Children

A Private Conversation with a Fellow Parent – Some Reflections (with permission)

Sometimes we parents get to guide our children through learning experiences which are unfamiliar to us, outside of our current comfort zone, and seemingly not within our perception (or another’s) of the mainstream gig of ‘growing kids’.

One way to tackle these moments might be to chat with someone who is further along the parenting journey than we are…so, I recently got to have a great chat with a go-getter parent.

As my adult children have all been blind since birth, this chat was essentially around having a conversation with a child younger than mine, about the differences between a parent/child relationship, and the parent/parent relationship. It came about, though, because the child had heard mum and dad during intimate moments.

Many of us have had the experience of walking in on dad and mum during sex, many of us have had our children walk in on us, and many of us feel either uncomfortable or unsure about how to respond. Some of us also have the consideration of what our children can/can’t see, hear or comprehend no matter what the new experience encountered.

After hearing the parent’s story of what had been happening with their child, how the parent themselves felt about the kind of conversation they may need to have, and the child’s vision impairment coupled with some level of communication/comprehension difficulties, we brainstormed some strategies for the immediate, and some suggestions for in the future.

The child had been repeating sounds heard from mum and dad’s room when they’re alone, and those sounds were beginning to be repeated at particular times. The parent believed that the frequency was increasing and wondered what, if anything, she might do about it. Since there was perceived future negative impact for the family and their relationships, and seeing a potential learning opportunity for the child, these are the strategies we worked out together:

  • Talking with the child about their own special relationships (e.g. with a grandparent or sibling)
  • Discussing something that the child does only with that person
  • Explaining to the child that the sounds heard from the bedroom were only for mum and dad, as their special times with another family member are theirs alone

Because of one of the diagnoses the child has been given, it was recommended that a chat with the educational psychologist that the family already connect with might be a good idea to talk through some of the possible related experiences they may have with the child as they move into teen and adult years.

For the parents, I suggested that the bedroom may not be the only place for physical intimacy. This might reduce or eliminate the child associating what was heard with that room, and the parents. It also brings with it some new interest for the couple relationship…nothing wrong with that!

Who could ever say that we don’t have anything to learn by being a parent?

And thanks to the other parent for trusting me with their story, and wanting to share some of their own journey so others may have a few more tools to work with.

Quotes and Questions When Raising/Teaching Students With a Visual Impairment

A couple of quotes that have stood out for me, over the years I have been raising my children who are bright, loving, independent, unique and blind. Also some questions to be continually asking ourselves.

A number of Early Childhood Educators working with children with visual impairments used to tell me they did a lot of “hand-sitting” (as with teenagers one does a lot of “tongue-biting”).

Hand over hand manipulation, and too much information without experiencing, fosters an environment of little or no learning; the information or experience is not assimilated into the life of the learner.

A couple of teachers for students with visual impairments have said that a good integration aide will “do themselves out of a job”.

The object is not to integrate the aide/assistant into the life of the student, but to have the student integrated into their own community of peers; thereby no longer having any need to be present, the student having become independent, and interdependent with their own group of peers.

A past presenter at the South Pacific Educators In Vision Impairment (SPEVI) said that the two skills he used every day of his life were orientation and mobility, and social skills. These were the two neglected for his entire schooling!

All the information in the world, and even access to it, will mean nothing if I cannot move about in, and interact with the world…my world. If I cannot belong, I will have no purpose or hope.

Some questions to leave in a personally prominent, but nevertheless private, place to foster a regular consideration of one’s motives and interactions.

Am I interacting with (name) in ways that make me an indispensible attachment to him/her?

…or…

 Am I interacting with (name) in ways that make my constant presence redundant?

 

 Are my interactions with (name) moving her/him toward independence, and interdependence within his/her peer group?

 

 Who can and will I talk with about resources, ideas that have worked already, suggestions and my own accountability in these things?

I would suggest that the student/child be named (whether this is for school or home) as one is then considering the particular person one is interacting with.

10/8/2015

Sibling Issues

So, all of my three children are blind. Are there sibling issues? Yes, but not the kind that families experiencing disabilities usually have.

Let me explain.

