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Spring 2005 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Want to Help Blind Children Succeed? Get High!

By Barbara J. Madrigal, Assistant Commissioner, Division for Blind Services

Abstract: Assistant Commissioner Barbara J. Madrigal discusses the impact that parents’ expectations have on the development of children’s confidence and self-esteem and the importance of “high hopes, high expectations, and high exposure” for children who are blind and visually impaired.

Key Words: DARS, Division for Blind Services, confidence, empowerment, high expectations, parenting, Texas Confidence Builders

(Editor’s Note: Thanks to Barbara J. Madrigal for adapting one of her most popular presentations for this publication. Her article is directed to families of children who are blind or have vision impairments. But Ms. Madrigal suggests—and we agree—that the advice is pertinent for anyone who touches blind children’s lives: rehabilitation professionals, teachers, therapists, doctors and others.)

One of the best parts of my job is the opportunity to meet families who are determined that their blind children will grow up with all the skills they need to be confident, productive and fulfilled adults. Sometimes they ask for my advice. You might be surprised by how I respond.

I tell parents if they really want the best for their kids’ futures to “get high.” No, I haven’t regressed to some 1960’s child rearing theory. When I tell parents to “get high,” I mean for them to have high hopes, high expectations and high exposure for their children. I think it’s good advice for any parent—but especially for parents of kids who are blind.

Sometimes, whether or not they realize it, parents don’t genuinely believe their children can excel in life because they are blind. It’s a subtle thing—they don’t intentionally hold their children back. Still, the parents’ doubts and fears may creep into the child’s subconscious and pretty soon we have a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Parents aren’t the only ones who may need to tune up their expectation levels. For years, people who are blind have battled the stereotypes and stigma of low expectations from doctors, teachers, service providers and others who confuse lack of vision with lack of potential. That’s not the case at the Division for Blind Services! We know that blindness itself is not an obstacle to a successful and fulfilling life. The real obstacles are negative attitudes and misconceptions about what blind people can do and achieve.

That’s why I say get high if you want your child to succeed in life!

High Hopes

If parents have confidence in their children’s abilities and prospects, the kids are likely to believe in themselves, too. I think most parents know this, but it’s pretty easy for communicating their confidence and optimism to get lost in the hectic pace of family life.

I encourage parents to make expressing their beliefs, hopes, dreams and confidence a routine part of their interactions with their kids. Beyond that, I encourage them to express those same things to the family, friends, teachers, doctors and others who make up the child’s world. Confidence and optimism are contagious and the object is for blind children to be exposed to them often!

High Expectations

If you don’t expect much from somebody, I believe you won’t get much. So, having high expectations for children who are blind increases the likelihood they will achieve their personal goals. Kids gain confidence by succeeding at doing things. So I’m surprised when I come across families in which blind children don’t have chores or responsibilities.

Families may mean well when they give special treatment to the child who is blind; but they may be sentencing that child to a lifetime of dependence and isolation. If, at home, they have not learned how to contribute to the group and take on personal responsibility, where will they get the skills they need to make friends, advance through school, hold a good job or develop hobbies or social activities?

I urge parents to set realistic, positive expectations in accordance with a child’s age, development and functional abilities. Things like dressing and personal hygiene are good places to start with younger children. As they master these tasks, they’re ready for more—with family members cheering them along each step.

As important as it is for families to establish high expectations for their children who are blind, I think it is equally important for them to recognize that failure is also a part of a child’s development. We all learn by failing—we grow that way. Parents who overprotect their children from failure may be instilling fear and hesitancy in their kids.

High Exposure

It’s natural for parents to want to protect their children from harm or discomfort. For parents of blind children, the thought of turning their kids loose in a predominantly sighted society may be especially daunting. It’s tempting to shelter them from the potential physical dangers, uninformed attitudes and even discrimination.

I propose just the opposite for parents who want their children to be confident, independent and full-fledged participants in the world around them. Blind kids need to be introduced to as many aspects of life outside their home (and comfort zone) as possible. They need exposure to new situations where they can learn to be comfortable in unfamiliar settings. They need to understand there is, in fact, plenty of danger out there; but they have the skills to get out of trouble or avoid it all together.

DBS Can Help!

A few years ago, DBS staff began to recognize that the traditional rehabilitation practices established in the early 1900’s were not keeping pace with the demands of living independently in today’s society. Many folks who received traditional rehab services were just fine—until something changed (their job, vision, technology, etc.).

In response to that realization, we reexamined our philosophies and practices and made some changes. The result was Texas Confidence Builders—an approach to training and rehabilitation services intended to provide people who are blind with skills they can use for a lifetime—regardless of the inevitable changes life throws at them.

It takes a long time to introduce a new concept such as this. We’re still working on implementing Confidence Builders’ practices in all of our programs throughout the state. Already, though, we are seeing that this new approach is extremely effective in helping people adjust to blindness or changes in their vision, giving them strong skills to cope in countless settings and energizing them with confidence and empowerment.

I encourage parents or anyone else who is not familiar with Texas Confidence Builders to talk to a DBS staff member to get more information. To find the DBS office closest to you, check out the Blind Services link on the Departments of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services website: <www.dars.state.tx.us>. We also have a good brochure that describes Texas Confidence Builders in more detail. For a copy, feel free to call our toll-free number 1-800-628-5115 and ask for Linda Davis.

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Last Revision: September 1, 2010