Posts tagged ‘visually impaired’

How Do the Blind See a Tree?

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Most people can look up and see a tree.  To a child who is blind or visually impaired, their concept of a tree is the bark they can feel. Their concept of a tree is that it is” rough”.  If they have some vision, they can tell that a tree is brown at its trunk, but “a blob of green” above the trunk.  They could grow up and their whole lives not know what a tree “looks” like.  Expanding such basic knowledge of their world is called expanding the core curriculum. It consists of concepts that are not taught in school, but are still important lessons for that child to learn in order to grow up as an educated adult who is blind.

One topic covered by the nine students, ages six through thirteen, at an April vacation program, was the concept of trees and their differences.  During a nature walk, students found that some trees were so small they could fit their hand around the trunk.  Some trees were so large that it took all nine students holding hands to encircle the trunk. Some trunks were very rough, with deep groves, and some were smooth, with little lines barely traceable by their little fingers.

They learned that evergreen trees stay green all year, and they giggled as they carefully touched the sharp needles. They never knew that trees could be so prickly!  Under the tree, they found the pinecones from which a new tree may grow.

They learned that oak trees, in the spring, have no leaves.  They closely examined the branches of an oak with a few dead leaves still attached, carefully feeling them and making the connection with the leaves they see on the ground in the autumn. Acorns which were still attached to the tree branch were felt with much enthusiasm.  They had collected acorns from the ground underneath the tree, but to actually see it attached seemed to be a surprise. They felt the new buds on the ends of the small branches, buds which would soon bloom into leaves.

Students learned about flowering trees, in full bloom during their springtime visit.  Most students were amazed that a tree could have flowers.  In their minds, trees and flowers were two entirely different things.  But there they were; pink blossoms on the end of a cherry blossom tree branch, gentle, sweet smelling little flowers.

As they were feeling and looking at the trees up close, students were in awe.  So many different types of trees!  And they would not describe a single one of them as “rough” because they were finally able to look beyond the bark.

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(I apologize, it has been a busy summer and this is a repost from 2 years ago.) For more stories about children who are blind, please, read my book. Here is a link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11 The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

Mothers, Help Your Sons Grow Up to be Fathers…

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My oldest son, Francis, grew up amongst a caravan of foster brothers and sisters. Specializing in newborns and infants who had been affected by prenatal drug exposure and addiction, our family was usually comprised of my husband and myself, Francis, his sister, Dinora, who had been adopted from Guatemala, and one or two foster babies. Despite the fact that Francis is severely visually impaired, he played an active role in child care, frequently holding a little one, feeding a bottle and changing diapers. When going to the mall, he and his sister would proudly push the double stroller. (With the 2 of them, he could be a pusher without having to see where he was going…) Throughout his childhood, sixteen foster babies lived with us, and caring for them was just a fact of life.

Francis is now an adult with a Ph. D. from Cambridge, a well paying dream job, a wonderful wife and a cozy home complete with a grill for grilling steaks and a lawn to mow. And, as of three weeks ago, a newborn baby. My week spent with his little family renewed my faith in the power of what is learned in childhood. Without even knowing it, I had trained Francis how to be a good father! He bundles his little girl up in a baby blanket, like I had bundled up those babies who were going through withdrawal. Newborns like being in a tidy bundle because they arrive with strong startle reflexes and without much control of their arms and legs. By pulling her arms and legs in close and securely wrapping a blanket around her little body, baby India can feel safe and secure. When she is awake and alert, Francis rocks her and sings songs to her, songs that he heard me sing so many years ago: “Itsy Bitsy Spider”, “Hush Little Baby,” and “The Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round”. Even though she couldn’t possibly know the songs, the sound of his voice quiets her, and these songs are easy to sing. When he is expertly changing her diaper, he plays “This Little Piggy” with her toes, gently pulling her feet to his mouth to kiss. He exaggerates the “wee wee wee home” by tracing his finger from her toes to her chin, tickling her slightly before kissing her forehead. And while she sits in his arms on the couch, ready for bed, he reads her books with very large print; “Goodnight Moon”, and “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed”.

On the evening before I left to fly home, he looked over at me and thanked me for giving him the opportunity to practice on all those babies years ago. All of his friends are having babies now, he said, and they are all in a tizzy. Because of the practice HE had, he is a confident parent and not at all nervous with India. I realized that by being a foster parent to infants, I was not only caring for little ones, but also nurturing parenting skills in my oldest sons, skills that will ensure he will be an awesome father!

