It is very common for parents to do everything for their disabled child. Some parents say it’s just easier to do it for them than to take the time to teach them. It DOES take a lot of time, but once they learn a task well, you may never have to help them with it again, or at least give minimal assistance. That one hour or several weeks assisting your child on that daily task and slowly pulling away to watch them try it on their own is a feeling of victory not only the child, but the parent(s) as well!
Daily hygiene tasks:
Showering - if the shampoo and conditioner feel the same, put a rubber band around one of them to differentiate them. My totally blind daughter was independently showering everyday at age 6. When she began showers, I would stand there and peek in the curtain instructing her what to do next and telling her where to find the soap and shampoo giving her verbal cues. Washing the hair took a lot of time. She would wet her hair. I would put the shampoo in her hair and have her feel how much was in her hand. She would then lather it all around. Teaching her to lather her hair efficiently really took a lot of time. I would sometimes step in and work her hair to a long point on top of her head just to tactually illustrate that if her hair could stand up like that, she was properly lathering it. We spent about 2 weeks doing this routine, but once she got it she felt so accomplished.......and so did I!
Getting dressed (ages 3-5) A lot of shirts are tagless now. This can be difficult for young kids to tell which way to put their shirt on. A lot of times with the tagless shirts, you can still feel some kind of print on the inside back of their shirt neckline. If not, put a dot of puffy paint there so they know that is the back of their shirt. You could also use little safety pins. You could put one little safety pin on the inside neckline on all school related shirts, 2 little safety pins on shirts that go with a certain pair of pants, etc.) Personally, I don’t like sewing in braille labels that you can purchase through www.aph.org because kids grow so quickly. That’s a lot of work to put in clothes that will only fit them such a short time. Try not to step in to help unless they are getting frustrated. It is very important to make your child ask for help! This is just the beginning for them — learning how to advocate for themselves.
Think about it.....most sighted people can zip a coat without looking! The hardest part for our kids is teaching them (hand-over-hand) how the zipper fits into the zip fastener. Have them try zipping their jacket every time with less and less assistance as they are catching on.
Brushing their teeth - (ages 3-5) I never realized how visual learning to spit was! I had to spit on my daughter’s hand so she could feel the force. I also had her touch my lips so she could feel how they were formed. I would have her hold her toothbrush with my hand over hers demonstrating how to brush her teeth properly. Putting toothpaste on the toothbrush was a little tricky at first too, but she figured out on her own how much to put on there by feel. We really take advantage of these non verbal things that we do daily. Things that seem simple to sighted people, can be very challenging to the blind.
Brushing their hair - (ages 3-5) Have them feel where the part is in their hair and show them hand-over-hand which direction to brush their hair.
Styling their hair - (ages 8-10) It was hard stepping back watching my daughter try to put in a messy bun, pony tail, half up, etc, but it’s not “cool” if mom is still doing her hair as a teenager. She goes to a lot of blind camps. I found this skill very important for her to know so she could get her own hair out of her face and have it look halfway decent. She puts a ponytail holder around her wrist and brushes her hair into a ponytail. While holding it with the hand she has the elastic around, she then takes her other hand and slides the holder off her wrist over her hand, then onto the pony tail twisting it and pulling the hair through as many times as she needs to make it feel tight enough. With a messy bun, I purchased a bun maker gadget. She puts her hair in a pony tail first then she twists it around fastening each loose piece under a prong until it all circles around in a bun formation. You learn to get crafty as a parent finding ways to help them be independent.
Shoe tying - I’ve talked to a lot of parents through the years. Some think shoe tying is important; others don’t! Learning to tie doesn’t just apply to shoes.....it applies to drawstring pants, bows, knots, etc. I’ll admit, it was frustrating to teach. In order to teach her how to make a bunny ear, I wrapped tape around one lace in two places spaced apart. She would touch the tapes together to get a feel of how big to make the loop. The loop and swoop were fairly easy, but the pull through part took a lot of time and patience. We tackled double knotting immediately to get her in the habit of not tripping over her laces. Also, I recommend you use rope laces for teaching this. They are easier to tactually differentiate while manuevering all the steps of tying! On this video, she is 12 years old. You will see how proud she is of herself. What seems so easy for sighted kids, are huge victories for our kids with low vision or blindness!
Age appropriate kitchen skills:
Getting snacks and a drink - My sighted kids can get their own snacks and drinks, so I had to find a way for my blind child to do it too. I designated a spot for snack-sized bowls and cups and taught her where they were. I give her a tactile tour of the snack cupboard every week after grocery shopping so she knows what snacks are in the house. My other family members know to put that snack back in its place so she knows where to find it back. She’s been getting her own breakfast and snacks since she was 7. Now at age 14, she makes her own school lunches and finds her own lunch to eat on the weekends. Here are some helpful tips:
You can put a rubber band around favorite snack boxes
Bump dot stickers on spaghettios, soups, easy Mac
Felt stickers (I got a pack of these tactile stickers at our local dollarstore)
Take all the lunch snacks out of boxes and put them in an open container to easily identify by feel.
