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Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)
By Mary Zabelski, President, National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments
(Reprinted with permission from Awareness, Fall 2005.)
Abstract: The author, a parent of a grown daughter who is blind, shares practical strategies parents can build into their family routines to help children develop the skills necessary to be successful adults.
Key Words: family, blind, transition, personal experience, parent tips, expanded core curriculum
Editor’s Note: The National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI) is a nonprofit organization of, by and for parents committed to providing support to the parents of children who have visual impairments. This year, NAPVI celebrates 25 years of outreach to families. To learn more about the organization, you may visit their website at <www.napvi.org>. Mary Zabelski, who has been active in NAPVI for many years, contributed to the Awareness 25thAnniversary Edition by sharing Cara’s Story and My Journey, an article that highlights her experience of having a daughter who is blind.
Planning for your child’s move from adolescence to adulthood is a very important step you can provide, and one of the most important factors in building a successful future for your child. In most states, special education transition services begin when a child with a disability is between 14 and 16 years of age. You will be told that this is the time to look at developing new skills and working with your child together as he or she moves toward independence. You will probably not be prepared. Unfortunately, teachers and professionals in the field should be encouraging us to work on these skills much earlier in our child’s development.
As you encourage your child to take on more responsibilities you will want to find new ways to be supportive. As you help your son or daughter maneuver through post-secondary challenges, you will be looking at everything from college to employment, from housing to financial assistance. Depending on your child’s disability, you may be considering other options as well.
Although the law (I.D.E.A.) tells us that during the high school years a transition plan will be established for your son or daughter through their Individual Education Plan (I.E.P.), many of us with older children have realized that the real transition starts much earlier in life, and rests with the family.
As parents, we have to help build our children’s self-advocacy skills. Hopefully, our children have gained a strong sense of their own strengths, talents, abilities and areas of interest. If our children have a disability, they should be conscious of how it can affect them in the community, work environment or academic environment. They need to be able to discuss these issues and learn how to ask for and acquire any supports and accommodations that they might need and be entitled to receive. They need to be familiar with the systems that are in place so they can access these supports and accommodations.
When our children are in elementary and high school, the school system takes care of ordering their assistive technology and instructional materials, with their much needed accommodations and adaptations. Once our children are out of high school they are expected to find their own services or seek out the necessary assistance on their own.
I have found that the basic foundation for advocacy skills begins when our children are much younger. It is very important for us to encourage self-esteem in our sons and daughters. Without self-esteem and confidence in their own abilities, it will be hard for them to advocate for themselves.
One factor to consider is to the opportunity to help others. Most people want to help our children because of their blindness or other disabilities. Giving our children opportunities to take care of siblings, chores to help within the family, or errands to run are all examples of opportunities that can be tailored to their abilities while at the same time giving them confidence that they can succeed like any other child.
Giving your son or daughter domestic responsibilities at a very early age, such as putting away toys, taking out the garbage, walking the dog with you or siblings, setting the table, helping to give the baby a bath, are everyday tasks that lead to a mastery of chores and confidence. Parental attitudes are very important to your children and are noticed by them at a very early age. Let your children know that you have confidence in them. If you feel sorry for them and do everything for them, how can they feel good about themselves? Instead, encourage them to try new things, ask them to help you when you need assistance with chores, and give them plenty of opportunities to practice. My daughter hated to be seen in public with her cane, but I made her walk to the corner store or to mail a letter in the mailbox, and then would thank her for helping me. Eventually, she got used to performing tasks like this, which ultimately led to her independent traveling. These tasks also made her feel important to the family, since we relied on her to help out with household tasks and run errands.
Social relationships and opportunities to participate in sports and recreational activities are more than just fun. They are important tools that help integrate our children into the local community and increase the opportunities for collaboration and building of a support network. Help your son or daughter connect with other families, social groups, professional persons, sports programs, religious community members or any other persons or groups that could help provide social, recreational, work or volunteer experiences for them. Also, helping your child find community members with the same disability can often give them the opportunity to see an older role model and get positive information on living and working independently.
Independent travel skills, social interaction skills, use of assistive technology, recreational and leisure skills, independent living skills, career education and visual efficiency skills (the extended core curriculum) are very important in the scheme of things and are not often taught in school as they should be. As parents, we must be the initial advocates and teachers, so our children will learn these skills from us and learn how to advocate for themselves when they are young adults. This is not an easy task but is possible if we partner with specialized teachers and other parent mentors to work on these skills at an early age. Remember, the road to independence begins at a very early age and real transition skills development should begin when your child is very young.
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