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For more stories about Francis childhood and our adventure with foster children, please, read my book. Here is a link:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

I Am a Certain Thomas

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My life has been blessed with the certainty of God’s existence. My brother was born multiply disabled with Rubella syndrome, (a warning to those who do not believe in immunizations.) He was almost deaf, blind, severely developmentally disabled and had a cleft palate, along with several other physical anomalies. My mom spent the first few months of his life sobbing on her bed. It was a confusing time for me as a child…my mom was not available to me, this new creature in my house mewed like a kitten for hours on end, and my dad did everything he could to not be home. Then, one sunny, warm day, my mom sat in the sun parlor on a rocking chair, rocking Curtis as he cried his kitten cry. Then a miracle happened…she was visited by the Holy Spirit. He/she came right on in, with a brightness that far surpassed the streaming sunlight, a brightness that would have been blinding were it not for the fact that it wasn’t. With a warmth of all encompassing love and joy. With a deep understanding that was somehow passed along to my mom. My mom stopped crying that day, and never again cried for my brother. Instead, he was raised with love; encouraged to do his best and accepted for what he could do, not what he couldn’t. My young life was so awesome after this experience! I have lived with that spirit in my heart; joyful and loving. Accepting and encouraging. Yet humble and in awe of all that life has to offer.
While that one experience changed my life, it was another experience that cemented my belief in the existence of a higher being. We traveled much during my childhood, and once we stayed atop a mountain, reveling in the views of the valley during the day and surrounded by pitch darkness at night. It was a time I valued having a campfire, sitting next to it with my poking stick, playing with the coals and listening to the gentle sounds of the night. Sleep came easily. I was awakened by an unbelievably loud noise and shaking of the earth, as though the whole mountain had exploded. The sound was so intense and unusual that my first thought was that it was the end of the world. In that instant, as I imagined “the end“ was near, an incredible sense of contentment and love immediately washed over me, with the joy of anticipation of a peaceful after-life. As silly as it sounds, I was actually disappointed to learn that the noise was just the sound of the thunder high in the mountains. What kind of person, especially a child, would have that thought????? I should have been frightened beyond belief, but I wasn’t. While my experience may lack scientific validity and meaning, it affected me deep in my soul and has deeply influenced the way I live my life.
Since that fateful night on the mountain, there have been a few more wisps of God in my life, the most notable being the unexplained healing of my daughter, Dinora’s deafness.
Many Christians heard the Gospel story of Thomas last Sunday. Thomas was one of Jesus’ disciples who would not believe in Jesus’ resurrection until he put his hand in Jesus’ side to feel his wounds. Since has come the term “Doubting Thomas”. I am Certain Thomas because I have so fortunately been given a rare sight into God’s existence, an existence of which I am sure and without doubt. It has been natural to live my life the way I have, and to do it with love and joy and acceptance. I’m not doing anything extraordinary, only what is natural given my knowledge. It is so much more meaningful for those who life similar lives, helping others, raising children, being peacemakers, donating material and monetary possessions, and loving others without qualification. They do so out of faith without proof, an amazing accomplishment for sure!
How would YOU live your life differently if you knew, for sure, of God’s existence?

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For more stories about my childhood, please, read my book. Here is a link:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

How NOT to Raise a Child with a Disability

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When your child is a toddler, focus on all the things he can’t do. He’s not walking as soon as other children. He’s not talking as good as other children. It is embarrassing to take him out in public because everyone comments on his looks. Blame your spouse for his disability. Or, equally worse, blame God. Whey has He forsaken you? Why has He saddled you with this tremendous burden? Spend your child’s infant and toddler years lamenting the sadness, disappointment and loss.

As your child gets older and goes to school, always blame the teacher or the principal if he can’t do something. After all, it MUST be their fault. They are discriminating against your child if they try to make him behave or actually complete his school project. He has a disability! Doesn’t that come with the right not to have to do homework or obey the class rules?

Try to force the sports teams to let your son play, and they will. But your son cannot play soccer/baseball/basketball as well as the other children and he is humiliated by his poor skills and the disappointment from the other children when their team loses. Make sure to yell at your child for his poor performance. After all, if he didn’t have a disability, he would have made a great soccer/baseball/basketball player, and it is a horrible loss for you to admit that your son is a failure.

