How To Raise A Blind Child: A Resource For Parents
Raising a child with special needs may seem like a very difficult task in the beginning. But with the right tools and resources you can raise a blind child successfully.
Raising a normal child comes with challenges, then raising a child who is visually impaired will require the parents taking extra care. With the right tools and resources, you can learn how to raise a blind child.
What causes blindness in children?
According to a WHO estimate, 45% of what causes blindness in children can be actually avoided. This is to say that with early diagnosis and proper care, the number of blind children will drop by almost half. Below are some possible causes:
- Deficiency of Vitamin A: Vitamin A deficiency is one of the leading causes of blindness in children. The eyes need Vitamin A to protect that clear covering in front of the eyes known as the cornea.
- Immunisation: Most times, what causes Vitamin A deficiency is immunisation due to measles.
- Cataracts: The main symptom of cataracts is a clouding of the lens in the eye. This happens when the eye loses its transparency, with images becoming unclear in the process.
How to raise a blind child
Raising a blind child may feel like a huge challenge because it's something you probably didn't expect or prepare for. You may even be confused and in a rush to figure out your next step. Below are some tips that should help:
- Find support
Find someone or a group of people who understand what you're going through because they've been there at some point or are still there. Here are some support groups you can join no matter where you're from. They include the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children, the Association for the Blind & Visually Impaired, and the Blind Homeschooler Group.
They say information is power, and there are tons of it online for you to read. Find plenty of information related to you and your child and read them. This will help you when you're confused about what to do.
- Join organizations
There are some private and government-run organizations in Nigeria available to help you and your baby. There's the Federal Nigerian Society for the Blind, Anglo-Nigerian Welfare Association for the Blind, and Nigerian Association of the Blind.
That said, one of the central challenges of raising a blind child is how to teach him or her how to read. Learning to read and write is very important for survival, social and economic integration. This is where Braille comes in.
How can braille help your blind child?
Braille is a reading system in which touch is used instead of sight. It was invented by Louis Braille in France in the mid-1800s. The braille is designed to help children and adults who have problems with their vision to read. To do this, it uses a cell that is made up of 6 or 8 dots arranged in two columns of 3 or 4 dots each. Then it uses one or more of the dots contained in the braille cell to form each of the braille letters of the alphabet or symbol.
Although before jumping into braille proper, it's important to help your child develop some pre-braille reading skills. Much like an introduction, this would make things easier when you start teaching braille.
Teaching your child pre-braille skills
Below are some minor things you can help your child learn so that things are easier when they dive into braille.
- Start early
When a sighted child is born, the parents immediately begin to surround the child with books. The parents also buy toys with letters, a calendar filled with alphabets, even some of those toys sing the alphabet. Now, that's exactly what you should do in your visually impaired child's case. Just get a Braille Label Maker and label anywhere your child can touch, such as the toys, drawers, cabinets, TV or stereo buttons, light switches, bowls and cups. Encourage your child to touch the braille around the house.
Get your child to be familiar with braille books
It is important to get your child to be familiar with the shape of a book. So, as you start reading to him, have him touch the top, the sides, and then the spine of the book. Teach him to open books from the right side and read from left to right. Also, read every single page, from the title and author to the copyright and dedication down to the last page. Explain that this is how books are structured from the inside.
Encourage the child to turn the page
This is like a trial period, so encourage your child to turn the page on his own. Sometimes board books can be difficult to turn, but if you can glue something at the top right corner to separate pages, it can be easier. Your child can easily get his fingers between the pages.
- Let your child point and feel
The whole idea of braille is about pointing and feeling. Getting your child to start feeling things early will get him ready to move his fingers through the braille and be able to differentiate dots. From there you can give him small objects to manipulate with his fingers. Also, when the child wants to press a button, let him use the tip of his index finger and not his palm. But make sure he uses both hands in these practices because braille requires both hands.
- Use braille language
You don't want your child to grow up feeling like braille is less important than sight-reading. So talk about “reading with your fingers” with positivity and enthusiasm. Always use every chance you get to point out braille signs to him outside the home. This way, he knows that he's not alone and that braille is cool and important.
How to teach your child braille
After all the pre-braille activities, it should be a bit easier to get into this. You will need to learn braille to be effective in teaching it. A Braille cell is made up of three dots in each of two columns that can be raised in different patterns. Tell the child to pull back their thumbs and use the remaining eight fingertips on a line of Braille cells. Remind him that his hands should move left to right along the line. However, if your child is a beginner, have him track the same line back but don't let him scratch his hands up and down trying to decode a cell he doesn't recognize. Instead, encourage him to keep moving, and if he's not getting it, to move both hands and start afresh.
Where can I get Braille books?
Generally, you can order them online, but earlier on, we pointed to some online support groups you can join as a parent who's raising a visually impaired child. Some of these support groups require a small fee while most of them are free. There are many benefits to joining, one of which is getting books, curricula, and other materials from other parents. Not only that, but you also get suggestions when you have any problems. However, if you're looking for websites where you can use Braille online, find some below.
- You've Got Braille: This site teaches kids Braille using characters from a show.
- Braille Bug: Braille Bug teaches colour contrast with Braille.
- WonderBaby: WonderBaby teaches kids who are born blind how to live with it.
To raise a blind child, you have to expect that there will be challenges. However, believe in yourself that you can do this. Find and be a part of a support system to remind you that you are not alone. Don't fret and try to fix every problem. Enjoy each day as it comes, and give yourself a break from time to time.
Read also: What is special needs education?