When an Older Sibling is Visually Impaired
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Most parents recognize that each of their children is unique in regard to personality, ability to take on responsibility, and capacity to learn new things. Each one needs to be treated as an individual, but sometimes family members have expectations based on a child's age or birth order in the family.
If your child who is visually impaired is older than one or more of your other children, it can present its own unique challenges for the members of your family, especially if your child has other disabilities in addition to her visual impairment.
All children develop at different rates. One of your children may walk before age 1, whereas another may not walk until 15 months. Some children with visual impairments vary in some areas of development. At some point, therefore, her younger brothers or sisters may pass your child who is visually impaired in certain aspects of growth. Your younger child may be more mature emotionally or may be able to take on responsibilities that his older sister who has a visual impairment cannot.
For example, a child who is 9 years of age and has a visual impairment may need close supervision when preparing a snack that involves use of the microwave, while her 6-year-old sighted brother is able to do this on his own. Or, you may feel comfortable allowing your 11-year-old, who is sighted, to ride his bike to the public library several blocks away, but your 13-year-old daughter who is blind may not yet have the orientation and mobility skills to travel that far independently.
How do you handle situations like this, especially if your visually impaired child is upset that her younger siblings are doing things she wants to do?
Parenting Strategies That May Help
Discuss With Other Members of the Educational Team What Your Child Would Like to Be Able to Do
Many of the activities that your child would like to do herself, or the skills that you would like her to learn, will fall under one or more areas of the expanded core curriculum that is supposed to be taught to all children who are blind or visually impaired. If so, they may be appropriate goals to be included in her Individualized Education Program (IEP).
Selecting goals for your child's education that relate to her life outside school will not only motivate her to learn, but will also strengthen the connection between what she learns at school and what she does at home and in the community.
Look for Parts of an Activity Your Child Can Do Independently
If your visually impaired child is not able to do something her siblings are doing, look for ways in which she can do parts of the activity independently.
For example, your other children may be traveling around the neighborhood on their own. If your child who is visually impaired knows how to travel around a block, you can let her do that on her own and then offer her assistance in crossing the street, so that she is traveling around the neighborhood at least partly by herself.
Perhaps her siblings are going shopping for a birthday gift for a friend without your assistance. When she wants to choose a birthday gift for her friend, you might help her find the customer service desk at the store and then give her the freedom to solicit help from a store employee.
Look for Opportunities for Your Visually Impaired Child to Excel
Try to find ways in which your visually impaired child can do something that her brothers or sisters may not know how to do or are not yet old enough to do. This will help build her self-esteem.
For example, a special program for children who are visually impaired might sponsor a ski trip that gives her the opportunity to ski before her siblings have that experience. Or, she might be good at writing poetry while a younger sibling is still learning to read.
The idea is not to encourage your child to gloat, but to feel good about her accomplishments. When she is feeling frustrated that her younger siblings are doing things she can't, you can gently remind her of some things she has done that they haven't.