Argue with your partner/spouse over your son. You don’t both agree on the best style of parenting, so each do your own thing and teach your child that he is a constant source of distress between the two of you. Possibly get divorced. And blame your son. If he hadn’t been born, you would have had nothing to argue about.

You see your son as worthless…he can’t play sports, he gets in trouble all of the time in school, (as you have been his best advocate that he doesn’t have to follow the rules because he has a disability,) and he has minimal social skills. Do not be surprised when he turns to drugs.

He assumed that he was SUCH a disappointment that you would be better off without him. Do not be surprised when he takes his own life…

This rant follows a recent suicide of one of the students who is visually impaired with whom I worked. Like all adults who were a part of his life, I wonder where I was to blame. I tried in vain to impart my enthusiasm for a bright future for him. I tried in vain to make the parents realize that by setting their child apart they were denying their child an equal part in society. I tried in vain to tell the parents that their child may not be good at basketball, but he could swim spectacularly! Maybe he couldn’t play soccer, but give him a bowling ball, a bowling ramp and a lane of pins and he could get a strike two times out of four. He had such a way with younger children that I imagined him a teacher one day. But his parents did not see it. They only saw their own disappointment. Their own embarrassment at having a child who looked different. Their own anger at each other for the having “caused” this disability. They only saw their own feelings and never once stopped to think about how this was affecting their child. Their child who would never become the teacher I envisioned.

My suggestion to parents of children with disabilities is this: your child is a wonderful creation who, for whatever reason, was born with a disability. Rejoice in your child! Look for the things he CAN do, and incorporate them into your daily life. Plan for his education in a realistic, non-judgmental manner. Sure the teachers may screw up once in a while, but haven’t you also, at one time or another, misjudged your child? Try to keep the peace at school. You only meet with the teacher once in a while, your child has to go to school every day. If you and your spouse disagree over parenting, see a counselor who can help you work together. Most of all, find something in which your child excels and enjoys, and fly with it! Everyone wants to have success in life, and your child is no different. Whose to say one type of success if more important than another?

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For more suggestions on how to raise a child with a disability, please, read my book. Here is a link:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

Is There a Cupboard for Cans of Food?

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Actual conversation overheard while I was driving children who are blind to activities during the summer program with which I have been working:

Her:   “What street do you live on?”

Him:  “Main Street”, (which is 5 miles long.)

Her:  “What color is your house?”

Him:  “Yellow”

Her:  “YELLOW?!?  I used to live on Main Street in a yellow house.”

Him:  “Wow!  Maybe it is the same one! Did it have two bedrooms upstairs and one bedroom downstairs right next to the bathroom?”

Her:  “YES!  That sounds just like the house I used to live in! Does it have a driveway on the side of the house with bushes by the front steps?”

Him:  “YES!  How about a dining room where it can fit a table that seats ten people?”

Her:  “Oh, my family used to get all together there on Thanksgiving.”

Him:  “MY family gets together there for Thanksgiving!  Did your bedroom have a closet door that got stuck?”

Her:  “YES!  That was my closet door!”

Him:  “And how about a creepy basement”?”

Her:  “YES! YES! I was always afraid to go into the basement.  How about…does it have a  cupboard in the kitchen where you could keep cans of food?”

Him:  “OH MY WORD!  YES!  That is too much of a coincidence!  I guess I really AM living in the same house you used to live in!”

Her:  That is sooooooo amazing!”

Him:  “Isn’t it!!!!!”

And while they were talking, I drove by at least another ten yellow houses on main street.  I wonder if they all have cupboards in the kitchen in which to keep canned foods???

But She was Just Talking to Her!!

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My job includes coordinating both a summer and winter program for children who are blind and visually impaired.  Last winter our lovely little group of about 40 went to an indoor water park during February vacation. If you have never been to an indoor (or outdoor for that matter) water park, you are missing one of life’s most wonderful playgrounds with water slides for all ages and skills. My age may indicate I could manage the “black hole”, but my skill kept me in the kiddie area!  (Ohhhhh!  The KITTIE pool again!!!)   Lounging in the lazy river on a double tube was a great way for staff to keep an eye on their child without letting them float gleefully away amongst the throng of people enjoying the current. A huge water playground centered the park, with slides and little pools and tons of water play, including the huge bucket of water atop the structure.  Every so often, the bucket, filled with water, would tip over and the torrential water would come gushing down, soaking everyone as though…..well….as though a bucket of water was dropped on their heads. Because my daughter, Marie, was also on school vacation and she joined us, I chose this particular water park because it featured a surfing pool.  Marie LOVES to “surf”, and on every other occasion we have come to this facility she has spent the entire day doing so, waiting, nose pressed against the glass, at the door first thing in the morning to come in, and being the last one for the security guard to throw out at closing time.going to this water park.

