Barbara Cheadle is the mother of a blind teen-ager and is president of the Parents of Blind Children Division of the National Federation of the Blind. She also edits Future Reflections, our magazine for parents of blind children. Through Barbara I want you to meet Ann and Dale Elliottalso the parents of a blind child. Here is what Barbara Cheadle wrote recently in Future Reflections:
I met Ann and Dale Elliott at the 1991 convention of the National Federation of the Blind. It was clear that they had come determined to learn all they could about blindness. They sought out parents, teachers, and blind adults of all ages. Everyone who met them must have been impressed, as was I, with their down-to-earth attitude and desire to learn. They also demonstrated courage. It isn't easy for parents to talk about a child's blindness when emotions are still raw and close to the surface. But with knowledge comes understanding, and with understanding comes healing. I was once asked by a parent when would her tears ever stop. I said something like this: "You are a parent; the tears never stop. However, the nature of your tears can change." That turning point comes much more surely if, like the Elliotts, you seek knowledge and understanding from those who know blindness bestthe blind themselves. Here is Ann and Dale Elliott's story as told in their local newspaper, the Times/Record News of Wichita Falls, Texas, on
Sunday, February 2, 1992:
"Big Brown Eyes": Child's Blindness Helps Parents See by Lois Luecke (Senior Staff Writer)
Ann and Dale Elliott still become teary-eyed when they talk about their adopted son, Caleb. Their tears are joyful, where once they were the tears of parents facing an unknown. Not until he was five months old did the Elliotts, older parents in their forties, discover that Caleb was blind.
"We were devastated," said Mrs. Elliott. "He has the prettiest big brown eyes. To look at him, you would never know that there's anything wrong." A number of people, Mrs. Elliott said, asked if they still wanted to keep Caleb. "Of course we did," she said. "He was ours."
The Elliotts' initial reaction, though, was one of disbelief and denial. They said they experienced various stages of grief, including anger and depression. Eye specialists told them that Caleb was born with a fatty buildup and a "pseudo cherry spot" on his retina. No name was given to it, and no one knows why, said his mother.
During that critical time, Mrs. Elliott says in retrospect, "I think probably I held my baby closer. My husband and I both cried, and we still do at times.... Then for the most part you accept it and go on with your life. But I don't think you ever get over the hurt. I don't think you feel so much for yourself, but for your child. And he doesn't need it. He doesn't know. His world is normal."
The Elliotts have come a long way in the three ensuing years. They believe they reached a major turning point only last July at the annual convention of the National Federation of the Blind in New Orleans.
Members of the NFB Parents Division, they heard talks by many of the nation's blind leaders. They saw sightless teen-agers making their way effortlessly through the convention halls, having fun. Role models like these and the Federation itself, they said, opened up new vistas for them and their son. "We have no doubt that Caleb will be a totally self-sufficient adult. We expect him to grow up and marry and have children. The only problem he has is that he can't see. But there is nothing to keep him from being a very successful adult. We intend to see he gets the best education he can get," said his mother.
Both parents are involved in all of Caleb's activities. They are learning Braille and encouraging Caleb to learn Braille by reading such books as a Sesame Street book on the A-B-C's. "His vision teacher Brailled sticky paper with every letter on each page. Another book is called a Twin Vision book. While you read the nursery rhymes to him, he feels the Braille. He doesn't know what it says, but this is getting his fingers accustomed to the feel of Braille."
The Elliotts are charter members of the NFB support group for parents with visually impaired children. "Caleb is a typical 3-year-old. He is typical in every way except that he can't see. To him that's not a problem," said his mother, a licensed vocational nurse, who works for a physician at the Wichita Falls Clinic. Being blind from birth, Caleb can go anywhere in the house," said his father, a system operator with TU Electric. "He can tell you about anything in the house." Caleb still has light perception, and that helps him with balance and mobility. Sometimes he trails the wall with his hand when he goes down the hall, said his mother. They have taught him to keep his hands out so he won't bump into things. He uses a small cane when he goes outside and when the family goes to the mall or to a restaurant. In the near future his parents hope to buy a computer for him, with both Braille and regular printers.
Caleb and his parents enjoy unusual rapport. As they sat together for photographs in Caleb's room, they chatted and laughed, and Caleb kept up a running commentary about his "new toy," a balloon toy that "replaced an `ailing' Kermit." The youngster runs over to the toy box in his room and pulls out a toy. As he does with most objects, he feels for the toy, puts it to his nose to smell, then to his mouth, and then to his ear to check the sound.
Dale and Ann Elliott said they have learned a great deal from Caleb and his acute senses of touch, sound, and smell. "When we turn into our driveway, he says, `We're home.' It's a `soft ride,' because our driveway is smooth," in contrast to some of the rural roads around their house, Mrs. Elliott explained. "He can't see the mountains or the sky, everything that is beautiful," said Dale Elliott. "...But we went to Ruidoso on vacation last October. He just loved the mountains, the babbling brooks, the smell of the pine cones, the smell of the pine trees, and the feel of it all. He can probably tell you more about the mountains now than most people who go there."
Elliott's eyes brimmed with tears. "The first year he was blind, I would pray every night that the Lord would restore his vision. And now I pray every night, `Thank you, God, for giving me such a fine boy."