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by Jean Robinson, TSBVI VI Family Support Coordinator

Leisure and recreation skills are usually forgotten in the hurried pace of school meetings, doctor visits and routine errands. You're probably thinking there is another area of "incidental learning" that must be taught! Yes, it seems strange to have to teach your child how to play, have fun, and just hang out, but as a parent, I know how it important it is for a child to entertain herself independently with an enjoyable leisure activity. Both parents and teachers focus on teaching daily living skills such as eating, dressing, communicating, counting, writing, and reading and may forget that many of these skills are part of leisure and recreation activities. When a child learns to enjoy both social play and solitary play she becomes not only independent, but a pleasurable, interesting person with whom others want to spend time. Developing hobbies and interests will increase your child's interactions with others and is a functional living skill. In fact, did you know that recreation/leisure is part of the core curriculum for students with vision impairments and can be part of your child's IEP? These IEP objectives can be worked on at home and in the community by the family, to promote partnerships that will carry over into school.

Expose your child to a variety of activities at home and in your community to discover her likes and dislikes. Think about how much people enjoy nature, pets, dance, music, arts & crafts, reading, drama, and technology. Many museums, especially those geared toward science, history, technology, and children, are "hands on" experiences. Some museums have staff specifically assigned to making their exhibits accessible to everyone, so don't hesitate to call ahead and make arrangements for this service. If you don't get a favorable response, use this opportunity to educate the staff about your child's needs in order to access their services. If you're really energetic, help your child's vision teacher plan and coordinate a field trip with other students with vision impairments in your area. It takes time to plan, especially if the administrators are not supportive, but it is a valuable opportunity for your child to learn a variety of skills that are both functional and fun.

I asked three moms to share information about their families' special activities and was quite impressed with their openness, optimism, sense of adventure and stamina.

The Gomez family lives in Waco and consists of Gladys, her three children, a cat and dog. Gladys home schools her children, volunteers for Meals On Wheels, and is the regional advocate for The Arc. She wants to be accessible to parents and encourages them to contact her. Cynthia is thirteen years old and had a stroke before birth resulting in microcephaly, cerebral palsy and light perception only. Jonathan is ten years old and is a Boy Scout and takes karate lessons. Gabrielle is nine years old and takes ballet lessons. Their life involves going shopping, attending lessons, visiting the park and zoo. As a family, they went to the DBMAT weekend retreat and Christmas caroling last fall and hope to attend Camp C.A.M.P. this summer. Usually, all the family goes together in their station wagon which involves bringing Cynthia's travel chair and stroller. There are mats on the floor of the gymnasium that Cynthia can use while her siblings are attending their lessons. Gladys decided to introduce Cynthia to society after her other children were born simply as a way to survive. All three were in diapers, and she didn't have time to treat them differently. She did encounter stares, comments, and giggles from others, but as people, including children, got to know Cynthia, the attention and interactions became positive. Cynthia is not scared of loud noises and unfamiliar people which makes it possible for her to be sociable. Everyone enjoys hearing comments like "you're looking good" and "you're growing." Gladys has dealt with "shattered dreams" with all her children. She dreamed her son (who does not have disabilities) would be the next Jose Canseco, but he cannot hit a baseball and could be considered "handicapped" in that sense. Gladys believes that the different strengths and weaknesses found in people can be used to compliment each other because "everyone has a soul to be nurtured."

Rod and Glenda Hellyer live in Liberty with their three children, Heather, age ten, Jeffery, age seven, and Jessica, age five. Glenda is involved with school activities and PATH. Jessica has Cri du Chat Syndrome which involves significant losses in her vision, hearing and motor abilities. The family enjoys going to amusement parks like Sea World and Fiesta Texas. The hassles include such things as finding diaper changing facilities and people staring because it takes longer for her to get on rides. The parks require that a parent (not a sibling) sit with her. Unfortunately this limits her choice of rides since some are not large enough to include an adult. Jessica enjoys going to the park to swing, listening to music and swimming. She loves school even though her teacher makes her work hard. Her other favorite people are her dad and her grandmother (who sings with her). Jessica faithfully watches newscaster Marvin Zindler and was overwhelmed when she met him in person!

