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Inspired by the Holidays: Encouraging Your Child who is Blind or Visually Impaired to Get Curious about Careers

a mother, father, and daughter having Thanksgiving dinner at homer

I guess you could say I’m as inspired by the holidays as I am by Emily Coleman’s blog series: "A Holiday Approach to the Expanded Core Curriculum". Take, for instance, Emily’s advice to have your child ask family members about their careers in the blog post, “Career Education for the Holidays”.

This is where I want to focus. You probably have a gathering of family, or friends who feel like family, whom you will join for a Thanksgiving meal; take full advantage! Give them a heads up that you want to expose your child (or children) to types of work, the route taken to attain the jobs, and what the work entails. People generally enjoy sharing about their experiences and my hunch is they’ll be happy to share.

To get started, pique your child’s interest ahead of time. Tell your son you know his uncle does “such and such” for work, but you’re not real certain if he gets to do “such and such”. Read a book with your young child that highlights a particular job of a family member, and discuss questions you can ask the relative once she arrives for the holiday. Perhaps you can identify an interest of your child and relate it to Grandpa’s work.

Next, consider age- and developmentally appropriate questions you can ask relatives or friends regarding their former and current careers. Encourage your child to reflect on what he will want to ask.

Topics and questions may include:

  • “What is your job and what are your job responsibilities?”
  • “What do you wear to work?”
  • “What do you enjoy at work and what is the most challenging?”
  • “What was the process of preparing for your job?”
  • “How did you find your job?”
  • “Tell us about a role model or mentor who guided or encouraged you at work.”
  • “What was transitioning from high school to adult life like for you?”
  • “What do you wish you had learned at home before moving out?”
  • “What was your first job? What did you learn then that helped you prepare for what you do now?”
  • “What do you think it takes to be successful at work?”

Remind your child to thank the individuals for helping him learn more about work.

For more ideas on imparting career-education to your child, please read AFB FamilyConnect’s Helping Visually Impaired Babies and Toddlers Explore the Community, Exposing Blind Preschoolers to Jobs, Volunteer Work as a Child's Preparation for Employment, and A Teenager's Transition to Independence.


Inspired by the Holidays: Enlisting the Help of Your Child who is Blind or Visually Impaired With Your Thanksgiving Meal Preparation

boy chopping celery in  a confined working space. With an adult behind him to lend a hand, he gets to try cutting using a knife.

Last year Emily Coleman blogged about living skills instruction over the holidays.

I know Thanksgiving week can be an intense week of traveling or hosting relatives, and you may feel held captive by the kitchen, but.

But what if this week can also be a time for your child who is blind or visually impaired to improve her cooking skills and shine? What if you allow your child (and her siblings) to help with one dish? Maybe this dish is roasted, steamed, poached, sautéed, grilled, baked, braised, or hey, stirred or microwaved. This dish can even be made ahead; in fact, this is highly recommended.

You see, if you ask for your child’s help with cooking one dish, you are helping your child. You are giving your child the gift of feeling like a contributing member of your family team; you are giving your child the gift of pursuing mealtime independence and safe cooking techniques for blind or visually impaired; and you are giving your child the gift of your time and attention.

So consider giving your child a few options of dishes, and have her choose one she’d like to help you cook for your Thanksgiving meal.

You have a baby? Your babe can help add sliced fruit into a fruit salad, or she can enjoy the aroma of fruit as you narrate the experience. You have a toddler? Your toddler can help mash cooked sweet or white potatoes. You have a school-age sweetheart? Your child can help you whip up a green bean casserole or corn casserole the night before Thanksgiving. You have a teenager? Your teen can choose her favorite side dish or decide to help prepare the turkey.

If developmentally appropriate, ask your child to help search for the recipe and create a grocery list. If time allows, take her to the store and involve her in the shopping experience. When home, have her help label the packaged and canned food and then properly store the items until it’s cooking show-time. For the smoothest experience at “show- time”, work together to make sure the environment is prepped and all the ingredients and tools are accessible.

Whether your child is just beginning to learn self-feeding skills and table manners, or if she’s a kitchen pro like Christine Ha, include her in a portion of your Thanksgiving meal preparation. Let her know what’s involved in feeding a large crowd, discuss how you decided on your recipe, and invite her to help you with one Thanksgiving dish.

Maybe your co-cooking one dish will become you and your child’s favorite Thanksgiving tradition.


Inspired by the Holidays: Imparting the Discipline of Gratitude to Your Child Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

doodle of children smiling, holding hands, saying Happy Thanksgiving

Last year, Emily Coleman blogged about teaching social skills over the holidays; it’s a must read. And if you read it last year, it’s a must re-read.

