Future Reflections Sept./ Oct./ Nov.1984, Vol. 3 No. 4

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THE PRE-SCHOOL CHILD WHO IS BLIND
Excerpts from a U.S. government brochure

He needs what all children need

There are certain things that every child needs. He needs to know that he is loved and wanted and is an important member of the family. He needs to be able to help himself and have others recognize that he can. He needs to know that happy feeling of getting something done well. He needs to grow continually in ablility to direct his own play. Blind children need these things as much as other children.

And he needs good health. In addition to general care by a physician, a blind child needs the care of an ophthalmologist (a doctor who specializes in conditions of the eye). From the ophthalmologist parents can learn what their child's eye condition means. Sometimes blind children need other professional help. If so, your physician or ophthalmologist may suggest that you seek help from another professional worker, such as a psychiatrist, a social worker, a public health nurse. Good mental and emotional health go hand in hand with good physical health in making a happy child.

For the first few months all that any baby needs is food, sleep, and fondling. Picking him up, holding him close, carrying him about with you gives a feeling of being loved and safe.

He is born with the urge to begin reaching out and moving about. But seeing nothing, he needs to be encouraged to reach and move through voices, other sounds, and a variety of things to handle. Thus his inborn curiosity can lead naturally to his growth and development.

As a start, he needs to be moved from place to place more than you would move a child who can see. And he likes to hear conversation between others and to have people talk to him. He can be propped up with pillows a little each day at about the same time that any baby enjoys being propped up. If he knows that there is a string across his crib that toys are attached to, he will begin reaching and hitting at them.

Some parents are slow in playing with their blind baby. They don't joggle him on their knee or pick him up even. Babies enjoy such play and attention whether they can see or not. They may be little but they are not fragile and enjoy a romp with their mother or father. Always let your baby know that you are going to pick him up. He may be startled if suddenly he is lifted without warning.

Help him get started

Some parents keep their blind baby in his crib too long -- weeks after he begins moving himself about, pulling himself up by the rail. They are afraid he might hurt himself when be begins to roam. Even when they place him on the floor he usually has no more space than a playpen. A playpen is fine but see to it that he doesn't stay there too long. Most blind babies can make good use of the outside of a playpen. They use it to walk around and pull up on. As soon as thay can sit up and touch the floor, some like a stroller. Your baby may need encouragement to begin making little side trips -- to feel the rug and the smooth floor, the train of little wooden cars you will put there for him, the grass out of doors. Don't force him. One day he may not be interested in trying something, may even refuse to have anything to do with it. The next day or two he may want to try it. Accept his feeling in this regard.

A child who can see reaches out and goes to what he wants. A blind child doesn't reach out into the unknown unless he has reason to. A voice or some sound that interests him -- like a little bell -- may be just the thing to start him going. Some parents attract him with a favored toy, or guide him along with only a slight touch. Until a blind child in moving about in a room or place that he is accustomed to, he is limited in what he can explore and examine -- two of the best ways by which babies add to their knowledge. Moving about gives him exercise, too.

He uses other senses

The blind child depends on hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling for what he learns and does. After a while he will be using these senses to better advantage than the seeing child does.

The child who can see uses his eyes, ears, and fingers working together. He hears his mother tell him what she is going to do and watches her drop a toy into a box. He sees how it is done as he hears how it is done and imitates.

For the blind child, ears and fingers must work together. He must hear or feel what to do. Parents often have to help by building up his interest. That takes longer. And it takes a great deal more patience and ingenuity for the parent. Parents could save time and it would be much easier if they did everything for their blind child. But then he would never learn to do things, for we only learn by doing. He would always expect things to be done for him. Also, he wouldn't know how to do things for himself. He wouldn't like this either.

Share his pleasures with him

Give your child a chance to do a thing and time to do it in. Encourage him to try new things. When he learns something, like a new word, pulling off his sock, or helping mother set the table, share his pleasure with him. That will make him want to keep on trying other things.

He can learn almost everything that a sighted child can. He can learn to do things safely that you at first thought were impossible for him, like running, roller skating, riding a tricycle. He will have many bumps, but he will learn to take them -- if you don't make too much fuss over them. All babies take bumps. Some more than others. Some parents of a blind child think that every time their child falls down it is due only to his not being able to see. Most of the time it is just what takes place when any baby begins to get his balance, walk, and move about.

Try to give him many opportunities to do things for himself. Let him get first hand information by his own investigations. Give him something to occupy his mind and hands. Like all babies, he will like papers to crumple and tear, a nest of hollow blocks, pie pans, or a lid to bang with.

A child learns much from his toys and playthings. Today many of the toys on the market are made for that purpose: a small set of tools, dolls with clothes, tea sets, the little autos, busses, airplanes.

Frequently the sighted child understands a toy's use at once, having seen a bigger model used by grown-ups. The blind child may have heard the hammer or saw, ridden on a bus, heard an airplane, but has no true idea of what they are really like. As he handles a toy, explain it to him.

But don't be surprised if he gets more pleasure out of using a toy in a way other than that intended by the salesman. Sighted children do this, too. Rather than rolling his auto back and forth, he may prefer to turn it over and spin its wheels. A child doesn't always follow store bought directions.

As you feed and dress your child or give him something to play with, talk to him about it. For example, say something like this: "Now, we'll put on your coat. Hold out your arm." As you start to pick him up, prepare him saying: "Up we go." In this way, he learns the meaning of words and connects them with what is being done. When you say, "Here's your toast," he will reach out for it. Use the words that seeing people use. "Here, Mary, look at this doll's pretty dress." "Tom, let's go out in the yard and see the flowers."

But when you say such things, let Mary "look" at the dress by feeling it. Let Tom "see" the flowers by smelling them. Our hands can tell us the difference between wool and satin. Our nose can tell us the difference between a rose and a carnation, just as surely as our eyes.

Give him many experiences

Everything your child does, everywhere he goes, everything he handles and learns about -- in other words, every experience -- helps him in his gaining of knowledge. Take him with you to the grocery store, the park, the woods, the brook, the zoo, the museum, the church, the concert, the hardware store, the neighbor's house, the library, a restaurant, the beach, a filling station, the place where daddy works.

....

child and expresses pity because their little boy or girl is blind. The stranger may even want to give money or candy to the child.

Inconsiderate and thoughtless words and acts of the sighted toward a blind person are due to ignorance. The general public knows and understands little about blindness, and much of what it believes is untrue. As one mother put it: "It took me a long time to learn not to be irritated. But now I can honestly say to my boy: "They don't mean any harm. It's just that they don't know."

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