Future Reflections Convention 1992, Vol. 11 No. 5

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FITTING IN: WHAT PARENTS CAN DO

     From the Editor: In the last issue of Future Reflections (Fall, 1992) we published an article entitled "Fun, Friends, and Fitting In." Readers may remember that the article was a collection of speeches given by blind youth at the 1992 Parents Seminar. The seminar agenda also had a panel of parents talking about the same topic, but from the perspective of parents. The panel consisted of: Mike Freeman of Washington, a blind father of an adopted blind child; Martin Greiser of Montana, father of twins (one of whom is blind) and a POBC officer; Loretta White, president of the POBC of Maryland and the mother of a multiply handicapped, blind child; Julie Hunter, president of the POBC of Colorado and the mother of a blind, hearing impaired teenage daughter; Kathy Watts of Arkansas (formerly of North Carolina) newly elected POBC board member;  and Sunny Emerson, long-time NFB parent leader in Michigan and also a newly elected POBC board member. There is not enough space to reprint each speech (although all were informative and inspiring), but here is the edited text of the presentations given by two of the panel members, Kathy Watts and Sunny Emerson.

KATHY WATTS
Arkansas

     First of all, let me introduce myself. My name is Kathy Watts. I would like to begin by saying that you have already taken one of the most important steps in your child's future, by being here and by joining the National Federation of the Blind.

     My son Brian is eight years old and has been blind since birth. When he was eight weeks old I took him in for a routine check-up. The doctor said he had strabismus and wanted to admit him to the hospital for a neurological checkup. Through the suggestion of a friend, I took Brian to an Ophthalmologist. In a very  matter of fact way, he said, "Your son is blind, but don't worry; there will be a lot of things he can do." At that moment I felt overwhelmed and scared. And then a friend said to me, "You can look at this in one of two ways, as a tragedy or as a blessing. The choice is yours." It may sound like a simple statement, but it really made a difference in how I perceived the situation. Back to the topic of helping our kids fit in.

     The first area I would like to talk about is education. If your child is going to be a Braille reader, I feel it is of the utmost importance to have a Braille certified vision teacher. Some professionals believe a resource room teacher can receive adequate Braille instruction to, in turn, teach your child Braille skills. I don't want to frighten you (parents) away from Braille because you will be able to learn it. But when it is being taught to our children I feel it needs to be taught by an experienced teacher.

     I have tried to help my child fit in by being involved in the development of IEP's which specifically address the needs of my child. Each IEP becomes more involved as I gain more knowledge through workshops and seminars such as this one.

     Another thing I want to talk about is the physical abilities of our blind children. Besides games that are adapted for the blind, why not try some games that are created for the blind, such as goal ball and beep ball? It was an exhilarating experience, the first time I saw a goal ball match, to see blind people coming together in such a physical sport without adaptations. I feel by challenging our children physically as well as emotionally, it builds self-esteem. Try not to limit your children by your own fears. I've tried to help Brian fit in by encouraging him to participate in activities such as goal ball, beep ball, bowling and, Brian's favorite, roller skating. There are various organizations that can lead you to information regarding some of these activities.

     Something else I've tried to encourage in my child is a sense of accomplishment. From early on we've praised him for all the things he's tried, from walking and riding a bike to being accepted in the academically gifted program for the upcoming school year. I believe I helped develop this sense of achievement by becoming a den leader and helping Brian become involved in Cub Scouts, and then sharing his enthusiasm as he participated in Pinewood Derby and earned badges for various achievements.

     In closing I want to say something about the treatment of your child. Don't be afraid to stand up for your child's rights. Remember, you are your child's best advocate. By standing up for your child's rights you teach him to stand up for himself. As far as expectations go, expect as much from your blind child as you would from any child. Let them experience as much as safely possible, even though the possibility exists that they may fail. Please give them that chance.

SUNNY EMERSON
Michigan

     If you are like our family you knew next to nothing about blindness when you were blessed with your blind child. You had new concerns, new fears, and lots of new words.

     Here you will have the opportunity to observe and meet and learn from people who have been walking in the same shoes our children walk in. There is no need for us to reinvent the wheel for every situation that arises. By coming to these conventions, reading Future Reflections, watching and speaking with blind adults at your chapter or state meetings, and honestly accepting your child as he really is, you will know more about what type of education your child needs than many professionals.

     This is your child. You love him more than anyone does. He is part of your family and always will be. Don't turn him over to any system and let them make all the decisions for you. Find out your child's interests and talents and deficit areas (that's one of those new words we learned) and help and encourage him.

     Our son Adam began his education at the age of six months in the early intervention visually impaired program. They told us he was very bright and at age three they recommended a private school in another county.

     But no one told us our son was legally blind. When he was two years old we read about it in the newspaper. We thought visually impaired meant that you wore glasses, or had crossed eyes, or that you had eyes that moved around a lot (nystagmus).

