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Devastated

Devastated. I hear that word a lot: "When we first discovered our son was blind we were devastated." I understand that. I've experienced it myself. But it's funny how now, over two years after the so-called devastation, it's hard to imagine that I ever felt that way. My son Ivan seems so perfect and so full of potential and possibilities.

But there certainly was a time when all I could think about were all the things Ivan would not be able to do as a blind child. He'll never blow bubbles, fly a kite or watch Sesame Street. Probably because colouring was always a favorite activity for me as a child, I kept returning to the thought that he would never colour in a colouring book. How could a blind child possibly have fun with colours?

Eventually, I realized that I was really stuck in the world of can't, so I began trying to think more positively. I started to say to myself, "Ivan can do anything he wants to do! He can colour, fly a kite, go to the movies, play sports, and whatever else he puts his mind to." This is a much better attitude, but it also has a dangerous down side that I almost got caught up in. It's hard to remember that it's possible to be too positive. Not only will Ivan definitely face limitations (as we all do), I also risked pushing him into activities just for the sake of proving that my blind child can do all that a sighted child can do. I suddenly pictured myself forcing Ivan to play soccer or colour in that colouring book just because that's what all the normal kids are doing. It made me shudder.

I didn't want to foster the attitude that Ivan can do things simply because I desperately need him to do those things. I see this with parents of blind children every day. They push their children to fit in or to participate in activities that don't interest them simply for the benefit of the parents.

I think it's very important to remember: My child will do what he wants to do because he wants to do it or because it benefits him in some way.

Now I try to be more realistic in my expectations of Ivan. With colouring, for example, I still think that this is something Ivan can do, but now I think about how we can make the activity as entertaining and beneficial for him as possible.

Activities like colouring and painting are good for Ivan because they strengthen his hands, encourage grasp, and facilitate wrist rotation. They're fun because there are more elements to colouring and painting than just the visual; crayons and paints, for example, have a distinct smell and feel.

Also, since Ivan is blind, we can experiment with different ways to make colouring and painting exciting for him. We can finger paint with pudding, then eat our art; we can draw with scented markers; we can place sandpaper under our drawing paper so that the crayon marks are raised; or we can make art with strings, buttons, curled lengths of paper, and other three- dimensional objects. Whatever we do, it will be beneficial because we will explore Ivan's other senses while encouraging him to participate in those normal childhood activities. And most importantly, it will be fun because we'll only do it if Ivan finds it enjoyable.

I do believe that Ivan can do almost anything and that nearly any activity presents some sort of learning opportunity. The only way Ivan will learn about the world is through interacting with it. Of course, Ivan may not be interested in art at all; he may be more of an action kind of guy, and that's fine, too. We won't discourage him from running or riding a bike any more than we would discourage him from playing with paints and crayons.

Remember that your child is a child first. Don't think of your child as primarily a blind or handicapped child. The disability is an integral part of who he or she is, but does not define who he or she is as a person. Some kids like to draw and others don't; some kids like to run and others don't. Let your child explore the world in his or her own unique way, encourage this exploration, but don't push him or her into activities just because it will make you feel better about the disability.

Reprinted with permission of the author from the www.WonderBaby.org website.

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