If different condiment bottles feel the same, braille the name on an index card and attach with a rubber band. You could also put a rubber band on just the neck of the bottle to differentiate them.
Put the lunch meat in a certain place (teach the family to keep it there!)
A divided container - I stand string cheeses up in one divided area, yogurts or puddings in another, and pre-washed and bagged up grapes and strawberries in another.
Pouring - I started out putting milk for cereal in a smaller pitcher. I used the child- sized one from Tupperware so it wasn’t so heavy. Of course I had to teach her hand-over-hand how to pour. She curls her index finger over the top rim of the cup so she can gauge how full she is pouring. When the liquid touches the bottom of her finger, it is at her desired amount. At first, I put a pasta bowl under the cereal bowl to catch any spilled milk until she got confident enough to pour without spilling. Now that she’s a teenager, we are working on pouring from a milk jug. Because she had mastered the smaller steps of pouring first, it makes pouring out of larger cartons more attainable.
Chores? Of course!!
Yes your visually impaired child can do chores and they should! These are more independent tasks and necessary life skills! Find chores that you think your child could possibly handle. My daughter sets the table, empties and loads the dishwasher, hand washes dishes, empties the bathroom trashes, makes her bed, feeds the dog, folds towels, and puts her laundry away. I am very blessed because she also loves to pull weeds! She started out with one or two tasks when she was younger and now that she’s a teenager, she does more and actually likes it! She loves being able to do the things her siblings can do and she feels so accomplished when she does them. Again, it takes a lot of time to teach these things, but the invested time is surely worth it!
Camps And Activities
I sent my daughter to her first blind camp at age 7. I cried the whole week she was gone, but it has been the best experience for us both! She is 14 now and has gone to several through the years including summer camps and visually impaired sports camps. These camps have definitely contributed to her independent success today. She also loves being with other blind and low vision kids. Her sports camps have been the stepping stone to her participating on her middle school track and field team, ski club, unified soccer and basketball! Also at these camps, she has learned how to be more comfortable in the kitchen, how to plant a garden, canoe, hike, and zip line. It’s all your typical kids camp activities, but with adaptations of course! Camps are a great way to separate the child from the parents to start tapering off on the dependency piece. You may find these videos interesting to see how these activities are modified for people with a visual impairment.
Assistive Technology and independent school tools
I highly recommend that you get familiar with the tools your child will be using or already uses in school. I’m not too familiar with the low vision tools, as my daughter is completely blind, but the tools she specifically uses are the abacus for math; the Refreshabraille 18 paired with her iPad; Perkins Braille Writer; and the Braille Note Touch. She also uses Braille screen input on her Apple devices. I wanted to learn these so I could help her with homework at home. All kids struggle with homework, sighted and visually impaired, and need their parents help. I also learned Braille. When my kids were little, I would write little notes in their lunchbox! I wanted to do that for my daughter with no vision too! Below are some videos on the devices that were mentioned. In one of the videos, you will hear us discouraging my daughter from rocking while she was doing her homework. It is very important to encourage socially acceptable behaviors and discourage the “blindisms”..........consistently (especially eye poking and rocking).
By sharing these tips and videos, I do not claim to be the perfect mom or know all the answers on how to raise a blind child. I’m still learning! I just love to reassure parents that your child is capable of so much with vision loss! I’ve never let her blindness define her. Once, when she was little, she used the excuse, “I can’t, I’m blind”, when asked to clean her room. I stopped her right there!! I told her, “We don’t use the word can’t in our home. We use the word try!” All the sports and music in the videos that I shared, were all things she wanted to try and ended up loving them! Without that vision piece, our kids don’t know if they’ll like or dislike something unless they physically try it first.
Middle School talent show!!
There are so many more topics to cover on teaching your child independence. These above-mentioned topics are a great start! The more you teach them, the more they will want to learn. We need to teach our kids how to live in a sighted world. Cane skills definitely need to be encouraged daily! If you’re uncertain how to encourage orientation and mobility, you are welcome to visit your child’s school during O&M lessons.
I also acknowledge and want to be sensitive to the fact that not all kids are only dealing with vision loss like my child. A lot of visually impaired kids have other impairments too. It’s just important to focus on their abilities rather than their disabilities!
As you sit back and watch your child doing more and more for themselves, you will be thankful for the time you invested in them! Take one of these tasks per week until you master each one. These life-skills are an absolute necessity for them to know on their own.
Written by Karen Hoogland