     Now we started investigating everything about blindness we could find. Fortunately, our other four children were grown and we had only Adam at home, so we could do a lot of running. Again, no one told us about the NFB. We found out about it when we read a small announcement in our newspaper and attended our first NFB meeting. It changed our life.

     We saw blind people running a business meeting, and the Braille users were much more efficient than those who covered their faces and maneuvered to get in the right light while using large print notes. We saw people getting around independently using canes or dogs. We saw families just like ours, only some members were blind. We also saw people who had never had the opportunity to learn the skills of blindness or social skills. We now knew what we wanted for our son.

     So at our next IEP meeting we asked that Adam receive Braille and cane travel instruction at the new private school. Little did we know that we were in for more pain, humiliation, struggle, and frustration than ever before in our lives. And we had already raised four teenagers.

     First, we had problems getting our son in the recommended private school (they were afraid their insurance would go up). But they did allow Adam to attend the school in a one-month trial (but not until October so the teacher could get the other children started). After that they said they would try one semester; then one year. Every year it was a new battle.

     His teacher let us know it wasn't fair that he sit next to her all the time in order to see the pictures in the books she was reading, as recommended by the teacher of the visually impaired. Furthermore, his Visualtek (a brand name for a closed circuit T.V. magnifier) and other equipment was taking up too much space in her classroom. He was five years old.

     We have always been able to get any equipment and aids for Adam to use, free of charge, from our school system, including tape recorders, typewriter, Braille writer, Braille 'n Speak and all types of visual aids (how to get a small child to juggle all this is another thing)--but never a slate and stylus.

     One of the easiest and best things we ever did for Adam was to teach him to type when he was four or five years old. I ran across an article in a women's magazine on how to learn to type in a few short lessons and used that article to teach him to type before we would let him use our new talking computer. It wasn't hard, just keep those fingers on home row and add a few new keys every day. It is well worth your time and effort. Since then we have found this book Type It, by Joan Duffy, which also teaches reading and spelling skills while you type. I'm using it with our grandchildren.

     Adam has always been able to turn in classroom work along with his peers because of his typing skills. He also writes longer articles and reports then when trying to use handwriting, which is very difficult to decipher.

     At age six we were thrilled when our son got his magnification glasses and could handle print, but we couldn't see why the teachers certified to teach Braille refused to instruct him in Braille. No matter how much we reasoned, begged, and cried they refused. They insisted our legally blind child was a visual learner. This sounded like gobbledygook to us, but not until we invited NFB in to advocate for us at our IEP meeting were we able to get Braille instruction for Adam. Or so we thought.

     By the way, do you know what they call the students majoring in education of the visually impaired, who graduate at the bottom of the class? TEACHERS. Be sure they are not working with your child.

     Every year we had a new teacher/consultant for Adam because no one wanted to teach him Braille. And every teacher let Adam know that he would never use Braille--it was too hard, and he didn't need it because he could see. He didn't need a cane either, but his parents insisted. So, the mobility teacher (whom our son loved) said he would never work with our child again. We have never been able to quit a teacher, but they sure kept quitting us.

     Our son loves learning and admires educators, so what they tell him has a big impact on his life.

     Having Braille instruction on the IEP does not mean your child is receiving proper instruction. Sometimes it means being set up for failure. Although Braille was on Adam's IEP since age three, we had to wait until he was ten before we got someone who worked with him consistently and effectively.

     Only with the help of the NFB advocates were we able to get teachers for our son that would teach him Braille and cane travel in a positive way. Remember the squeaky wheel gets the oil.

     Still, our son was set up for failure in Braille because the intermediate school system would not allow enough time for the Braille teacher/consultants. So we worked on Braille reading at home, using Braille-print books from the Library of Congress.

     Now we read a chapter from the Bible every day in Braille and sometimes do spelling on the slate and stylus. I have never met a blind child who's making it who hasn't received a lot of support from his family.

     There is more to life than school work. We must expect our children to have the same social graces and manners as other children, and the same limits. Love them and give them lots of hugs and kisses but don't do everything for them. They need to learn to do everything we know how to do around the house, and trial and error is a good way for them to learn.

     There are some things we wish we could do over. We always let Adam listen to talking books in the car, so now he doesn't know how he has gotten anywhere. Recently, we made him the official navigator, but he still prefers to read. This is another time where we will have to be firm.

     And how do we know Adam can learn this skill? Well, we have been the driver for blind adults who have told us the name of every exit as we are traveling on the expressway to our state capital; or given us directions to places we have never been before or have forgotten; or who have taken us to places for dinner and told us where the parking garage was located.

     Remember, parents, be positive and use common sense. Parenting a blind child does not need to be complicated. They need our assurance that we can all have fun sometimes doing things a little differently. Your attitude and those around you and your child will make all the difference.

     Stay for the entire convention. There are seminars and division meetings for everything you or your child may be interested in. And remember, if the people here can do it, so can our children. We can learn from them the most effective ways to reach our goals for our children, as well as answers to questions and situations we have yet to encounter.

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