Inspired by Thanksgiving, I want to address the specific social skill of gratitude. It’s really more than a social skill; it’s a life skill, or more accurately, it’s a “this is the secret to living well” and “this is the secret to healthy relationships” discipline. We, me at the top of the list, can quickly become miserable if we forget to intentionally notice and appreciate good things; gifts; what we do have; who we are; and the efforts of friends, family members, and others who assist and encourage us.

Now take this a step further in the life of a child who is blind or visually impaired. Often, sometimes out of necessity and sometimes out of ease, this child is one who requests much assistance.

It’s very easy for this child to identify with the role of being helped, and then consider others as useful tools.

If he doesn’t learn to be thankful and thank others, he will miss out on balanced relationships and eventually burn out his friends, siblings, and later his coworkers. Like most concepts we teach our children, teaching gratitude and thankfulness begins with modeling the behavior in the home. Don’t forget, also, to express your gratitude and appreciation for each member of your family.

Next, you can model good manners. Please read the many examples in the linked blog that include noticing and describing how people are helping you. Explain the situations to your child as they arise, and verbally express your thankfulness in ear shot of your child.

Thereafter, teach your child the art of reciprocating support and favors. Read the linked blog to discover appropriate ways to thank and respect people who are helping you, your child, or your family. You can say thank you, write thank you notes, return favors, reimburse costs, and make or purchase gifts. Model this behavior; explicitly teach the behavior to your child; and expect him or her to practice it.

Yes, children are born self-focused, and this is normal and healthy. However, what’s not healthy is allowing a child to remain consumed with self. We must teach our children to become aware of what they can be thankful for; we must also teach an awareness of others, their feelings, and the efforts they invest in us. We must teach them to value others, respect their time and energy, and express gratitude to others.

The end goal is your child understanding it is okay to ask for assistance when needed, but it is important to maintain balanced relationships by thanking others, using good manners, and reciprocating support and favors.

As Thanksgiving is fast approaching, let’s use this week to refocus on teaching and expressing gratitude.


Odds and Ends and Homeschool in Braille

boy leaning over braillewriter

The joy of home school is setting your own school time. You also have the flexibility to change the time based on needs and progress. Three to three-and-a-half hours of day in home school translates into a good 5 to 6 hours of public school with arrive times, bells, class change, recess, lunch, and ready to go. That doesn’t even include bus time. The bus picks up the senior next door at 6:45 AM and returns at approximately 3:45. That is one heck of a long day. We use our time doing things like listening to a book and playing outside, getting “GASP” exercise. We also have more time to work on ADLS (activities of daily living skills).

Drill and practice, drill and practice... BORING! Pre-teach, review, redo! However, this is a method that works quite well. So how do you keep it from getting boring? Your enthusiasm is important! Mix up the schedule for the day, let the student pick which subject/activity to start with, get up and move, read a book, make it a game, and Vinnie’s and my personal favorite is a reward for good work.

I love rewards for a job well done. Make the reward small, so you can give lots of them. We use pennies (we used to use M&Ms), then Vinnie gets to choose and buy his snack. He then can use his left over pennies to buy M&Ms and to put in a bank. Later the extra pennies go to the bank to get deposited. We use a lot of “Atta Boys”, like high fives, “Way to go”, and “Great job”. You want to reward the intrinsic value of hard work through praise. See how that reward grew into a lesson! We all work for something that is pleasurable, be it a paycheck, time to goof off, or a word, “Good Job”.

We are finally learning to read. I thought it would never come. Vinnie has been able to write on the brailler for 4 years. At first it was my fingers on his, then it was dictating finger positions of braille cells, then it was dictating words for him to spell, then it was dictating sentences for him to write. However, tactile discrimination is coming a little slower. It seems like we worked on this forever. Vinnie can read! We finish the patterns books by Thanksgiving! Then we start Grade 1. How cool is that?

Some things we had to teach hand over hand, backing out until he was able to do it with little or no physical or verbal cues/prompts. This is the case with much of our teaching. We break it down into the tiniest parts and then bring it all together. Start simple with familiar and known activities. Then increase the expectations and complexity of the learning until you reach the desired goal.

Vinnie and I for the most part are able to do most of his work without my touching his hands. It meant I had to develop a habit of using verbal directions accurately. He had to learn spatial words and relationships. Try blindfolding a friend or spouse and have them maneuver or find something, following your verbal directions. It is not as easy as you think. He can do the same with braille.

