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Summer 2001 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Help and Hope, One Child at a Time

By Terry Murphy, Executive Director, Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind)

One of the hardest, but most rewarding, aspects of working at the Commission is calling on parents who have just learned that their long-awaited babies will never clearly see the loving faces holding them. It's hard, because this is an emotional time for everyone - even for those of us who have chosen the field of blindness and visual impairment as our life's work. It never gets easier seeing the initial fear in parents who are still trying to absorb the medical facts behind their baby's visual impairment when we are asked to call on them.

I think I speak for all of us at the Commission when I say I wouldn't mind losing my job for lack of customers. But, that's not likely to happen in my lifetime. Based on the 2001 Annual Registration for Students With Visual Impairments published by the Texas Education Agency, there are 6,719 students ages 0 to 21 in Texas today who fall within TEA's definition of visually impaired. We serve an even broader range of children, so there is much work to be done.

Our reward in calling on parents of newborns and young children comes from being able to plant early seeds of help and hope. Help first comes in the simple form of a caseworker's business card. Although a parent seldom reads the words Texas Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (formerly known as Texas Commision for the Blind) with enthusiasm, we're accustomed to the reaction. It's okay. This isn't the time to wow parents with all the great things individuals who are blind or visually impaired are doing today. Instead, it's the time to listen and answer questions. Hope is planted with just a few straightforward words: "The Blind and Visually Impaired Children's Program is here to help when you're ready."

Walter Anderson, the editor of Parade, the magazine insert in many U.S. Sunday newspapers, says in his book, The Confidence Course: Sevens Steps to Self-Fulfillment, "True hope dwells on the possible, even when life seems to be a plot written by someone who wants to see how much adversity we can overcome."

Although written for all ages, Anderson's words are especially appropriate for the parents we meet. When a baby is born with visual problems or a child acquires a severe visual impairment, the whole family begins a challenging journey. Because the primary source of information for most children is vision, family members of children with vision losses are immediately called into action to fill in some missing or incomplete information. This is unfamiliar territory for most parents. The Commission's job is to provide them with a map that ultimately leads to a fuller and richer life for their child. The map we draw is full of "possibility thinking" check points as we encourage parents to dwell on the possible for their child.

One line a lot of parents will hear from our caseworkers during their early meetings is, "I'm here to put your baby to work!" It is so important for parents to absorb the encouragement behind these words. We speak from decades of experience when we say we believe in their child's potential to adapt fully to life with a visual loss. We also believe in the parents' ability to add the roles of advocate, coordinator, and teacher to their family's résumé. The earlier the work begins for both family and child, the sooner everyone will be smiling with each newly-learned skill, and what started out as such an anxious time for the parents can ease into an everyday way of life.

The agency is making preparations for a celebration in November to commemorate 70 years since the Commission was created in 1931 and 30 years since Criss Cole Rehabilitation Center opened in 1971. In doing some research on services to children, I read in our archives where a Miss Ruth Siler, Preschool Blind Child Counselor, reported to the Agency's Board back in 1957 that she had just finished a pamphlet for parents of preschool children who were blind. I also noticed that the agency was asking for one additional preschool counselor. From these small roots, services have slowly grown into a statewide network of Blind and Visually Impaired Children's caseworkers. This past legislative session did not yield the funds we had hoped to use to expand the program, but we are fortunate to have 39 hard-working caseworkers across Texas who served 8,265 children last year, including permanently severely visually impaired children and children needing eye treatment.

Occasionally we still hear about parents who were unaware of our services. You can help by telling parents of young children with visual impairments about the Blind and Visually Impaired Children's Program. Tell them that a caseworker is nearby to deliver help and hope.

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Last Revision: September 2, 2003