My big surprise was that Marie wanted to help out a group of younger girls who are blind.  The girls had staff who amicably allowed Marie to join their group. Despite the fact that she normally communicates in American Sign Language, she somehow managed to be very sociable and get along well with everyone. Having such a strong love for “surfing”, my expectation was she would help for a little while, but spend most of her time surfing. Surprise of surprises!!!!  My wonderful daughter did not choose her own activity, but spent all of her time with the little girls, helping them on the slides, doing the “sighted guide technique” to maneuver around the crowded park, showing them where the food was on their plates, (using the clock method,) and so forth.  Marie was having a grand time, and the girls all seemed to adore her.

On the last night of this program. Marie was seated in the booth at the restaurant with two of the girls and their staff.  One of the girls all of a sudden started waving her hands wildly in the air, not just once, but she kept going! Prone to seizures, the medic ran over and asked her if she was okay.  Of COURSE she was okay, she said, she was just TALKING to Marie!!  The laughter started at their table and  soon circled around the room as everyone realized what she had said…she was signing to her, of course!!!!

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To read more about our life, here is a link to my book:

https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/the-apple-tree/id538572206?mt=11

The Apple Tree: Raising 5 Kids With Disabilities and Remaining Sane

Link to the Readers Digest review of my book:  http://www.rd.com/recommends/what-to-read-after-a-hurricane/

Mother’s Day and Delayed Rewards

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Mother’s Day is a wonderful time to appreciate moms, step-moms, birth moms, adoptive moms, wanna be moms and women who love children. Bless you for making a difference in a child’s life! Don’t you get joy from seeing the joy in a laughing child, the shy smile of a child with twinkling eyes, and the serene look on their faces when they are sleeping?  Ahhhhhh……..what sweet little rewards of being with a child…

Most of us know, however, that it is VERY difficult to be a mom and sometimes the REAL rewards are far apart….

When my son Steven was in nursery school, it was a real challenge because of his autistic and ADHD problems. He had been born addicted to cocaine and heroine and his nervous system was “messed up” (my professional diagnosis.) Bringing him was a real challenge as he would kick and scream and cry, yet I did it because he could not hide out safely at home for his entire life with me vacuuming around him. At first, he would  spend most of the time in school hiding out in the “quiet tent”, playing with his plastic reptiles, sometimes soaking in the information from the teacher. Eventually, he sauntered out of his safe space to see what was going on.  He did not join the other children, but he was with them…a huge improvement.  Eventually, nursery school became normalized for him; part of his routine.  He would come home with his little projects; a paper flower, a painted snake, a play dough alligator.  I had learned not to make a “fuss” over these things, but to quietly tell him they were wonderful while his head dropped to his chest, eyes closed.  (He was not a child who could tolerate excitement of any kind.)  He survived two years in that classroom, and I wondered how he would act on “graduation day”, a celebration seemingly out of his tolerance level.  All of the children stood there in their little paper graduation caps, tassels dangling in front of their noses so they had to keep blowing them away.  All of the children except Steven.  The children sang a song, and thanked their moms and generally wowed the crowd with their antics.  All of the children except Steven.  The children walked in a nice, straight line to get their nursery school diplomas; all except Steven.  When all but one diploma had been handed out, the teacher walked over to where Steven was hiding under a chair, butt facing outwards. (If I had been smart, I would have sewed a smiley face on the butt of his pants, but, alas, I had been unrealistically hoping that he would join the other children in the graduation ceremony.)  The teacher bent down with the document and Steven’s  little hand reached out to grab it.  He quickly pulled the diploma out of sight.  Calm and cool under the seat, he had made it! Steven had graduated from nursery school without a tantrum, yelling or screaming.  He graduated in the manner he felt most comfortable, but graduate he did!  What a reward that was for me; I was a proud mother, indeed!

