(back) (contents) (next)
by Pauletta Feldman
Editor's note: The following article is reprinted from the June I July, 1988, Visually Impaired Preschool Services Parents Newsletter, Louisville, Kentucky.
My blind son, Jamie, just turned four in March and is completing his first full year of preschool. This past year has been one of great strides in skill development for Jamie and has laid to rest many of my worries and frustrations. There have been so many times that I've anguished about his seeming delays, what I've done wrong if they still exist, what I should do right to get him moving along. But it's always turned out that Jamie, in his own time, has solved my. problems. When he was ready for a skill, he developed it. I'm certainly not trying to minimize the impact of early intervention and providing opportunities for stimulation and learning; it's just that I'm beginning to realize that sometimes I have to wait for Jamie to respond to them and have faith that he will.
As with most of you and your children, Jamie is our miracle baby. In fact, he's our double miracle baby. He was born three months premature, weighing in at one pound, 14 ounces. He was on 100 percent oxygen for 11 days and suffered severe retinal detachment and scarring. After surgery on both eyes, he has some light perception. I say Jamie is our double-miracle baby because not only is he alive, he is the baby we thought we could never have. He's adopted, and adopting a baby isn't easy these days.
Jamie came to us at 13 months of age. He had one tooth and was still on baby food. He could sit with a pillow propped behind him and scooted on his back to get around. My little niece, who is two weeks older than Jamie, was walking, eating everything in sight, and talking up a storm. Jamie was goo and babble, but had little means yet to communicate his wants. My only experience with babies and what they did at what ages was through the babies of family and friends, and in comparison, of course, Jamie was way behind. I didn't know much about what to expect of babies in general, and certainly not what to expect of a blind baby.
Getting involved in YIPS was certainly a great help in this matter. And through YIPS, I even- tually met some other mothers who had little boys who were visually impaired and about Jamie's age. Conversations with them helped so much, because what their kids were doing gave me a valid benchmark for viewing Jamie's development.
I guess that's why I'm writing this--to give those of you who may have younger blind children some of Jamie's benchmarks so that maybe you'll go easier on yourselves and maybe be able to worry a little less about your children than I did.
Jamie was about 16 months old before he started crawling. Stairs were a great motivator, and he'd crawl up steps before he'd crawl on the floor. At about 20 months, Jamie started walking without assistance. He was a slow walker. (He still is.) He was very tolerant of bumps and scrapes but had amazingly few accidents, probably because of the caution he used while walking slowly and because his light perception helped substantially in travelling between rooms. I can't take any credit for his orientation and mobility (O&M) techniques; the means he uses to travel about safely are uniquely his own. Initially, he walked with his arms extended straight out, like a sleep- walker, and didn't trail walls. Now he does trail and walks with one arm slightly bent and held chest-high (maybe not by the O&M books, but pretty effective at this point nevertheless). It is only recently that he felt comfortable to walk
down a single step without holding onto me or a rail, and now he's jumping down the three steps from our front porch all by himself. He's not yet very comfortable with running. He has become a real climber, (a stage I thought I might get to miss).
It was also at about 16 months that Jamie started saying recognizable words. By the age of two, he had a vocabulary of 273 words and 13 phrases. I know these statistics because it was at this time he was approaching an assessment that had been recommended by a doctor we had seen once and who felt that he was very delayed. I was feeling very defensive about having anyone underes- timate how great Jamie really was, and so for about a week, I walked around the house with a notebook documenting his every utterance. He may have been delayed in some areas, but I don't think language is one of them, something which came as a surprise to me because I thought it would be hard to learn to speak clearly without being able to watch how others speak. In fact, I think Jamie's strongest skills are verbal; he loves words and the richness of language.
While Jamie has always liked talking, it is only during the past year that he has really taken an interest in talking to people outside his im- mediate family. He'd be very conversant with us, but tended to sit back and listen and not get in- volved in conversations when other grownups or children were around. When he did talk to other people, it would often be with his back turned to them and in an almost inaudible voice. He's get- ting a lot more social. He's wanting to play with, rather than just alongside, other children and is starting to verbally take up for himself. And not just verbally. I've seen him engaged in a tug- of- war over a toy and use a defensive pinch here and there when wronged--a sight to behold when your child has passively sat by while other kids have taken toys from him. He has started initiat- ing conversations with others, asking, "Who are you?" or "What's your name?" and what a thrill I felt when just a few days ago I noticed him for the first time consciously turn to face someone who had spoken to him.
Self-help skills have seemed especially slow in coming for Jamie (or maybe I should say for me). Not having those skills has seemed to prolong his babyhood and to impact the way other adults and children have related to him. That has bothered me--having others treat my toddler like a baby. But Jamie just needed a little extra time.
Jamie didn't totally feed himself independently until about 3- 1/2. It wasn't until three weeks before his fourth birthday that he started dressing independently, while I gave assistance in handing his clothes to him. Now, I'm just laying his things out, and he puts them on and surprises me.
Something happened recently that truly made me realize that I have been the source of a lot of my worry and frustration over Jamie. I had come to the decision that I would leave potty- training to Jamie's future wife. Five days after his fourth birthday, Jamie decided to be potty-trained--and he was in less than a week, and night trained in two weeks. Yesterday I found him in the bathroom twice getting on the toilet himself without telling me he had to go and having me run into the bathroom with him. My baby has become a real big boy. I have a potty chair, no longer needed, that plays "how dry I am" if anyone's interested.
Lately I'm feeling like the sky's the limit. Oh, I know we'll hit those plateaus again when it doesn't seem that we're getting anywhere or getting there too slowly. But the point is, that although it may have taken a while for Jamie to acquire his skills, he has mastered them quickly. Every day, he's seeming more like the average kid. I think we're beginning to catch up.
POSTSCRIPT: Pauletta informs me that Jamie, now five years old, has just started cane travel lessons. Needless to say, Jamie, his parents, and his cane travel teacher are delighted that Jamie is taking this next big step toward independence and maturity.
(back) (contents) (next)