Your Teenager's Feelings About Being Visually Impaired

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Like you, your teenager is going to have a range of feelings about her visual impairment. The teenage years in general are an emotional time for many young people as they move from adolescence to adulthood. Most want to fit in with their peers, and being "different" because of a visual impairment can cause reactions such as anger, depression, or sadness. Many teens are also concerned about the future, and their uncertainty can sometimes give rise to strong negative feelings about being visually impaired.

Teenagers who are visually impaired may share a number of reactions, but feelings vary from person to person. Also, teens who have recently become visually impaired will often have somewhat different emotional needs from those who have been visually impaired since early childhood.

Giving your child emotional support in the teen years needs to be a critical focus. Here are some of the ways you may be able to help her:

  • Encourage her to talk openly.

  • Help her meet other teens and adults who are visually impaired and leading successful lives.

  • Provide counseling or other professional support if appropriate.

Helping your teenager feel self-esteem and self-acceptance can contribute greatly to her well-being and lay the groundwork for a satisfying life.

For many youngsters with visual impairments, the teenage years can be particularly emotional as they struggle with all the "normal" issues of adolescence as well as issues about being visually impaired. Hearing classmates talking about driving or other social activities they're not involved in may cause many teens to be upset. The challenges of flirting and dating may seem overwhelming and make a teen feel unsure of herself and her appeal to a potential dating partner. You can support your child emotionally by letting her know how much you care about her and that she can talk to you about anything, anytime. Let her know that you're not there to judge, but to listen and support her.

The Value of Role Models

Your teenager may find it easier to talk about her visual impairment with others who are visually impaired. If she didn't have much contact with other visually impaired children when she was younger, consider encouraging her to do so now. That would give her a chance to share experiences with others who, she feels, are like her. She might benefit by finding role models among new acquaintances and, in turn, might become a role model for a younger person. The experience may make her feel better about herself and her visual impairment.

The Driver's License Issue

Most teens with visual impairments won't be able to get a driver's license, and this may be a significant issue for them. Not being able to drive can be emotionally difficult because this rite of passage is one their friends are constantly talking about. However, your teenager can develop strategies for being a nondriver that will help her feel more independent and less socially isolated.

Socializing and Dating

Some of your daughter's emotions about being visually impaired may stem from the challenges she's facing in her social relationships, in both friendships and dating relationships. She may feel left out or may doubt her ability to attract friends as well as dates. Helping her develop strategies to make and maintain friendships is important for her overall emotional well-being. Working with her on how to look attractive is important as well. Investing time in discussing and role playing how to flirt and act with members of the opposite sex can go a long way in providing increased self-confidence.

Like all teens, your daughter may have mixed feelings about her future. On the one hand, she may want to hurry and finish high school so she can be out on her own. On the other, she may be uncertain about what she'll do after high school. She needs your assurance that most teens have the same feelings.

Teens Who Have Recently Experienced Vision Loss

During the teenage years some children experience a significant decrease in vision from conditions such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP) or Stargardt's disease. Other children may lose vision from an accident or other traumatic event. If your child is in this group, she has a lot to deal with emotionally. Like you, she may be grieving for the "normal" or "near normal" vision she previously had. She may also be angry about the things that she's having trouble doing, such as reading or going places by herself. And her relationship with friends may have changed because her friends are uncertain how to support her.

Your teen is going to need time to adjust, learn to live with her loss of vision, and deal with her feelings, but she's also going to need encouragement and support. Many of the strategies that are important for teenagers born with reduced vision will be helpful now, for example:

  • Be available to talk with her about her feelings about having a significant reduction in her vision. Let her know you're there to listen and be supportive of her, not to be judgmental.

  • Seek out older teens or adult role models for her to meet. Meeting someone else with a visual impairment and hearing about their experiences will help her realize she is not the only person with a visual impairment. Role models may share with her how they've dealt with their own feelings about vision loss. Hearing directly from someone who's had similar experiences can be very helpful to many teens.

  • Your teen may benefit from time spent in activities with other teens who are visually impaired. Some agencies and schools sponsor weekend programs. There are a variety of summer camps and other programs for teens with visual impairments.

  • If you find your child is emotionally distraught, consider having her talk with a counselor. Sometimes an outsider who has professional training can help young people work through issues more effectively than those who are closest to the young person.

  • If your daughter expresses feelings of sadness or anger about her relationship with friends, suggest that she invite one or two friends over. Some teens may not be sure how to react and support a friend who has experienced vision loss. Your child might need to make the first move, and find that her friends are still there for her once they have a chance to talk quietly with each other. Reestablishing relationships with her friends will give her an outlet for sharing her feelings.

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