American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Winter 2016       EARLY CHILDHOOD

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Listening to the Leaves

by Carole Conrad

An autumn scene shows a beech tree with orange leaves and fallen leaves on the ground.From the Editor: Parents often struggle to imagine how their blind children perceive the world. They grieve for the visual beauty that will always be absent from their lives. However, parents may underestimate the wealth of information that blind children can absorb with their remaining senses. In this article, the mother of a blind three-year-old awakens to the richness of her daughter's world of sound. This article, along with a trove of other resources for parents of blind children, can be found at <www.nfb.org/nopbc>, the webpage of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children.

Sara, the most exciting thing happened to me today! I want so much to tell you all about it and share my excitement with you, but at three years of age you wouldn't understand the significance of my discovery. So I'll share it with you by writing it now, and perhaps by reading it to you when you are older.

You were right, Sara; I heard the leaves fall today. I was sitting right here on our cement front steps, looking over our large front lawn, when I heard it. The autumn breeze was stiff, and the giant oaks that line our yard let go of their first dry, brown leaves of October. They have done this for hundreds of years, but today was different--at least for me--because today I heard it.

Ever since we learned how seriously impaired your beautiful blue eyes are, I have tried to teach you more about our world. I've struggled to explain what clouds look like and why I can see across a pond but not across Lake Michigan. I've tried to tell you about the beauty of trees and the rich green of springtime. And oh, how we've argued! You say the trees are fighting; I say the wind moves them so that their branches bump into one another. You say the summer leaves are brown at the treetops and green further down. I say all the leaves are green until fall, at which time they all turn to brown. And I've tried to explain that we don't hear leaves fall; we see them.

Today as I sat alone on the step, I shut my eyes and listened. It was one of those rare moments when I didn't need to be anywhere or do anything. I just listened. And then I heard them. I heard the leaves rustle in the air as they fell, bumping into each other. When they reached their destination, they tumbled across each other as the breeze stirred them. They skidded stiffly across the drive, scraping their thin yet rigid points. And acorns dropped from the sky to land on the grass with a soft but audible thud.

I can hear without straining now. I just needed to tune down my own thoughts so that I could hear. My closed eyes filled with tears as I listened.

I have tried, oh so hard, to see as you do so that I can help you understand things as they really are. I have shut one eye and squinted the other nearly closed to try to experience what you see. But I can't. And I realized today that my objective had been to teach you the difference between the incorrect perceptions you acquire and the reality that the rest of us observe. But today, when I heard the leaves fall (much as you probably hear them), I understood something. You have a lot to teach me, little girl. You hear things, feel things, and experience things in ways different yet not always less correctly than I do.

I will never experience what you do. You always hear trains coming before anyone else does. You continually amaze me when you identify the voices of individual children as they play together in our back yard. And only you can tell those neighborhood identical twins apart.

You have something special, little Sara. You don't see much anymore, but God has given you perceptions that I can't understand. Thank you for sharing a little bit of your gift with me. Thank you for insisting that I listen . . . to the leaves.

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