage shot gun. She was about to start high school in September. This happened on August 17 . She started school right on time, because she did not want to miss anything. The school wanted to send her to other school 30 miles away. She said no, “I want to stay right here ” so the school brought people in to teach her things , like how to walk on a roads, cross streets, how to use a cane etc. She graduated with her class. She is now married and has two children and by the way she married a man who is also blind he lost his sight due to glaucoma. She soon will be starting school to become a massage therapist.She cooks, bakes cookies, dose laundry dose just about everything a sighed person dose. I am very proud to be her mom.

    • Holly left a comment on July 4, 2015 at 2:16 am

      I’m really glad to see that you supported her, and respected her decision to go to school and continue her education.

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