Not So Visual Visual Things

Being a relatively new mom, and a blind one at that, I decided it would be a pretty good idea to sign up on a few listservs concerning blind parenting. One of my favorites is the one hosted by the National Federation of the Blind. You can sign up by going to: www.nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/blparent_nfbnet.org. I figured it wouldn’t hurt me to sign up and learn some tips and tricks about being a blind parent.

One of the questions I’ve seen posted to this list, and have been asked by the public, is: “If your kid can see and you can’t, how do you teach them visual things or keep them visually stimulated?” I think the answer to this is not too complicated of an answer. I think there are plenty of nonvisual ways to do visual things; it just takes a little thought and patience.

For starters, as blind people we all listen in order to get around safely–or at least, I do. So, when I’m strolling around with my son, I try to point out the things I hear and focus his attention on that object. An easy example would be the roaring buses that drive past us all the time while we commute to and from the city. When I hear a bus coming, I simply say to him, “Do you see the bus? Can you hear it go vroom?” If he doesn’t seem to be paying attention then I put my hand on his head and check to see if he’s looking in the right direction.

Another thing I do helps to teach him colors. When I encounter grass with my cane I might tell him to check out the green grass. Or, if my shirt is red, I might focus his attention on mommy’s red shirt.

When he was younger, I would hold him in my arms and put my face right in his and smile or make funny faces. When babies are very small and young they cannot focus much further than about a foot so getting close to your baby is always a good idea. As their vision gets better they can see objects that are further away. I still would get near to his face so that I knew he was looking at me. As he got older, and would make happy noises, I could tell when he saw something that caught his interest. Then, I didn’t have to worry so much about getting down to his level.

Now, he’s 19 months and pointing at everything from puppies and birds to BART and buses. I don’t always know what he’s pointing at but I try to engage him in a conversation. For example, last night we were hanging out on the front patio with our wonderful roommate and friend and our next door neighbor. He got really excited and started saying, “Puppy! Puppy! Puppy!” Of course, I couldn’t see a puppy nor could I hear one. So I got down on his level and we both looked in the direction of this possibly imaginary puppy and I asked him questions like, “Do you see a puppy? Do puppies go woof, woof?” He repeated the woof woof part and immediately stuck his fingers in his mouth. Our next door neighbor said that there was a puppy across the street. So that confirmed that there was a puppy and let me know that Erik finally knows a puppy from a cat or a cow or another four-legged animal.

All of the examples above are things I do to help my sighted son learn visual things. They are my nonvisual ways of showing visual things. Am I always accurate at the things I point out? Probably not. I’m sure I’ve shown my son brown grass and called it green. But, that’s okay. He needs to learn that whether grass is green or brown it is grass. The important thing, beyond seeing in my opinion, is that I’m teaching him and engaging him in learning.

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