Sometimes, people get frustrated with Vinnie because he isn’t doing something fast enough. So they will tend to “help” him. Don’t do this. You will create dependence and “Learned Helplessness”—not a good thing. I find even the professionals will do this. I too am learning patience and to start again at the beginning, because just like the rest of us, Vinnie can lose his train of thought.

In the end, my enthusiasm and celebrating small accomplishments is important to keep the learning momentum moving forward.

Find ways to make things interactive. We have a wonderful book called, “Jump, Frog, Jump” by Robert Kalan for ages 3 to 8. I print out the sentence, “Jump, frog, jump!” on paper, and he reads this sentence each time it appears in the book. I have him show me how the frog jumps so he can get away. It gets him moving. I also let him finish the sentences filling in the animal sequence, which is great for memory and sequencing of events in a story. This was one of those happy accidents when my friend sent me the book. He just happens to love it and we live on a pond and have all these animals, especially the flies! LOL.

What about technology? I love my iPad for listening to stories. We just started with the auditory books from the library. Vincent loves these. The challenge is to keep enough books so he’s not bored while we return others.

I like the Smart Brailler for some things. There are a couple of drawbacks with the Smart Brailler. The speech is not great and Vinnie tends to model the speech from the Brailler. The Smart Brailler makes mistakes sometimes, so even if you are listening, you have to be looking, too. Vinnie has been correct when the Brailler is wrong. The lines are too short to write numbers in rows of 10, thus lining up the ones, twos, etc. is not possible. It is hard to write a long sentence. It lists the dot sequences for punctuation at the end of the sentence, rather than saying the punctuation. The best part is Vinnie loves his Smart Brailler because he is great with cause-and-effect kinds of electronics.

I like my electric dumb brailler for really long tasks and writing numbers. I have a better sense of what my son knows because HE has to tell me. I am better able to repeat information, reinforcing learning as well as appropriate speech patterns.

Now that Vinnie has a good foundation of skills, I am able to use the curriculum I used for our sighted children, by Alpha Omega. You can look it up on line at I have to adapt it, but it gives me a great guide for teaching. For parents who are new to home schooling there are teachers’ manuals that give explanations, directions, and an answer key. If you have a good relationship with services for the blind, they can adapt materials for you, just as they would the public school. I prefer to do my own because I know how I’m going to use the material and how Vinnie learns. When the books get longer and more complex, then I’ll definitely need help with adaptations. My TVI (teacher of students with visual impairments) comes up with suggestions, as well. Now I’m in my comfort area where I can use materials that I am familiar with and Vinnie and I know enough braille that we can accomplish our learning together. It is a great feeling!

We need to advocate and educate regarding the needs of our children. Advocacy is an ongoing job to obtain services. At least with some school, I don’t have the added burden of the energy drain that comes from dealing with the public school piece. Whatever you are advocating for, stick with facts and not emotions when advocating. Cite law, regulation, and testing recommendations. Put everything in writing and keep a copy!

Home schooling is not for everyone. It is a choice. We don’t have control over others and many times our own situation. We do have control of our attitude. I use a lot of humor and sarcasm to deal with things. However, sometimes my attitude gets the better of me and I just stop and have a rant or a pity party. That is on me and I continue to work on it. I prefer to put my energy into my children. That is my choice, with the support of my family. Each of us has choices and voices, use them!


Inspired by the Holidays: Ideas, Tips, and Resources for Families of Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Thanksgiving dinner. Roasted turkey on holiday table with pumpkins, candles, and fruit

"Silver bells, silver bells, soon it will be…"

I know, right?! I'm equally as staggered. Wasn't it just Thanksgiving, 2014? Didn't we just take down the holiday lights? I guess not; my, how the day-to-day intensity of parenting leaves us wondering where a year went.

And so we look ahead to the holiday season. One we can intentionally fill with child-wonder, quality time, memorable traditions, and lastly, significant learning opportunities.

So here's the plan, my plan at least:

You focus on enjoying your children; notice and appreciate the simple, beautiful moments; cuddle an extra few minutes; make and play with pumpkin spice playdough; sip cocoa together; play in the snow (or at least in the "cold" for us southerners); bask in the scent of pine and cinnamon; delight in a few extra cookies; and soak up the magic of the season with your babies of all ages.

Meanwhile, I will send you an idea, a tip, or a resource every handful of days via the FamilyConnect blog. You can gather the holiday-themed activity suggestions and incorporate them into your days. You'll also be reminded to make teachable moments out of that which you're likely already doing over these next two months.

Got it? Any questions or suggestions? I'd love to hear from you.

Happy Holidays to our FamilyConnect family!


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