Future Reflections Fall 1995, Vol. 14 No. 3

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THE HELPING HAND SYNDROME

by Shirley Osman

Reprinted from the volume 11, number 1 issue of VIP Newsletter, published by the Blind Children's Fund.

Last weekend Paul, a nine-year-old congenitally blind boy stayed with me. His stay could have turned into a blind child's worst nightmareCspending the weekend with his rehabilitation teacher! I found that I soon grew tired of and would not accept, the child's response "I can't" or "I need help." The rehab teacher in me said, "You can do it yourself."

Blind and visually impaired children seem to grow up with a crew of well-intentioned adults, who, like a cloud of helicopters, hover ready to rescue them from any danger or difficulty that they might encounter. It is much easier to do for the child than to watch him struggle, or to teach him to do things for himself. It is also faster. The blind child learns to expect and accept help gracefully and willingly. However, this helping hand syndrome causes substantial delays in problem-solving skills, self-help skills, and socialization skill.

Paul is a typical blind child with no other disabilities. He does, however, have delays in certain areas, particularly those mentioned above. When I agreed to take Paul for the weekend, I did not realize that I would establish goals for him. I soon found that my primary goal was to teach him to resist the helping hand which is continually being extended to him.

Since expecting to be helped was simply a habit which Paul had been dragged into, it was necessary to replace this habit with an alternative. I asked Paul, "What do you say when someone says `I'll do it for you'?" Paul replied simply "O.K." I said, "Nope, wrong answer." Pretty soon, even when I said, "I'll do it for you," he would say, "I can do it myself," and usually he did.

On Friday night, Paul worried and worried about who would help him with getting dressed. He probably knew that as his teacher, I had taught him how to dress himself and that I expected him to get dressed independently. He was absolutely right, but doubted his own abilities.

That night, when changing into his pajamas, Paul did run into a little difficulty, but I was able to talk him through his problem. Again on Saturday morning, he had some trouble with his shirt. He recognized that he had put the article of clothing on wrong, and stopped, waiting for the helicopter of help to swoop down and finish dressing him. I simply said, "You know it's on wrong, so, what do you have to do?"

"Take it off?"

"Right answer! So do it." He did, and with a little verbal instruction, was able to dress himself. The rest of the weekend Paul did not ask for assistance when changing clothes.

My second goal was to teach Paul a few age-appropriate games that he could master and could compete in competently. It is no fun for him if he always loses the game, and no fun for peers if they always win, or have to let Paul win. We began with some simple ones: Go Fish, the Baseball game (from APH) and UNO.

During the UNO game, I was trying to test his ability to resist the helping hand. When someone laid down a "Draw Two" card, drew Paul's cards, and handed them to him, he did ask (and I was pleased) "Why couldn't I draw my cards myself?" So I explained (as I am sure others will) that he is just too slow and that the game will go faster if he lets me draw for him. "O.K." he said.

"No, Paul, wrong answer! You have to tell people that you won't ever get faster if you don't get to try yourself." Throughout the rest of the card game, he drew for himself and resisted my attempts to intervene.

In less than 48 hours of "Yes you can" rather than "Let me do it" Paul became more independent and more self-assured. Will the effects of the weekend last? Only time will tell. Kay Farrell said it best, "Independence training begins at infancy, not at age two, or six, or when college is imminent." Every parent, every teacher, and every person working with children with visual disabilities must instill in them a resistance to the helping hand

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