Number two and number three were reminiscing about each time someone’s fingers or feet were jammed in a car door. I added the time I jammed number one’s hand in the hatch door of a new vehicle. I have heard them ask each other to look at something (when they were quite young), expecting the other to see it as a sighted adult in their world would – without hands.

Our issues involved teaching them that, though they could request sighted assistance from their parents, they could not expect the same from their siblings. It may have been insensitive for a sighted person not to inform them that they were closing a car door, but it was insensitive of each of them not to warn each other of the same.

So much is learned by observation, and we are inclined to presume things will be learned automatically.

There are some who don’t get the opportunity to observe much to learn from (or what has been observed is unhealthy or inappropriate).

Teaching, though, doesn’t have to be a complex lesson. It may come in the form of conversation, a shared task, verbal guidance through an experience. Some need this into adulthood because they missed out on it while maturing, others may always need some form of guided instruction, even if just verbal or hands-on information. Not because they’re unable or unwilling to learn, but because the way the world, or me, or you, or we teach and model doesn’t fit with how the other is geared to learn.

Of course, as my children have grown to be young adults (with a much broader knowledge base than as little ones), it’s difficult to ‘switch off’ the teaching talk. Much to their chagrin and/or frustration. Sorry kids!

Navigation

Navigating through myriad outward expressions of a person, community or program can be exhausting and daunting in the quest to respond, interact and relate appropriately; or according to our values and beliefs; or in a healthy way; or in the best interests of the other.

Parenting, of course, provides so much ‘opportunity’ to navigate and respond!

When our children were young we were regularly asked if we wanted to use melatonin to assist with their sleeping, as many parents of children who are blind are – or wish they had been. We declined as two of our children were good sleepers (relatively speaking) and we determined that the other child’s continued sleep issues were more person-specific. As a teen one child required meds during ‘tween’ years for seizures, on top of  being one who needs sleep, and the normal vague, weary, distance of being a teenager. Life is affected by all these, how to navigate through all experiences and choose a response is a mammoth ask.

Hindsight indicates to me that the need for routine and life management was, thankfully, the best response to attitude, sleeplessness and character development for one child. Unfortunately, a more boundary-setting and less leave-it-to-your-own-consequences response to the teen years of another would have been a more productive response.

Each family is different from another. Each individual within that family is different from another. The culture and background of each of us is going to be different one from another in every community or program we are a part of. Enjoy the journey of learning, and seeking, and responding. I have learned much about the body, the mind, the emotions, cultures, seasons of life, ideas I would never have come up with on my own from inviting input from others. I have not necessarily embraced or agreed with all I have learned, but some I certainly have, and all I have grown from. Consider as many option as you can, or are able to consider at any one time in your life – and then choose. It’ll be ok, even when hindsight shows you the choice wasn’t the best one or it was even the wrong one. Start again, as Anne Shirley (of Green Gables) said, “Tomorrow is fresh, with no mistakes in it.”

I fear choosing wrong, but I like to learn and be the other side of a growth opportunity more. So, I choose to learn and grow. Will you learn and grow with me?

 

Positive Educational Experiences

So, thought I would share some of the positive experiences we have had with the formal education of our children. From local school, education department, and or blind-specific educators and instructors. Not all-encompassing by any means, but a taste of some of the good stuff.

When child number one began life in formal education, the school accessed funding and attended to every recommendation of the Orientation and Mobility Instructor in regard to making sure the grounds of the school were reasonably suitable and safe (to the best of my knowledge).

When child number two began school, the teacher approached a local group and spoke to them in request of funds to make up a short-fall enabling the purchase of a particular piece of equipment; mentioning that for our children to share in one of these pieces of equipment was the equivalent of asking sighted siblings to share one pencil. Brilliant.

Child number three had a role in the last school production before heading to secondary school. The staff worked with this child to ensure that this one would be able to enter and exit the stage independently throughout the show. So well was this accomplished, that another member of the local community commented to someone that they had thought there was a blind student in the play, which one?

When child number one began secondary school and the art class were drawing around their shoes/feet, the teacher had prepared for our child to wrap wire around this one’s foot making a sculpture of it. This staff member also sought out and purchased equipment that would enable safe but more independent use of some equipment (bringing grateful tears to my eyes at my first parent/teacher interview).

