Raising a Child Who Is Blind and...

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Outdoor Education for Kids Who Are Blind

I just returned home from a unique opportunity for educators and especially unique when considering teaching children who are blind. It’s called "American Wilderness Leadership School" offered through Safari Club International. The purpose of the camp is to offer curriculum and perspective to teachers surrounding conservation of wildlife and resources. I attended to find new ways to educate our youth who are blind about the outdoors and resource management.

Emily Coleman sitting outside with her back against a flag pole in Jackson, Wyoming

While in Jackson, Wyoming, we spent the days listening to speakers, going on field trips, getting trained to teach archery in schools, and discussing firearm use and safety. We touched on outdoor survival, national parks, stream ecology, and more. We even went white-water rafting. Within every session, I reflected (as in the attached photo taken by my new friend, Trevor) about how to adapt instruction and curriculum for students who are blind.

I know that children who are blind can enjoy hiking, rafting, fishing, and learning about their environment. I know they can shoot archery and even firearms with the proper instruction and modified equipment. (I realize these are very specialized and nobody should try without experienced and certified help.) I also know for certain that the outdoors offers the best place for hands-on learning.

However, as I sat through the workshops, I didn’t readily know how to incorporate much of what I was learning for my own son who is blind due to his additional disabilities. He struggles with hikes because he has an orthopedic impairment. Although he’d love rafting, he wouldn’t necessarily grasp the safety measures required to stay in the boat. Speaking of safety, he’d probably love the experience of firing a bow or firearm, but he wouldn’t understand the dire implications of not following the rules.

My husband and I used to spend time fly-tying, fly-fishing, trap shooting, hiking, camping, and more. We always said when the kids were older we’d get back to it. Yet, the kids are older, and we still hesitate to include them in these things because we rarely know how to include Eddie. However, it seems we have made excuses long enough.

In the world of too much time on devices, we need to get our kids outside...all of our kids, even Eddie. I realize it might mean he isn’t doing exactly what we’re doing in the great outdoors, but he can still benefit from inclusion. The public lands in our country are meant to be used by all of us, and there are no exceptions. As parents of kids who are blind and may have additional disabilities, we need to give our kids opportunities to access natural resources too.

On that note, if you don’t yet know, those with disabilities can get a lifetime National Park pass for $10 that can be used for them and whoever is traveling in their vehicle. Be sure to check it out! If you have other insight into outdoor education and opportunities for our kids, please speak up. We need all the resources we can get!

Outdoor Activities for Children Who Are Visually Impaired

Physical Education and Sports for Students with Visual Impairments

Outdoor Play Tips for Toddlers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

Playing with Other Children

Summer Camps and Programs for Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired


Topics:
Personal Reflections
Planning for the Future
Social Life and Recreation

Wax Museum and No Man’s Land

Having a child in special education can feel like they are in "No Man’s Land," especially if they spend a lot of time away from their peers as Eddie does. His unique needs due to autism and blindness make it hard for us to know where he specifically belongs. Because of this, we find ourselves in the dark sometimes when it comes to school activities and information. This spring, we were excited to be included from the beginning with the school’s popular "museum" event.

Every year, his elementary school puts on a "Wax Museum" where they pick a famous character, dress like them, and prepare a short speech. They stand posed in the cafeteria, and spectators stop by and hand them a ticket if they want to hear their presentation. Eddie’s school started reminding us of this event months ago, and we took a lot of time brainstorming how to make it work for him.

We knew he wouldn’t give a speech on demand; definitely not repeatedly for an hour two days in a row. We knew he liked to hear himself on videos, and we also knew that he can be pretty funny if you draw it out of him. He had all of the materials to transform into Louis Braille, and his love for foreign languages would make incorporating French perfect.

Eddie dressed up as Louis Braille giving a presentation at his elementary school with children crowded around to watch

We decided on creating our own video at home with the help of his little sister, and then he could hit "play" during the event. We had a fun time bringing Louis Braille to life, and Eddie’s acting was great. Dressed in character, he ended up being able to play his video for many visitors as you can see in this photo. For the first time in too long, we felt like he wasn’t in "No Man’s Land," but instead, alongside the other fifth graders... participating just like them.

I struggle with finding a sense of belonging for him at school all the time. I realize that he can’t just jump right into an activity without pre-teaching and guidance, but he should always be given those things and those opportunities. He really likes to be included and is a willing participant when shown the meaning or purpose. When it appears otherwise, I just think it’s because he wasn’t set up for success. We are all guilty of that at times.

