Advice for Parents of Blind Children

blind child playing, surrounded by tactile toys
Image credit: Association for the Rehabilitation
of Children with Disabilities in Sight and Hearing
Much of the following is from a manual by Klara Rakisheva of the Association for the Rehabilitation of Children with Disabilities in Sight and Hearing (Actau City, Kazakhstan). The orginal version (in Russian) is here. We have edited the instructions to improve the English, group them by topic, make them apply to boys and girls, reflect a Christian worldview, and include instructions from other sources. Not everything will make sense in all cultures!


There is not a single blind child, either rich or poor, for whom the advice given here could not be applied. Indeed, all blind children, who are fortunate enough to have faithful and intelligent parents, are brought up on the basis of these principles. Follow, parents, the example of many others: if you do this, then the child will be obliged to you with their happiness; as proven by experience, they will later on be able to maintain themselves by honest labor. If you do not, your child will be a heavy burden to everyone, will feel miserable and useless, and finally, when they learn that many other blind people accomplish their own work and find work useful and helpful, your child will reproach you with the fact! (Klara Rakisheva)

Mobility

  • Help a blind child walk independently at the same age that other children learn to walk without help. Using a cane can greatly increase a blind person's mobility and confidence, as well as signalling to others that they are blind and may require special consideration.
  • Do not make a blind child sit in one place, but instead teach them to walk first around the room, then throughout the house and, finally, around the house and out into the world.
  • Since a blind child can not move as easily outside as a sighted child, make sure they at least walk as often as possible. Also, since blindness tends to make a child sit more or move slowly, all kinds of outdoor exercise is useful, both in summer and winter.
  • Learn to lead your blind child by letting them hold your upper arm, walking one step behind you and just to the side. With practice, a blind person and a sighted guide can often walk as fast as anyone else!

Eating

  • Teach a blind child to eat without help according to your national custom -- whether with the hand, or chopsticks, or some combination of spoon and fork. Explain to the child in detail how all this is done, because the blind child, unlike a sighted child, of course can not imitate the movements of other people.
  • If your culture uses a knife to cut large portions, you can at first do this for the blind child. Later they can be taught to use a knife, or you may continue assisting them, as they desire.
  • If your custom is to eat from several dishes, or to have several items on a plate, you may find it helpful to describe the location of the food to the child like the face of a clock -- potatoes are at 1 o'clock, vegetables at 3 o'clock, bread at 9 o'clock, etc.
  • It may be helpful for a blind person to have "finger food" (bread, fruit, or uncooked vegetable) to use as a "pusher" to move food to their hand, spoon, or fork. Depending on your culture, this helping food may be best placed at their left hand (at 9 o'clock if using a personal plate).

Life skills

  • At the first opportunity, teach a blind child to dress and undress without help, to wash their hands and face, to blow their nose, etc. A blind child can perform all this at the same age as a sighted child -- you just need to tell them how they should do it.
  • Pay close attention to how the blind child "keeps" themself. Without seeing how others behave, they can easily develop bad habits or awkward, ugly, or even funny movements, from which it is very difficult to wean themselves afterwards, and which can be detrimental in their later life.
  • In a word, demand that a blind child behave exactly the same as a well-educated sighted child. If they do not have other disabilities, take care, for example, that they do not put their fingers in their eyes, or shake their head, that their hands and feet are controlled, that they do not make strange movements and grimaces, and that, while standing or sitting, their posture is not crooked or hunched over.

Stimulation and development

  • It is even more important for a blind child than for a sighted child, to be provided with many activities, whether games or jobs.
  • A blind child recognizes external objects only with the help of hearing and touch. Therefore, to familiarize them with an object, let them feel it from all sides, and also measure it if there is an aspect of spaces or size. Give them, in their hand, those items with which you wish to acquaint them. Teach them to distinguish between touching different coins, objects, plants, and fruit.
  • Games are necessary for a blind child, though often they may have to play alone or with only one friend, since they cannot participate in some games of their sighted peers. Therefore, it is helpful to accustom them particularly to games that require a sense of hearing and touch. Hide-and-seek and "blind man's bluff" are quite suitable for a blind child, when there are one or two friends who can play with them.
  • Talk more often with a blind child -- because they are unable to see on your face the expression of love you have for them, they have a greater need than other children to often hear your voice. As soon as a blind child reaches the age at which they begin to speak, ask them more often about what they hear, and what they feel around them. Give them the opportunity to approach you with questions at all times, and always respond willingly and in detail to their childish questions.

Spiritual and moral development

  • The moral and spiritual education of a blind child should be started at the same age as for a sighted child. For a sighted child, this education begins before they learn to read, so they are really in almost the same condition as a blind child.
  • Do not express to a blind child the feelings of pity that you may have when you see their blindness. Your regret will not do them any good, and can dishearten them. They, for the most part, would not have thought to complain about their situation until you brought it up. Encourage them, instead, to work hard and to be independent, and thus prepare themselves for a useful, and satisfying life.
  • You should be very clear with your blind child that their blindness is not a result of sin or a curse from God. Jesus (Issa) was asked whether a man was blind because he sinned or because his parents sinned. He responded, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him." This means that blindness is an opportunity for a blind person to display the great works of God!
  • If it is necessary to be cautious in a conversation in the presence of children, this is even more important with blind children. Only a few impressions are available to them, on which they focus their thoughts, and therefore they always listen very carefully. Their memories are not so quickly erased as in a sighted child, who often receives at the same time a wide variety of impressions. Therefore, in many cases, a blind child notices and remembers words that a sighted child misses. When talking with a blind child, do not forget that they are following your words not only with attention, but even with "greed" -- so that they do not miss anything and so they can try to understand everything. So, be careful of any careless conversation in their presence.
  • It is helpful to constantly develop in a blind child the memory that will in time provide them with an important asset (perhaps more than a sighted person). Many blind people are extremely fond of stories. Tell them important historical and spiritual stories, and encourage them to learn the stories by heart. Use every opportunity to read books accessible to their understanding.

Education

  • When a blind child reaches the age at which sighted children start attending school, try to place your blind child in the same school, whose teacher in a few hours could learn a system of reading and writing for the blind. Ask the teacher to give your child at least as much time as they devote to each sighted child.
  • If the placement of a blind child in an ordinary school is not possible, then it is necessary to begin schooling at home, in the family, until they can perhaps be admitted to a school for the blind. At such schools blind children often start about the age of ten, though some schools accept students as young as five. In schools for the blind, parents can learn about useful teaching aids for the blind, and also get to know and evaluate the teachers.

Work and vocation

  • Instruct your blind son or daughter to be useful in the home from early childhood, performing work that is feasible for them and appropriate for their age. For example, blind persons can make their bed, clean furniture, wash windows, shell peas, peel potatoes and carrots, wind thread, clean nuts, rattle the canopy, and even carry water. They can wash clothes, sweep the floor, wash dishes, beat oil, knead dough, turn a whetstone, milk cows, feed animals, serve at the table, and perform many other domestic tasks.
  • Make the blind child engage in light manual work such as knitting, weaving, spinning, etc. Even if their first results are not suitable for use, such simple work still will be of great benefit to the child, developing the flexibility of their hands and fingers, and encouraging them that they can accomplish great things.
  • In a word, always have in view as you educate your blind child the fact that they will have to live among the sighted, from whom they should differ as little as possible in their movements, habits and activities.


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