Learning that Your Child Is Visually Impaired
There is no right or wrong way to cope with the news that your child is blind or visually impaired. Whatever you're feeling—anger, sorrow, guilt, confusion, anxiety, or fear—you need to know that your emotions are natural and shared by virtually all parents faced with problems that affect their child's health and well-being.
There are a number of strategies that can help you balance your life and your concern for your visually impaired child.
Acknowledge Your Feelings
Recognize that each parent responds differently to having a child with a visual impairment. Try not to compare yourself or your spouse to other parents or criticize yourself because at times you may feel depressed, angry, or have other distressing emotions.
Take Good Care of Yourself
You're entitled to take care of your own life without feeling guilty. In fact, you need to. Eating what's good for you, getting enough sleep, relaxing as much as possible, and continuing activities that are rewarding to you are all important aspects of maintaining an effective day-to-day life. Good health is essential to keeping up your spirits as well as your physical strength and, in that way, helping your family and your child.
Getting emotional support from people who care about you is crucial. When you feel less than perfect, you may have a tendency to withdraw from friends and sometimes from family, too. Although you may feel shaken and exhausted at times, try to stay in touch with your friends, family, and others who can boost your spirits and help you cope.
Find a Good Listener
Many people find that simply talking about what's bothering them is a great relief. Choose someone you're comfortable with, who won't judge you, and who will just listen to how you feel. An empathetic ear is invaluable for most of us as we try to sort out what we feel and what to do.
Give Yourself Time To Adjust
Adjusting to the news of your child's visual impairment is part of a continuing process. In many ways, every family is in constant transition, and it may be helpful to keep that in mind. Give yourself and your family time to absorb this situation, and begin to see your circumstances in terms of what steps you can take to ensure your child's successful future.
Connect with Other Families
Get in touch with other families who have had similar experiences. Many parents who've raised a visually impaired child have a lot of expertise to share with you. They can help you find contacts, current medical and educational information, and useful resources. They can also offer you tremendous emotional support along with suggestions and tips from their own experiences raising a child who is visually impaired. You can begin making connections by going to the message boards on FamilyConnect. Another way to meet parents is by joining The National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI). You can get a list of other national and local parent support groups under Find Services on FamilyConnect.
Work with Knowledgeable Professionals
Consult with professionals who are specialists in blindness or low vision about your child's eye condition. University-affiliated hospitals, professional organizations, and national organizations in the field of visual impairment are good sources of referrals and other information. This site is also a good source of information about finding specialized professionals and helpful organizations.
Become Informed About Your Child's Eye Condition
Learn as much as you can about your child's eye condition. Some excellent sources of information include: early intervention teachers and therapists, medical doctors, eye care and low vision specialists, libraries, the Internet, national organizations serving people with visual impairments, and other families with a child that is visually impaired. When talking with your child's doctor, be sure to ask any and all questions you have and request explanations of any answer that isn't clear to you.
Establish Long-term Relationships with Key Medical and Other Service Providers
Every family needs a trusted group of experts who can offer sound advice and ongoing help. You may find it helpful if your own group includes the following professionals:
- A pediatrician
- A pediatric ophthalmologist or optometrist
- Various other specialists, such as an early interventionist, a teacher of students with visual impairments, an orientation and mobility specialist, a physical therapist, a speech and language therapist, or a psychologist, depending on your child's specific needs
Seek Out Intervention Services
If your child is under age 3, work with an early childhood interventionist. Babies who are visually impaired are eligible for early intervention services. The professionals you'll meet through early intervention have skills and experience that can help your family through the first few years of your baby's life. For information and referral to services near you consult the lead agencies for early intervention in your state.
If your child is over age 3, work with a teacher of students with visual impairments. Children who have a visual impairment that impacts their education typically qualify for services from a teacher of students with visual impairments and an orientation and mobility specialist. These professionals work with children to help maximize their educational potential. Contacting your school district's special education office is the first step to locating services for your child.
Keep Good Records
Set aside a place in your home for maintaining files on your child's medical condition and school status. It's a good idea to separate medical from school files, but any system that helps you keep important information organized and easy to locate is invaluable. Save copies of:
- Doctor's reports
- Reports from other consultants or specialists
- Correspondence between you and any educational and medical program or agency with which you've had contact
- Copies of your child's Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP); Individualized Education Program (IEP) once your child begins school; and copies of other official reports
- Results of any assessments of your child
Know the Law
Knowing what your child is entitled to is invaluable information. It's your guide to knowing what to ask for and how to ensure that your child gets the services she needs. Important laws include the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Find out the names of your local and state legislators and how to reach their neighborhood offices. They can be very helpful when you need information about contacting the appropriate person to help your child or confirming what your child's rights are under the law.
Focus on the Positive
It's easy to put your own needs on the back burner when you're dealing with the news of your child's visual impairment. Don't forget about yourself or feel that you're not entitled to do the things that you enjoy. Remember that first and foremost your child is a child and not a disability. Enjoy him for who he is. Nurture, play, discipline, and give your child the love and attention he needs. This will help in his development and you'll feel better too.