Future Reflections  Fall 2006

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Paving the Way for Friendships and Inclusion

by Barbara Cheadle and Wendy Nusbaum

Barbara Cheadle:

You’ve found (finally) a great childcare or preschool program that will enroll your child--and best yet, they seem enthusiastic and excited about the opportunity to have him or her. After a few weeks, however, you realize that the other kids don’t “get” it. Some kids totally ignore your child as if he or she were part of the furniture, and some kids are all over him or her in their eagerness to “help.” Some kids think it’s fun to play “guess who I am,” and others are like ghosts as they flit by and around your son or daughter, never speaking directly to him or her. You are at a loss. You want your child to fit in and make friends, but your son or daughter just isn’t mature enough yet to take on the entire task of educating his or her peers.

Christopher Nusbaum (center) with his mom and dad, Wendy and Mike, and some of his favorite characters from Disney.Wendy and Mike Nusbaum of Westminster, Maryland, and parents of eight-year-old Christopher Nusbaum, faced this problem several years ago, and came up with a solution that worked for their son. Wendy composed a letter to the parents of Christopher’s playmates and, with the cooperation of the childcare center administrators, sent the letter home with the kids. It turned out to be a simple, yet effective strategy. The parents of Christopher’s playmates followed Wendy’s advice and talked to their kids. Soon their behavior toward Christopher changed, giving Christopher a chance to make friends and become a part of the group. I’m absolutely certain Wendy isn’t the only parent who has done this, but she is the one who sent me a copy of her letter with permission to publish it.

Whether we like it or not, the task of educating others about blindness is an ongoing reality in the lives of every blind person of any age. For young blind children, most of that burden falls on us--the parents. But that burden can be a little lighter when we share, parent-to-parent, blind adult-to-parent, our stories and our solutions.

Over the years, Wendy has gone beyond letters to develop training sessions (in collaboration with Christopher’s Braille teacher) for Christopher’s new team of teachers each year. She is also always on the lookout for other places in the community where she can educate people, especially those who will interact with Christopher on a regular basis. In her church community, she and a couple of other mom’s of children with disabilities realized that they did not feel comfortable around each other’s children, so the three of them developed and conducted a training session for all church members.

Wendy and Mike belong to an ever-growing cadre of NFB parents who take the initiative to teach their communities about how to include their blind kids, and, in the process, they change many people’s attitudes about blindness in general. It’s a win-win situation for everyone. Here, now, is Wendy’s letter; and, yes, you not only have permission to copy it or use it as a template, we URGE you to do so!

Wendy Nusbaum:

Dear Fellow Celebree Parents,

We would like to start with saying “thank you” for taking the time to read this letter. We would also like to take this time to thank Lisa and Celebree for stepping outside the box three-and-one-half-years ago and saying “yes” to Christopher joining the Celebree family. It may surprise you how many people were not willing to accept a blind child into their daycare setting, but not Lisa. Her response was, “We do not know a lot about blindness, but we are willing to learn.” So here we are today, having learned a lot together and now needing to teach others.

Christopher with his pal, Josh.Years ago we were told that between the ages of four and six, Christopher and his peers would start to understand what it means to be blind. Well, we are finding that to be very true. This year many of the children have been asking questions and have wanted to help Christopher. We find that very heart warming, as blind kids sometimes are not accepted by their peers. However, we are finding that they do not always know the best way to help him. Thus, the purpose of this letter. We were hoping that you might take a few moments to explain some of this to your child(ren) with the hope that we can alleviate some of their frustrations and Christopher’s. We thought we might provide you with a few suggestions of things to discuss with your child(ren).

1) It would be very helpful to Christopher if the kids would give him their names when they are talking to him--just for a little while. Just like your child has learned his friends’ names and faces, Christopher will put their names and voices together. It will not take him long once he starts to separate out all the new voices. He just needs a name to go with a voice a few times.

2) If you think Christopher needs help, please ask--do not just grab him and help. He is like any other five-year-old and wants to “do it by himself.” He also may not know you are there, and you could startle him. He is pretty good about letting you know if he wants to do it by himself or if he needs help.

3) Please do not grab Christopher’s hands. His hands are his “eyes.” This startles him and frustrates him very quickly. It is like someone grabbing at our eyes or face, except we can see it coming and he cannot. If you need him to find something, let him know where it is. He knows his left from right, and “in front of” and “behind.” You can also tap on something or beside it. Christopher is very good at locating a sound. This can also be used to help him orient himself in a room if he gets twisted around.

These are just a few things that we thought might help you and your child(ren). We have also attached a sheet with other information for when you encounter someone who is blind. If you have any questions please feel free to talk to us either at Celebree or call us at [phone numbers]. We are more then willing to answer any questions concerning Christopher and his blindness.

Again thank you for taking this time and for caring enough to help Christopher and his friends form lasting relationships.

Wendy and Mike Nusbaum

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