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by Deanna Scoggins
Editor's Note: This article is reprintedfrom Fall, 1987 issue of Kid-Bits, a newsletter published by the Kentucky School for the Blind.
When people ask me if I have been blind all my life, sometimes I answer, "Not yet." Really, I was born with ROP (Retinopathy of Prematurity), or as it was called then -- RLF (Retrolental fibroplasia). I have no visual memory.
When I was small, I would hear people talk about my being blind. I would ask what that meant. "It means you can't see," people would answer. So I tried to figure out what that meant. I decided that being blind meant that I could not read and that I bumped into things. So there were times when I set out to become sighted. I learned to read the capital alphabet letters from my ABC blocks, and I practiced for hours walking around slowly enough so as not to hit anything. "Does all this mean that now I can see?", I would ask. "No," my brother said. "But you did a pretty good job of pretending."
Then there was the day that, as a teenager, I was not going to "look blind." I was going to walk without a cane and do everything just the way everyone else did. So I walked without my cane, and bumped into a hundred things. I felt miserable the whole time. But I was still going to "look sighted." So in church, when everyone else got a hymnal, I also picked one up. I turned what I thought was the appropriate number of pages. "You have that book upside down," a neighbor said to me. I then decided that I was through pretending.
The time I most remember about rationalizing blindness happened to me when I was five. I was going to church with a family who had a three-year-old named Pat. "There's a bus ahead of us," Pat said. "And it's full of other kids." "There's no bus," I said. We continued to argue about this and I just knew I was right. "Is there a bus?" I asked Pat's mom. "Yes" she replied. "Why did she know this and she's only three, and I didn't know and I'm five?" I asked. This was really a blow to my rather large ego, and I was perplexed. "Well," said Pat's mom, "she knew because she could see the bus." "Oh, I see it now," I rationalized. "I forgot to look." Pat's mom didn't say any more. She knew that I had had all I could handle at the time, and that I would figure everything out later.
I then knew that other people were getting information in a way that I was not. I could no longer rationalize that. I had to decide what to do. I could either accept myself and be happy, or I could go around waiting for pity and handouts. I decided that I was more like Pat and the other children than I was different, and that if I was going to be the best person I could be, I had better spend my time getting some of this information that I was missing. I am now a teacher at the Kentucky School for the Blind and am very happy. I think we all have shortcomings, and there might still be a few things I don't know that sighted adults have known most of their lives. When I learn something new, I will just be filling in a gap.
When we talk to children and help them to face the reality of their situation, I think it is important to let them rationalize some. It is a part of figuring out who they are and how they fit in. However, it is very important that they not blame everything on their visual impairment. I did this very often until someone pointed out that being in a bad mood in the morning had nothing to do with being blind, it was just the way I was. I can't reach high places because I'm short. I can play the piano because I have musical ability. Reaching high places and playing the piano have nothing to do with having a visual impairment.
I wish my parents and I had talked more about blindness and what not being able to see meant. That would have avoided some misperceptions and my asking my cousins and friends some strange questions. Don't be afraid to talk about blindness, and help your child realize that visual impairment is a part, but not the most important part, of them. Let's not forget to look at visually impaired children as children who are more like their peers than they are different.
(About our contributer: Deanna Scoggins is a teacher of Special Class II at the Kentucky School for the Blind. She received her B.S. from Georgetown College and her certification in vision through the University of Louisville.)
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