As I think back over the journey of having children who happen to be blind, I see so much that I would never have known or experienced without them.
Yes, the obvious of parenting; the marvel of new life, dependance, sleeplessness, responsibility…But so much more!
How the body works; theirs, mine, other children’s and their family members we’ve met. How the body works differently when genes or brains or – whatever – don’t operate as they were designed to. How differently bodies and minds and emotions and souls and families work, for recognised and unrecognised reasons. So many varied ways to overcome obstacles – our own or culture’s; physical, emotional, attitudinal. The dreaded P word (perseverance, ugh!), patience, wonder, ‘aha’ moments, creative thinking, someone else’s creative thinking, the excitement and frustration of difference…Oh my, and so much more!
I would most like to mention just now a phrase I learned, used by some Early Childhood Educators who worked with our children, “We do a lot of sitting on our hands!” Hand-sitting. I have found that hand-sitting is a good principal to follow in many of our relationships, not just in teaching children with a vision impairment a new concept or activity. I must confess right off that this is a struggle for me also, especially when I’m weary or stressed or in unfamiliar surroundings. The desire or need to be ‘hands on’ sometimes seems overwhelming, but it is not.
If the child (or in fact adult) who is blind does not experience for themselves, they rarely if ever learn what is being taught. Once they have concrete experiential knowledge, learning in theory may take place, but there must be a foundation of experiential learning for the mind to develop new learning from. Now, this is true of everybody, but the individual who is blind (particularly a child in the company of an authority figure) often has their opportunities for independent experience taken from them. Guided learning is necessary, important and valuable, unfortunately we too often do an activity for rather than guide through.
As I have said, I still do not do this every time. So valuable, even imperative, is it to guide through, that I am at the very least frustrated with myself whenever I have neglected to be attentive to do so. I have heard of some adults describing hand-over-hand coaction as being similar to covering the eyes of someone with sight while expecting them to see. My children have gained little to no information from something while coaction is occurring. This can be very difficult for a parent or teacher, or therapist to conceive of, especially when we consider that it is an acceptable practice when working with many other types of difference. I believe, though, that we often use this principal in other places where it would be more productive for, and less offensive to, those with whom we are seeking to be of benefit if we guided in less intrusive ways. Learning to be more descriptive is of inestimable value, just as the use of pictorial guidance has been enlightening, less intrusive and effective for many of those on the Autism Spectrum and people alongside them.
Alongside! Mick and Ruby Duncan from New Zealand live a life of serving others which they call “Alongsiders”. If we’re going to do a lot of “hand sitting”, I think we will also be doing a lot of “along siding” and both inhibit the problem of intruding. Physically, emotionally, socially, mentally; intruding is not only offensive to those we intrude upon but counterproductive to any kind of independence, interdependence, maturity, individuality or self-actualisation we are seeking to encourage. It will take some self-control. It will take some empathy. It will take some soul and attitudinal searching of ourselves. But the personal benefits are also incredible! Less pressure, on us and those we’re working or living with. Less tension in relationships. Less frustration when our own ways are not adopted. And those we love, serve, teach and care for will want us alongside them. And they will become who they were designed to be and interact with the world as they were designed to interact with it, and us.
I am not advocating that we leave ourselves and others as we are. I believe we thrive when we grow and learn, and I believe we need to learn things that we are not familiar or comfortable with and are sometimes afraid of. But how we learn and teach is important. Understanding how someone learns is imperative for beneficial, productive teaching. Parents, families, teachers, therapists, lecturers, doctors, nurses, others…lets first understand how we learn and love, then try to understand how others learn and love…then lets learn and love together!