Braille Monitor July 1986
by Catherine Horn Randall
(Reprinted from the March, 1986, Month's News, the newsletter of the National Federation of the Blind of Illinois.)
An article published in the January, 1986, issue of Reader's Digest entitled "How to Raise a Happy Child," by Edwin Kiester, Jr., and Sally Valente Kiester, made me stop and reexamine my carefree childhood. The truths I read and reread in the Digest article can be especially applied to the lives of blind and partially blind children and teenagers, as well as to their sighted peers.
This forty-year-old Harvard study began to try to understand juvenile delinquency. The study traced the lives of 456 boys from inner city Boston. When the boys' lives were compared at middle age, one fact was cited. "Regardless of intelligence, family income, ethnic background, or amount of education, those who had worked as boys, even at simple household chores, enjoyed happier and more productive lives than those who had not."
According to Dr. George E. Vaillant, author of the study, "Boys who worked in the home or community gained competence and came to feel they were worthwhile members of society. And because they felt good about themselves, others felt good about them."
According to the article, an elevenyear-old philosopher of the 1980's instructed his mother as follows: "You only need to know three things about kids. Don't hit them too much, don't yell at them too much, and don't do too much for them."
As a child during the dark ages of the 1950's, I was not expected to do regular chores at home. I emptied waste baskets sometimes and made my bed occasionally, but I was not regularly expected to do these jobs or others as a contributing member of the family. Over the years I have asked my mother why she did not expect me to do chores at home, and her answer has invariably been that my school work took up most of my time. I then have to remind her that I did not start bringing home much homework until I was twelve. I feel it is a disservice to any child, and especially to a blind child, not to be expected to share family responsibilities along with everyone else. Just because a child or teenager happens to be partially or totally blind should not exempt him or her from learning to take responsibility.
When homework assignments became routine, I was expected to do them. I loved school and didn't mind working hard to complete assignments. The one area, therefore, in which I was expected by my parents to follow through, I did. But in life we must learn to also complete jobs we don't like. This is called living up to our responsibilities. Blind children have the right to learn to become independent people. This means they need to know how to do every chore around a house competently. I did not know how to iron when I left home for college. I sent my blouses to a laundry service, and I took a lot of ribbing about it. So many things in life would have been so much easier if I had learned to do them as a child or as a teenager.
As a high school English teacher, I have learned that if students are not expected to meet and exceed reasonable standards of performance, they won't. This philosophy applies also throughout life outside the classroom. Blind people must be able to perform everyday tasks as competently as their sighted peers. The blind child, like any child, needs to feel that he or she is an integral contributing part of the family team. As your child or teenager learns to master household tasks, his or her self-confidence will improve. The blind child needs to be a participant in life, not just a spectator.
The most important gift you can give your blind son or daughter, after assurance of family love and support, is to teach that person to become as self- sufficient as possible. In addition to developing good cooking, cleaning, and laundry skills at home, insist that Braille and cane travel skills are written into your child's Individual Education Program (IEP) at school.