Future Reflections Summer 1991
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by Charlotte Verduin
Editor's Note: Charlotte Verduin delivered the following address July 2, 1988, during the Parents of Blind Children Seminar at the 1988 national convention at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Chicago. It was originally published in the Braille Monitor and is reprinted in this issue as both a memorial to Charlotte and as a testimony to her effectiveness as a mother and a leader in the National Federation of the Blind Parents of Blind Children Division.
My daughter, Cherranne, is eight years old. She enjoys listening to Alf on t.v., reading, and roller skating. She reads, and she does three-column addition and subtraction. She goes to school at our neighborhood public school. Cherranne has been blind since birth due to Retinopathy of Prematurity. That's Retrolental Fibroplasia in the old language. I lived through her infancy, babyhood, and preschool years, so that makes me an expert. How expert may be judged by the product. I hope my ideas that follow will help you in shaping your own best products. First, you need to think positive! I decided to have a "can do" baby even before I took her home. This was a mental outlook, a philosophy that became an approach; and even a baby picks up on confidence. There are two tips to increase confidence and decrease anxiety. First, learn about child development. It's a natural topic of conversation among family and friends. There are good books to help you: one called The First Twelve Months and another entitled Infants and Mothers. Both books include easy-to-read charts and show the sequence of your major developmental milestones. I found Parents' Magazine easy to read and very helpful, and it covers age ranges up to the teen-age years.
Second, recognize that each child's timetable will be right. There is no "normal? child. Each child will progress through the many tasks of learning at an individual pace. The same child will learn some things fast and some things more slowly. In the mythical "normal" child, this is referred to as "ranges of accomplishment." Such children are referred to as "precocious," "on task," or "late bloomers." Because our children are blind, "precocious" and "on task" are usually overlooked. We don't have late bloomers; our children are "delayed." Don't buy into this negative outlook.
The National Federation of the Blind emphasizes ability through alternative techniques. I have found that in parenting there are alternative techniques too. There is a popular statistic out there that states that 70 to 80 per cent of learning is visual. If that has any value, to me it only shows the need to augment or replace visual methods with an alternative multi-sensory approach. How to do that? In infancy, Cherranne had an þexciting crib.þ I paid attention to the texture of her toys. For example, she had two turtles... one was solidly stuffed terry cloth, bumpy and rough; the other was loosely stuffed and crocheted, soft and clutchable, good for sinking little fingers into and shaking! Cherranne's crib had bells, squeaky toys, a chime ball, a þhappy apple,þ and a music box. The chime ball and happy apple are both round and make noise. But one has a stem and leaves and a deep bell, and the other is smooth and round and has a tinkly chime.
I filled her world with smells and odors... the stink of a new plastic toy hammer, a doll stuffed with potpourri. Bath time, meal time, and changing time are all full of smells, some pleasing, some not so pleasing. Sensory awareness on the parent's part shows the child how rich the world is. It leads the baby to interact with his or her surroundings. You can improve nursery rhymes, songs and games with actions. Baby doesn't have to see you reaching your arms up "so big"; you stretch baby's arms out-"so big." It's the same game, but it's much more useful. Talk about daily activities..."Here comes the t-shirt over your head; first put in your left arm, now put in your right arm." These thoughts help to organize the baby's thoughts. The baby starts to look forward to things happening and the order in which they happen. The key in infancy, I thought, was interaction, not reaction. Bring your baby's attention to the world and spark that natural curiosity that babies have.
For toddlers, encourage exploration. You can utilize the child's trusting nature at this time to attempt new physical activities. Be brave, and teach your child to be brave. Toddlers love to help and imitate. Explain how to do things and get them involved. Toddlers can pick up toys and bring them to you. Toddlers can read along and turn pages with you. Every toddler under creation discovers the favorite toys-pots, pans, and lids! Mixing bowls are really fine too. While they are having a thrilling time "doing it myself," they learn all kinds of things about in and out, up and down, big and little, and so on.
Continue talking about daily activities. More and more is being understood. Cherranne learned to do many things as we talked over the dishes. High up on a stool, wearing an apron that got soaked anyway, reaching into the soapy water, rinsing in the clear water, and stacking in the drainer, we noticed the differences between cups and plates and saucers, forks and spoons. She started counting; she even started adding before she was three years old. She took one fork in one hand and one fork in the other hand. How many forks did she have? She had two. At this age the child recognizes order, sequence, and relationships. The key now is interaction with more purpose towards independence in daily living skills, social skills and mobility.
At preschool age, it is time for programs. Now is the time for involvement with other children. Infants and toddlers learn a lot from their parents and their family environment. But preschoolers begin to learn more and more from their playmates. Preschoolers are very proud to enlarge their world. It may begin about age two and never ends. It gets very intense at preschool ages. Answer your children's questions, and even sometimes before they ask questions. Also, turn the question around on the child, encouraging the child to use language to express his/her thoughts about the world.
Preschool is the time to begin Braille... learning to move from left to right on a page, going from the top to the bottom of a page, learning to turn pages in a book, recognizing simple shapes. Many preschoolers can learn to Braille their names at the same time as their sighted peers learn to write.
This brings me to a point of advice to parents. You may not want to hear it, but I think it is extremely important for you to learn Braille. I don't know how anyone can help a child go through school in any subject if the parent doesn't know enough Braille to catch the children's errors and help them out. Sighted parents can quickly learn Braille by sight. I took lessons for six weeks to learn Braille. The Library of Congress has a self-help Braille instruction book you can borrow from your regional talking book library. Cherranne is now in third grade, and as she learns a new sign in school, I learn it right along with her. I have enough basic understanding of Braille to keep up with her.
Preschool blind and legally blind children should absolutely begin to use a long white cane. There are two essential rules for cane travel. The first is the child's rule... "The tip stays on the ground." If the handle is in the child's hand, and the tip is on the ground, you are never going to go wrong. The parent's rule is, "The cane goes everywhere and the child uses the cane everywhere he or she goes." As Barbara Walker says, it's a whole lot easier to say it than to live it!
The key again at this age is interaction, but at this age more often child-initiated. We can produce independent, competent blind children. For society to recognize their value, we have to sell our product. We have to brag on our children and believe in your child's ability to be independent and give him or her every opportunity to advertise.
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