Yes, you read the title correctly. I am totally blind due to being born three months premature. My husband is sighted, which means he does all the driving and color identifying, which can be amusing as he is color blind. We are raising two kids, who are both blind and, no, the blindness isn’t genetic or spread by contact. If you hang around us you won’t catch it, I promise.
I think it goes without saying that we are an unusual bunch. So, I thought I’d share five things I’d like you to know. These points don’t exclusively pertain to just my family, so since I doubt I’ll ever meet all of you in person, feel free to apply these principles to other blind individuals you may encounter.
1. Blind kids still love and want to play.
Yes, I know my kids’ eyes don’t work. This doesn’t mean that they don’t enjoy playing many of the same games as sighted kids. They love hide and seek and tag, for example. They also love to color; I personally enjoy the irony of that. Actually, both my kids have a favorite color, and my daughter picks out clothing based on that preference. This means that I’m supposed to keep track of my wardrobe as well as hers. This, of course, isn’t happening; I usually just go ask my husband.
So as I hope you can see, no pun intended, my kids, even though blind, are just like every other kid. Treat them accordingly. Teach your kids not to be afraid to approach them and ask if they want to play. If you’re not sure how they could participate in something, don’t just assume they can’t. Ask and find out.
2. Sometimes all that’s needed is thoughtfulness.
Let’s take tag as an example. Obviously, without sight, my kids can’t freely run screaming at the top of their lungs around the playground or house. Well, they’ve got the screaming part down, but the running component is a bit trickier for them. This doesn’t mean, though, that they should be excluded from active games. A simple solution is for someone to ask if they want to run with them. Blind kids can keep up; their legs work fine. This encourages cooperation and socialization, and we all want those two things for our kids, right?
3. Lack of eye contact doesn’t mean lack of interest.
I can’t stress this one enough. I know for most people, whether adults or kids, it is really strange to have someone talking to you who isn’t making direct eye contact with you. I get that, I really do, but think for a moment about how your general dependence on eye contact makes us blind individuals of the world feel. I often watch my kids try and introduce themselves to others or talk to someone whose voice they recognize, only to have the person not realize they are talking to them and walk away before their sentence was finished. It can feel rather awkward, to say the least.
My kids (and myself, for that matter) want to interact and be social as much as anyone. Pay attention to the words we are saying and don’t just rely on where our eyes are looking, or more accurately, not looking. Blind persons just have to make extensive use of verbal cues. Oh, and speaking of verbal cues, if we’re in the middle of a conversation, and you have to leave, please just let me, or my kids, know that fact. It makes one feel very silly to be in the middle of a conversation, only to realize after a couple of minutes, that no one has said anything in a while.
4. Vision is amazing.
Seriously, you have no idea what an incredible super-power you have. You can step into a room and immediately know what your kids are doing or not doing, even if they’re on the other side of the room. You can look around and find that one little missing toy that your kid can’t do without and you don’t have to walk the whole length of the room to find the elusive, stupid object that will be played with for approximately one minute before being lost again.
You can literally watch them grow and see all the little, yet so significant, changes. You can sit on a bench at a park or playground and watch them play at a distance, while you get a few moments of relative quiet. You can tell at a glance if their clothes are acceptable to wear out of the house. There are multiple times a day where I am jealous of my husband. I’m not writing this to elicit sympathy but to encourage you to truly appreciate what you have. It’s a gift; treasure it as such.
5. I love coffee and chocolate just as much as any mom.
Well, that pretty much sums it up. So, if we happen to meet at a park or my kids’ piano or gymnastics classes, and you wonder what you should say to this blind woman, it couldn’t hurt to start a conversation about your favorite coffee shop or dessert. Parenting is a wild experience, whether blind or sighted, but I think chocolate and/or coffee is common ground for all of us.