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.