Future Reflections          Winter/Spring 2008

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Devastated

by Amber Bobnar

Editorís Note: Ever notice how tricky language can be? You said one thing that you thought was perfectly clear, then discover that it was interpreted entirely differently than you had intended. Amber Bobnar, mother of a blind son and creator of the <www.WonderBaby.org> Web site, deals with nuances in attitudes and beliefs about blindness in the following piece that might be misinterpreted if not read carefully and thoughtfully. I hope you will give it that attention.

Amber knows that just because Ivan can do anything, it doesnít mean he must do everything. Ivan enjoys the freedom to explore. In this case, he takes the opportunity to explore a Braillewriter with his mother, Amber.Devastated. I hear that word a lot: ďWhen we first discovered our son was blind we were devastated.Ē I understand that. Iíve experienced it myself. But itís funny how now, over two years after the so-called devastation, itís hard to imagine that I ever felt that way. My son Ivan seems so perfect and so full of potential and possibilities.

But there certainly was a time when all I could think about were all the things Ivan would not be able to do as a blind child. Heíll never blow bubbles, fly a kite, or watch Sesame Street. Probably because coloring was always a favorite activity for me as a child, I kept returning to the thought that he would never color in a coloring book. How could a blind child possibly have fun with colors?

Eventually I realized that I was really stuck in the world of canít, so I began trying to think more positively. I started to say to myself, ďIvan can do anything he wants to do! He can color, fly a kite, go to the movies, play sports, and whatever else he puts his mind to.Ē This is a much better attitude, but it also has a dangerous down side that I almost got caught up in. Itís hard to remember that itís possible to be too positive. Not only will Ivan definitely face limitations (as we all do), I also risked pushing him into activities just for the sake of proving that my blind child can do all that a sighted child can do. I suddenly pictured myself forcing Ivan to play soccer or color in that coloring book just because thatís what all the normal kids are doing. It made me shudder.

I didnít want to foster the attitude that Ivan can do things simply because I desperately need him to do those things. I see this with parents of blind children every day. They push their children to fit in or to participate in activities that donít interest them simply for the benefit of the parents.

I think itís very important to remember: My child will do what he wants to do because he wants to do it or because it benefits him in some way.

Now I try to be more realistic in my expectations of Ivan. With coloring, for example, I still think that this is something Ivan can do, but now I think about how we can make the activity as entertaining and beneficial for him as possible.

Ivan, embracing life and experiencing all that it has to offeróespecially enjoying lifeís occasional photo-op.Activities like coloring and painting are good for Ivan because they strengthen his hands, encourage grasp, and facilitate wrist rotation. Theyíre fun because there are more elements to coloring and painting than just the visual; crayons and paints, for example, have a distinct smell and feel.

Also, since Ivan is blind, we can experiment with different ways to make coloring and painting exciting for him. We can finger paint with pudding, then eat our art; we can draw with scented markers; we can place sandpaper under our drawing paper so that the crayon marks are raised; or we can make art with strings, buttons, curled lengths of paper, and other three-dimensional objects. Whatever we do, it will be beneficial because we will explore Ivanís other senses while encouraging him to participate in those normal childhood activities. And most importantly, it will be fun because weíll only do it if Ivan finds it enjoyable.

I do believe that Ivan can do almost anything and that nearly any activity presents some sort of learning opportunity. The only way Ivan will learn about the world is through interacting with it. Of course, Ivan may not be interested in art at all; he may be more of an action kind of guy, and thatís fine, too. We wonít discourage him from running or riding a bike any more than we would discourage him from playing with paints and crayons.

Remember that your child is a child first. Donít think of your child as primarily a blind or handicapped child. The disability is an integral part of who he or she is but does not define who he or she is as a person. Some kids like to draw and others donít; some kids like to run and others donít. Let your child explore the world in his or her own unique way, encourage this exploration, but donít push him or her into activities just because it will make you feel better about the disability.

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