By David Hyde
As I write, it is our first day of school. It is probably your child’s too. This is a time of adjustment for everyone. New teachers, new schools, new friends, new books, and new problems. And even if things are substantially the same as last year, that will change too.
We all remember our very first day. I was five, and had just moved to Salem Oregon to attend the school for the Blind. There was a big room, and a teacher named Mrs. Nicholson. I was absolutely fascinated by a bridge in the room, two sets of steps, with a wide board between them. No rail, of course (we weren’t as careful then) but it was a fun thing to walk on. I had walked to school that fall morning with my mother, who tearfully left me in Mrs. Nicholson’s charge.
Mom left crying, I told her bye and kept playing. That day I met other blind children. There was Debby who was younger and in the class next door. Her friend was named Patty. There was Terry and Jimmy, and we became good friends. There were others whom the years have erased from my memory. That year, I learned to share, to string beads, to play with other children, to sing, and I started to learn to read braille. I learned to sneak away when I was supposed to take a nap, and that not everyone in my class was blind. Since I was at a school for the blind, I didn’t have to explain my eye condition to the other children or to the teacher.
That has changed. Today, most of our children are in public schools, and we see the Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI) and Orientation and Mobility Professional (O&M) only once in a while, so it is up to the parent, and sometimes the child to explain their visual condition to the other children, and sometimes, school personnel. Here are some ideas.
- Know what the condition is called. Mine, was called Retrolental Fibroplasia (RLF) which you would know as Retinopathy of Prematurity (ROP). The big words always sounded so impressive.
- Explain what your child can see. Use examples of distance, details, colors, and how changing light makes things different.
- Keep it Simple. Particularly for other children, explain that in some conditions (bright light, distances, or close up) your child may not be able to identify individuals. It is always good if the student can explain it themselves. Most people want a simple explanation.
- If the student uses equipment, let the other students see, and maybe try it out. Give easy explanations. One can do thirty minutes on using a cane, but the simple thing is that the cane is supposed to hit things before the child does. Electronics, magnification, braille displays, monoculars are all cool devices, and they may help your child make friends.
- Talk to your child about what goes on in school. There will be things that he/she can do, and things that he ’she can’t. Talk about ways to do those things with which your child is having problems. If you don’t have the answer, talk to your TVI, or someone here in Outreach.
Welcome back to school! Every year brings new challenges and new opportunities. Please enjoy them both.
David Hyde is a Parent Liaison and the Professional Development Coordinator at WCBVI. You can contact him by email at email@example.com or by phone at (608) 758-6152 or toll free 1-866-284-1107 x6152.