For us, the wax museum pulled us out of "No Man’s Land" for an afternoon or two. He was included in a way that made sense to him and to us. And although I can’t get him to say, "My name is Eddie" in English, he said, "My name is Louis Braille" beautifully in French. I’m really proud of the work he did and love it when he surprises me. The fifth grade guests that day not only learned more about Louis Braille but a little bit more about Eddie too.

Watch Eddie's video of his wax museum presentation.

More from "Raising a Child Who Is Blind"

It's Only Cabbage

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How Edward Came into the World

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Topics:
Assistive Technology
Autism Spectrum Disorders
Low Vision
Personal Reflections
Social Life and Recreation
Social Skills

It’s Only a Cabbage

Running errands can be tricky with any children, anytime. I like to be efficient and purposeful when getting things done, and kids don’t really work that way. I recently had a high need for food and more and ended up taking my two youngest to town, including my son who is blind.

Eddie sitting outside at a table eating a brownie with a dog drooling over the food in the background

We started at a bakery due to gathering Mother's Day treats for my pregnant sister, and it was a good excuse for baked goods. We found a parking space near the front, a manageable line, a gluten free brownie for my son, and an open table near a window. Eddie loved the snack and a dog passing by had to stop and drool too. We then headed to the mall.

The mall was a challenge; loud, unpredictable places always seem to be. After about a good hour of putting up with shopping, Eddie was ready for some down time. We headed to my sisters, with her treats in hand, and I decided to leave the kids with her while making the dreaded Saturday run to the grocery store.

Afterwards, I gathered the kids and headed home when I quickly realized I’d forgotten cabbage. I tried to tell myself it’s only cabbage. The additional store stop probably wasn’t worth it. But, I was making pulled pork sliders, and the thought of them without homemade coleslaw was almost unbearable.

Was it worth unloading the kids? Was it worth pushing them when they were already tired of errands and each other? Was it worth making an unplanned stop and throwing a wrench in our planned routine? Yes, I decided, yes it was.

While driving towards the store, I conjured up a plan. I made a big deal about forgetting cabbage and asked Eddie if he would help me. I said I had to stop by the store, and I was too tired to push the cart by myself. “Eddie, would you please help me,” I asked. Eddie quickly agreed and probably wondered why his Mom was SO lazy.

Eddie holding a bag of rolls while leaning on a grocery cart

The plan worked like a charm. Eddie happily pushed the cart while his sister grabbed the goods. We talked about the grocery store, the aisles we traversed, and the scents in the air. While waiting in line, Eddie checked out the conveyor belt moving the cabbage and had a surprise visit from his Grandma’s friend. We were in and out in under 15 minutes even with a bit of learning mixed in.

My grocery store/extra stop worries were unnecessary. Yes, it’s only a cabbage. A cabbage that happened to make my slider delicious, and a cabbage that proved I overthink everything.

More from "Raising a Child Who Is Blind"

3 Helpful Tips When Taking Eddie Somewhere New

How Edward Came into the World

Gaming Day with Students Who Are Visually Impaired

Accessing an Inaccessible World


Topics:
Autism Spectrum Disorders
Getting Around
Personal Reflections
Planning for the Future
Social Life and Recreation

3 Helpful Tips When Taking Eddie Somewhere New

Having a child with special needs can wreak havoc on your social life. Invites may come in for parties or more and the energy it takes to attend is sometimes too much. We often beg forgiveness from our friends when we turn down invitations, but fostering our friendships is important. Instead of always saying no, I’ve found some ways to make a new outing more enjoyable for us and Eddie.

Not long ago, I took the kids to a friend’s house for a dinner party. My husband was elsewhere, so I knew it would just be me and our three kiddos. From the moment I told Eddie we were going to a party, he just kept saying, “No. No Party.” Because he can become fixated, I heard “No Party” for almost the whole 20 minutes it took to get there.

When we arrived, I spent the first half hour making sure Eddie was going to be content. I knew that if he was settled, I’d be able to enjoy the social event, and so would his sisters. If he became too nervous or bored, his behavior would ruin everyone’s time, including his. When expectations aren’t set, or he doesn’t know what’s going to happen next, his anxiety gets the best of him.

