Future Reflections Fall 1995, Vol. 14 No. 3
The following material is reprinted from Guide for Parents of Pre-School Visually Handicapped Children a booklet written by Dorothy Bryan.
Editor's Note: There is nothing mysterious or especially complicated about teaching blind children early independent skills. Parents who have toilet-trained a sighted child will notice, for example, almost no difference between the description below and the process they followed. There are a few adaptations and special considerations, but otherwise the process is the same.
It would be great if this were all we needed to say on the subject. It would save parents a lot of anxiety and fearCnot to mention the money, paper, and time which goes into this magazine for the benefit of parents. But the stereotypes of blindness die hard and besides, humans are contrary creatures. We want to be shown how something works, not just told it is so. Don't be surprised then if your reaction after you read the following article is, "But that's not so differentCit's just what you'd do with a sighted kid!" That's the point!
Ideas about when to start toilet training have changed from time to time. Most people concede that it is wise to wait until the child is old enough to understand what is expected of him. Regardless of when you start such training, you must guard against urging and pressuring your child if you want to avoid a long, drawn out training period. A child can easily develop a stubbornness about going to the bathroom if he is scolded for mistakes.
In preparation for training, you should let the child learn about the bathroom and how it is used. He will not observe others going and coming from the bathroom, or be in it with them incidentally, unless you make a point of giving him the experience. Let him go into the bathroom with you. Show him the fixtures. Flush the toilet (with the lid closed since it will be less noisy and less startling to him than when left open). Then let him flush the toilet as you tell him how the water carries away refuse. Explain that hands are washed after going to the toilet and help him learn how to turn on the tap, find the soap, and wash his own hands. Provide a stool upon which he can stand to be at the right height to do this. Speak of bodily functions in simple terms. Let him realize that people go to the bathroom to take care of bodily elimination.
If your child has fairly regular bowel movements, you can try putting him on his toilet seat about the time he usually appears to have need of it. A toilet chair that allows the child's feet to rest on the floor is considered better than a seat so high that his feet have no support. Do not leave him seated too long. Make no fuss over whether or not he has had a movement, but comment that it is good when he has had success.
Even after a child learns about the use of the bathroom, he will not be able to let you know he needs to go in time to avoid accidents. This is frustrating and requires patience, but is a normal part of training. He will learn to control his bowel movement before he gains bladder control. When he has an accident, put him on the toilet for a short time before changing him and explain that this is where he should go for elimination. Also, promptly put on dry underwear so he will realize how much more comfortable they are than the wet ones. Do not scold or punish him for accidents, but praise him when he tells you in time to use the toilet and does not have to be changed.
Toilet training for all children is a slow process with spurts of success and periods of regression. The more you can accept this calmly, the quicker and easier the training will be. Remember, learning to use the toilet does not require sight. The visually handicapped child is not slowed down through lack of vision. He is simply following the same pattern as other children. It requires time and patience to teach any child to remember to get to the bathroom in time to take care of his needs.
Instinctively a child begins undressing, pulling off socks and clothes before she is interested in putting them on. Even so, you can start preparation for learning to dress by telling her about her clothes (their color and use) as you put them on her, and handing her a sock or shoe to hold until you are ready for it. While telling her about each item, let her examine it by touch and by use of any sight she may have. From this, you can move into showing her how to do the simple things. Help her learn the right opening for each foot so that pants will pull up into the right place. Let her learn to hold up her arms for you to start over her head and guide her arms into the armholes. After you get her head and arms through her shirt or undershirt, let her pull it down.
When you start teaching her to put things on for herself, be sure to choose the simple, easy to manage clothes instead of the complicated ones that look attractive, but are not designed for the child to handle without your help. Place her clothes on a chair seat or the foot of a bed where she can reach them and help her learn which to put on first. She will have to be shown how to get her arms into the armholes and the different ways to do this when the garment opens, as compared with the one that goes over the head. They must learn how to find the front and back of pants so that they will fit as they should, then how to fit one foot and then the other into the legs before standing up to pull the garment into place. In the beginning, you may want to hand the pants to your child with the top toward her and turned in the right direction. Later, you can lay them out with the top facing the child so that she will pick them up in the easiest way for handling.
Choose socks that fit loosely so your child will not have to struggle to get them on. Show her how to feel the heel and be sure she gets it to the underside of her foot. Help her recognize the difference in the feel of the shape of the soles of her shoes so that she can tell which goes on which foot. This is not easy for a child who sees well, so you will need to work at this task for some time. Talk about which is right and which is left, and help her learn her right foot and hand from her left ones. Show her how she can place her hand on the bottom of her shoe when she is putting the shoe on to help get it in place by pushing as she shoves her foot forward.
While she is mastering the art of dressing, you should fasten things for her. Later, she can learn to tie, button, zip, and snap her clothes. Too many procedures at one time can be confusing for a child. Also, at this stage she is not ready for small muscle control required in fastening as much as she will be a little later. Teach her each thing as she appears to be ready for it if you want the learning to be as easy as possible.
When you note that some step in dressing seems particularly difficult for her, calmly give her suggestions as to how to do it. Break the process down into a step-by-step procedure so that she can learn the order in which she needs to attack the job. She is going to need much repetition before she gains the ability to dress and undress alone. Consistently see that she does what she can independently, and lend her a hand with the other areas of dressing. Tell and show her the way she can manage by herself next time. Praise her when she succeeds and do not show impatience when she fails. She is going to be frustrated by not getting into and out of things as quickly and easily as she would like to. Both of you will grow weary of the repetition essential to all of this learning.
You, however, must remember, that to gain respect for herself and have a feeling of worth, your child must become independent and able to rely upon herself. It would be simpler and easier for you to dress her than to try to show her how to do it herself. When time is at a premium, it is a temptation to take over. Remind yourself that when you do this, you retard her learning. Instead of saving time, you are wasting it. Later, you will be rewarded for your patience when you see your child grow evermore eager and able to manage for herself.