Diagnosed in elementary school with Dissociative Identity Disorder, Angel, has been very carefully placed in specialized classrooms.  Although intelligent and able to do grade level work, he frequently changes “parts”, (his word for his alternate personalities.)  His teachers and teacher aids, bless their souls, understand him well, and manage to educate him, even if it means repeating the same lesson because a different “part” was out that day, or giving his the test over because the “part” that studied for the test is not the “part” that took the test!  He has a baby part which necessitates him to just “veg out” in a large mushroom chair.  On those days, nothing was learned.  His condition has been kept top secret and no unnecessary teachers or others in the school know about it. Fortunately, he has been living a very “normal” life.  I have found one surprising benefit…he has a “Game Show Host” part.  I work with a recreational group of adults with disabilities, and every now and then we play Bingo or Family Feud. Angel, as have all of my children, regularly comes with me.  One day, he asked to be the moderator for Family Feud and his “performance” was beyond hilarious.  Usually a reserved child with groups, all of a sudden he channeled Richard Dawson! He went down the rows of “contestants”, gave each of them a peck on the cheek, and, while holding their hands in his, asked their names and a little about themselves.  The older women, who probably have not had much attention in their lives, giggled and smiled and blushed.  Then, Angel read each question with gusto, and made a “ding” noise when they got it right, and a loud buzzer noise if they got it wrong.  It was sooooooooooo funny because it was so out of character of the Angel that they knew.  This group of adult with disabilities, many of whom live alone on a minimum income with this once a week outing their only time out of their houses, were laughing hysterically that evening. Ever since then, they look forward to Family Feud and “Gameshow Host” Angel! What a reward for me to see Angel’s  give such joy to these wonderful people!

As a graduation present, my daughter, Dinora, and I took a trip back to her birth country in Guatemala.  She had done fundraising to assist with the opening of a soup kitchen in Antigua, and we were there for “opening day”.  We went shopping that morning, taking a little “putt putt” (2 wheeled open air taxi) into the village, giggling all the way as it bounced along. We bought flowers of all bright shapes and sizes, which stuck out of the putt putt on the way back, narrowly bopping passers by on the head. We spread the flowers out in front of  the  alter where a mass was to be said in honor of the opening of the facility. An overflowing crowd of people filled the make-shift pews, and it was a beautiful, emotional mass. Even though it was all in Spanish I seemed to understand every word, and I could certainly feel the emotion in the songs which the Indigenous Guatemalans sang.  After mass, people lined up for the food in their brightly colored clothing. There was my daughter, a young adult, behind the counter, dark hair pulled back into a pony tail, serving food with a beaming smile on her face showing dimples I never knew she had, (or perhaps she had never smiled so brightly.)  She was old enough and cared enough to give back something and help “her people” as she called them. I will never forget the sight of her…sweat on her brow, wiping her hands on her apron, making pleasant conversation in Spanish while smiling that amazing smile…   How could that sight NOT be a reward for a mom after years of raising a difficult teen?

Raising Marie has been the most difficult because of her many serious challenges.  When she came to us, she was street smart at the age of seven.(See post “All She did Was Scream and Say No! No! No!) She had no thought of danger and no social skills.  Although this may sound silly, one of my concerns was the fact that she would litter.  Get a drink; throw the bottle on the ground.  Have a piece of gum; throw the wrapper on the ground. Popsicle; stick thrown in the grass.    Repeatedly, I would have her pick it up and throw it away, explaining that we don’t litter in our family.  Marie could not have cared less…she did not want to be in our family anyway…  It took many months with us before she learned not to litter.  That’s why it shocked me when we were at the mall one day and she casually flicked the paper from her straw onto the ground.  My eyes widened, and just as I was about to ask her to pick it up, she bent down and picked it up, signing to me “I was just teasing you!  I know we don’t litter in this family!”  What a reward it was to hear her say that!  Finally, she felt part of our family!

My most favorite reward I saved for last.  For all of you parents, especially parents with children with disabilities, I will share that there has been no greater reward in my life than seeing my son, Francis, become a successful adult. Despite being legally blind, he has a college degree, is very successful in a job which he loves and through which he is benefitting others, and he recently married a great woman who not only loves him for the wonderful person that he is, but can also drive a car so he won’t have to take public transit to work any more!  There IS no greater reward for a parent; to know that the problems, fun, hard work, love, difficulties and dispersed joys of childhood have come together in a positive way. My son has officially “made it” to adulthood.  Now he can look forward to the rewards he will experience in raising his own children. Then I get the extra rewards of grandchildren!

To all of you mothers and others out there, Happy Mother’s Day!  Beyond the handmade cards, the flowers, the breakfasts and dinners out, and the gifts of the day, so many more rewards await you.  Sometimes you just have to be patient…

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