Helpful Tips for Taking Eddie Somewhere New

To settle him in, I utilized these three steps:

  1. Oriented him to the location. I walked him around and into all of the rooms that he was allowed to visit. We found all the stairs, and I guided him up and down stair cases. We talked about the rooms with closed doors and how he wasn’t allowed to enter. Most importantly, I showed him where to find the bathroom.

  2. Found a quiet space for any needed “time-outs.” I asked our host if this space could be in her bedroom, and she quickly agreed. I let him know he could go in and close the door. I showed him the bed and let him try it out, so he had a place to lay down and just be alone if he needed a break at any time.

  3. Showed him some preferred activities. Eddie loves to be on the move, and this involves going up and down stairs. After finding the stairs with him, I made sure he could safely maneuver them independently. He also loves to rock, and there was a rocking chair he spent most of the night in after he was shown where to find it. Sometimes I even bring the hammock (shown in this picture below) just in case we need it. Music is another favorite, and we brought his tablet so he could enjoy his tunes.

Eddie outside sitting in a hammock

After a little time dedicated to lowering Eddie's anxiety, we had a great evening. We were able to visit with friends, enjoy dinner, and relax—this was true for all of us, even Eddie. We talk about pre-teaching at school, so kids know what to expect, but we also have to take time to teach in the real world.

By simply making sure Eddie’s needs were met from the beginning, he could enjoy an unpredictable night out as much as the rest of us. The adults aren’t the only ones that need to get out once in awhile; Eddie and his sisters do too. An added bonus is that every new outing provides a learning opportunity, and we never want to miss out on those.

More from "Raising a Child Who Is Blind"

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Gaming Day with Students Who Are Visually Impaired

Accessing an Inaccessible World

The Emerging Risk-Taker


Topics:
Autism Spectrum Disorders
Getting Around
Low Vision
Planning for the Future
Social Life and Recreation

How Edward Came into the World

Last week, Eddie turned 12, and it didn’t knock the wind out of me as it has in year’s past. I wasn’t met with fear about his future, anxiety about how much he has to learn, or any measure of grief over the life I once envisioned for him. Instead, it felt very much like a birthday for any kid... a day of celebrating Eddie. At one point, I even browsed through his baby book where I rediscovered the narrative of his birth.

Basically, I went to the hospital with his Dad and my sister, was induced because he was late, and had my water broke because it wouldn’t go on its own. Eddie was big; my doctor and a pediatrician were on hand, and after the delivery, everything seemed to be good. All the grandparents rushed the hospital room, we were moved to recovery, and Eddie’s stats were recorded as 21.5 inches long and 9 pounds, 12 ounces.

Besides being huge, and a moment during delivery when they thought his arm had been hurt because of that, Eddie came into this world in much the same way all other babies do. Starting only 12 hours later, we were met with uncertainty when they discovered he had low blood sugar. Next, a non-functioning liver kept him in the NICU for 17 days. This of course was followed by his optic nerve hypoplasia diagnosis four months later, and an autism diagnosis five years after that.

The few hours that followed his birth was the only time in his life where things were going as planned. Within 24 hours, I’d learn that none of us are in control of our destinies. I’d learn that months of planning his future, and years of planning my family, was fruitless. I’d learn that at the end of the day, we don’t make our future... our future makes us.

This is why my favorite word is “serendipity.” Merriam-Webster defines it as “the phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” Oxford’s meaning states, “the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.” To me, Eddie was a serendipitous event in my life.

I’m not saying that a higher power wasn’t at play, yet I’m not traveling that reflective road today. What I’m saying is that Eddie is somebody I wasn’t looking for, wasn’t planning for, and yet he was the finale in a “development of events” that has brought me and my family great happiness and value. My favorite word is “serendipity” because that word means “Eddie” to me.

So, happy 12th birthday to Eddie. I look forward to years of surprises and unplanned happiness that he continually brings. I would hope for everyone to experience some measure of serendipity in their life, and even better, some measure of Eddie.

Eddie holding a cake in a pan with two candles on top for this 12th birthday

More from "Raising a Child Who Is Blind" Blog

Gaming Day with Students Who Are Visually Impaired

Accessing an Inaccessible World

5 Tips for Medically Treating a Child Who Is Blind


Topics:
Autism Spectrum Disorders
Low Vision
Personal Reflections
Planning for the Future
Social Life and Recreation