Tina and Jeff Cooper live near Houston with Kelsey, age 6, and Kristin, age 4, in a house built to accommodate Kristin's special needs. Her home is wheelchair accessible which means she can make 360 degrees turns, fit under counters, reach switches, and roll into the shower. Extra reinforcements were made for a lift system to be installed in the bath area later. Kristin receives therapy in their pool using a lift. Kristin was born prematurely which caused her to have cerebral palsy (CP) and retinopathy of prematurity (ROP). She has some vision in her left eye and wears glasses with a strap. Last year was the first year since Kristin's birth that she did not have a hospital stay. She is receiving an experimental treatment for CP which relaxes her muscles temporarily. Tina works for a rehabilitation center that provides physical, occupational, and speech therapy, primarily to children. She also is a parent advocate for Kristin in the Fort Bend school district, active in a local parent training organization, and has developed a Sunday school class for children with disabilities. (She found an abundance of resource curriculum.) Kristen spends three days a week in a private preschool for children with disabilities and one day in the PPCD class at Brazos Bend Elementary. She needs one day with no demands put on her so she stays with a nanny at home. She receives private OT (two hours), PT (three hours), and Speech (two hours) each week. Her family still finds time for trips to the mall, grocery store, McDonalds, the rodeo, and the circus. Special arrangements were made so her class could touch and feel the circus animals and clowns. Kristen enjoys swimming and can eat an entire child's plate of enchilada, rice, and beans. Mexican food is a special reward for her after working hard. Twice a year, the family flies to grandma's which involves taking her "Kid Cart" wheelchair which is stowed in the baggage compartment once she is seated and is waiting for her in the jetway when they arrive. Kristen's recent birthday party was at a country farm that was wheelchair accessible. It included petting piglets, milking cows, pony rides, hayrides, face painting, feeding fish in a pond and watching a clown, i.e., a typical birthday party, where all children could participate and learn about their world while having fun.

It makes me tired just hearing about these families leading their ordinary lives, but their efforts improve the quality of life for me, as well as your family and theirs. If you want to share a special activity or experience that would help other families become part of their community please call me. These families have graciously agreed to share their addresses and phone numbers so you may contact them. I have also listed a variety of resources to help you have some fun!

Gladys Gomez (Bilingual)
P.O. Box 5698
Waco, TX 76708
(254) 754-1768
e-mail:

Glenda & Rod Hellyer
Rt. 3, Box 53K
Liberty, TX 77575
(409) 336-2723

Tina & Jeff Cooper
11618 Sendera Lane
Richmond, TX 77469
(281) 277-6840

RESOURCES:

The Parent/Child Program
The Hadley School for the Blind
700 Elm St
Winnetka, IL 600093
800-323-4238 or 847-446-8111
website: www.hadley-school.org

Games for People with Sensory Impairments
Strategies for Including Individuals of All Ages
by Lauren J. Lieberman & James F. Cowart
(800) 747-4457 or (217) 351-5076

Independent Living Curriculum from TSBVI
Volume III: Play & Leisure
by Robin Loumiet & Nancy Levack
(512) 454-8631
website: www.tsbvi.edu

Skating Assoc. for the Blind & Handicapped Inc.
548 Elmwood Ave
Buffalo, New York 14222
(716) 883-9728

United States Association for Blind Athletes
33 North Institute St, Brown Hall
Colorado Springs, CO 80903
(719) 630-0422

Sports, Outdoor Recreation, and Games for Visually & Physically Impaired Individuals
Reference Section
National Library Service for the Blind & Physically Handicapped
Library of Congress
Washington, DC 20542

Lions Blind Sports
1939 16th Ave
San Francisco, CA 94116
415-681-1939

Editor's Note: If you wish to contact Jean about this article you may reach her by mail at TSBVI VI Outreach, 1100 West 45th Street, Austin, TX 78756, by phone at (512) 206-9418 or by email at . Jean's article reminded me of something Liz Halperin of Seattle, WA. wrote on the Deaf-Blind List the other day. "I was wasting some time the other day, on a busy street. I went into The Body Shop, which is a shop that sells bath soap, lotions, etc. Many wonderful smells there. So I went in just to amuse myself by smelling my way up and down the store. A salesperson came up to help me. No thanks, just browsing. Another came up and offered to help me find things, and I explained that this was just my version of an art museum: smelling all the different items for pleasure."