A secondary school teacher sought out equipment that would make for a smoother road in the production of the curriculum in our children’s preferred format. Another secondary school teacher automatically produced comments on corrected work in a format independently accessible to our eldest (eliminating the need to rely on an aide or parent to read them), without being asked. One teacher also sought input from another teacher, who had previously taught our children, for ideas – without being instructed to.

We have had instructors and teachers from ‘blindness agencies’ go out of their way to serve our family. Working at providing time with male instructors in a female-dominated environment. Sacrificing time to, not equal but, provide somewhat more time than we had been receiving as ‘country/rural clients’. Phone instruction for our children and debriefing for me, the parent, on occasion. Time for conversation and incidental learning for me as a parent, and the validation of seeking my input into the services provided.

There is much to be thankful for, and which has been appreciated by our family. No one and no system is perfect (which may be reflected on in the near future also). But imperfections and mishaps, though they need to be addressed, do not take away from times of great provision, consideration and even excelling.

I am indeed grateful.

 

This, Too, Is Ok…

One of my children had a favourite type of toy; a series of multiple sized plastic fish, in a scoop shape so that they stacked together. These ‘fish’ went everywhere. They were the best kind of favourite or security toy as they were able to be washed regularly throughout the day – in the bath, in the sink. Whenever washing of the child took place, so did washing of the fish. Although the washing had to be taught as part of the bathing etc. process, it was not automatic. As I said, the fish went everywhere. Learning to climb the ladder of the slide was done, fish in hand. Swinging was done, fish in hand. The fish went to kindergarten, to church (and tapped out the rhythm of the songs), weddings…everywhere.

It turned out, that the ‘scoop’ shape was a large part of the attraction. As the scoops from the ground coffee made their way into the toy collection, they became favourites as well. As did the washed scoops from the laundry detergent, and eventually we moved on to egg shells. Not plastic, real out-of-the-bum-of-a-chook egg shells. Every time I/we cooked with eggs, the most complete halves of the shells were washed and left on the window sill to dry. As one shell broke, it was replaced with another from the window sill. Eventually, vegetable peelings were the go, and as this one would fall asleep in the car the peelings would collect beside and behind car seats and on the floor.

Though none of these things were a bother to me in themselves (as my son with hair clips and nail polish were not, nor my girls wearing tiaras and wings to church or weddings, and one with band-aids on clothes), I was concerned that some learning was actually hindered by the constant presence of something in the hand, about an obsessive attachment to the objects themselves (which was in the nature of the child in question) and perhaps a few other considerations. So we embarked on a progressive process of experience and detachment.

One step we walked through was to leave the fish in one’s bag at kindergarten, and take them out again for the trip home. Once we got to egg shells, this particular child was part of the cleaning process (though probably only once in a while, I did most of this). We then began to use whole eggs to play with in a bowl. We would practice cracking them open into the bowl with, hopefully, two whole halves. Then my child was allowed to ‘play’ with it all, swishing hands in the raw egg, stirring etc. Once the play was completed, to end the experience the shell was crushed and stirred in as part of the fun. The shell was then known to have been destroyed and told that it could not be repaired. The shells on the sill were still available for a time while this play continued. Eventually I told this child how many shells were left on the window sill, and that once they had all been broken I would not be leaving any more up there. They were counted down as we went through them, giving fair, advanced notice of the time/day when they would no longer be available. The plastic toys were still available until the child grew out of the desire for them, as children usually do throughout their development.

This all happened over some years. It was not accomplished in a week, or a month. It was not begun because I, or someone else, was uncomfortable or embarrassed with this child’s preferred method or objects of play. It was not attended to so that this child would conform and be like any other child (or, heaven forbid, any adult). We took this child’s personality and temperament, age and interests, foreseeable future needs and potential desires into account. Then thought outside of the square, while looking into the child and our own family life.

And the result…a practically grown, independent, well-adjusted young adult – who just doesn’t happen to be able to see.

Don’t fret, be creative and imaginative… this, too, is ok.