Future Reflections October 1981, Vol. 1 No. 1
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By Susan Ford
(Editors note: Mrs. Ford, blind since birth, lives in Montana with husband John, a daughter, and a foster son. Their foster son is also blind, and the Fords hope to adopt him soon. Susan has a Master of Arts degree in the Education of Visually Impaired children and is the chairperson of the National Federation of the Blind Committee on Parental Concerns.)
No. That is my first reaction when someone asks me if blind children
require special toys. But it is also well to add that toys should not be
bought indiscriminately. You as the parent of the blind child will want to give the toys you buy some thought, if for no other reason than lots of other people will give your kids toys, and the ones you buy ought to be especially appropriate.
So what are the special things you ought to consider when buying or recommending toys to be used by a blind child? First, and you might say obviously, you want something which is stimulating to the child; and remember, what stimulates a sighted child might have no attraction for a blind child. Many blind kids love noises; some of them love textures; some of them love smells; some of them like to manipulate things. So first, know your child. Some noises may frighten a child at first, so I wouldn't get a toy with loud or peculiar noises for a child who frightens easily. Some children are very touchy about certain textures. Cold objects, for instance, may be repulsive to some kids. If that is the case, you'd better stay away from metallic things for a while. Remember, what frightens a child at one year may be extremely exciting for him by the time he/she is three. Some stuffed toys are nicer than others, the longhaired kind might shed enough to get fuzz in a child's mouth, and that wouldn't be attractive. Many blind children may continue to explore objects with their mouths while their sighted playmates have discontinued that method, and are using their vision more. Just as you would with any child, make sure there are no small pieces which can come off. With my blind child, even things which might not be expected to come off seem to do so. Buttons off upholstery, glitter off Christmas cards, thumb tacks out of bulletin boards, the rings from the end of the strings of talking toys, even plaster off textured walls, all of them come off.
Let's talk about the child under one year. It may seem easiest to keep the child in his crib much of the time. Don't! Let her be as free
to explore as your other children. She still needs to get used to your home all over. She will want you to talk to her so that she knows where you are. She may have already shown you that she prefers manipulating people to toys and she likes things with motion rather than things which she has to move to make work. Rocking chairs, walkers, swings, cradles, and rocking horses are fun. Colored blocks, colored water, mirrors, and mobiles that move with the breeze aren't. Sure, you should give a child with some vision bright-colored toys, and she will like them; but in all likelihood you won't know how much or how little your child sees, so work hard to arouse her interest through all her senses--not just through sight.
Now, think of a child a little older--the child who plays on the floor; the sighted child is into dolls and trucks and acting out the parts which they see adults playing. You must remember that your blind child only hears what goes on around him; he does not see what you do as you talk or move. Therefore, he must be shown the way toys and other objects are made to be used. He may not know that a truck should be pushed with its wheels on the floor. He may think it was made to rattle the wheels, or to swing on his thumbs, or to roll the wheels around with one hand. You must get down with him and physically show him how toys are made to be used. And if you want him to play with a toy as the other children do, you must show him over and over again the acceptable way to play with that toy. It may be that he would not always play with it as the other children do, but he should know how the toy was made to be used. I would suggest such toys as Lock Blocks, giant Legos, or Bristle Blocks for building. All of these have something which holds them together so that as the child builds, he won't knock his own project down. Also, the large building block-type boxes are fun. Kids can stand on them and jump off or carry smaller toys around in them, but they can also stack and build with them.
Don't let your child listen to the radio or record player all day long. Many blind children would like that, but as with any other child, they too, need physical exercise. Listening is important, but it can also be permitted to the exclusion of other important play activities. Be sure to use books with a blind child. He will love to hear you read. Some of your books for him should be the twin vision type books with both
print and Braille. Before he starts school, your child who will read Braille, should know what Braille feels like. He should know other
people who read Braille, and he should know that he can become a good reader in Braille.
As your child progresses in school he will want to play some table games. Many of these are available in an adapted form for blind people.
Checkers, chess, playing cards, Scrabble, Chinese checkers, Monopoly and others are available from the National Federation of the Blind or that office will be able to tell you where they are available. You can also encourage your child to put usable markings on his own games. Cards Braille readily. Contact paper will Braille well and make markings for some other table games.
And for your older child, don't forget things like the tandem bicycle, wrestling, square dancing and ballroom or other dancing, roller and ice
skating. These are active sports which your child can participate in. Track and field events are also good. Don't let the school tell you that
because he is blind your child cannot take active part in such activities.
It is difficult to mention things which blind children can use. Mostly, they need a little special help in introducing a toy, they like toys which talk or make other distinctive noises, they like listening and reading aloud, they like toys which move them such as rocking horses or riding toys, and they like climbing apparatus. Your child may want to sit back and listen to things for a while before he gets involved in new things, and you ought to let him do that, for a while. Mostly, just play it by ear. Use your head and encourage your child to do the things that your other children do.
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