Main content

Alert message

As early as 1944, researchers were examining how parents of visually impaired babies respond to the news about their child's disability. They concluded that parents needed ongoing support during the early years, as they learned to live with a visually impaired child. Al though "stages" of adjustment are often mentioned in discussions about parental reactions to having a disabled child, this philosophy implies a progression, or developing levels of feelings. This is not necessarily the case with parents of visually impaired children. There is no endpoint resolution of the problem - no "complete" time-frame. Instead of a progression of emotional stages, moving from shock towards acceptance, there is actually an ongoing mourning process, typified by both recurring bargaining ("If I just do____, everything will be okay") and depression (crying, feeling lost and alone). What is sometimes viewed as "acceptance by professionals may actually be learning to live with the hurt; "accepting " parents usually avoid comparing their visually impaired child with normally sighted peers, and are able to release themselves from guilt; they are able to place "blame" for their situation onto the real cause (e.g., disease). When parents can accept that"it's not my fault," it appears to be easier to live with the hurt. The pain never completely goes away, and surfaces at times of stress (transition periods, situations of uncertainty). When the sorrow reappears, it is hard for parents to "hear" helpful suggestions, and the wise professional waits until the crisis has passed.

Problems in parental attitude may arise if parents deny that a problem exists, or overprotect their visually impaired child (i.e., do not allow him/her to achieve independence appropriate to his/her age). Denial closes off parents from positive suggestions, and may interfere with intervention strategies. Over protectiveness insulates the visually impaired child from the very world he/she needs to discover on his/her own. There is no clear method of helping parents to resolve these problems. Ongoing support (a strong shoulder and a ready ear) may be the best that the professional can offer; teachers should not attempt to provide "therapy" for parents, since more harm than good can be done by even the most well-intentioned educator who has had no training in counseling (and most have not). If severe emotional problems seem to exist (e.g., the family seems to be in danger of "falling apart"), professional help (and, possibly, respite care) should be recommended.

Socioeconomic status seems to be a factor in parental reactions to having a visually impaired child. As the socioeconomic situation improves (e.g. , there is at least one wage earner in the family, and the bills get paid), the ability to deal with the stress also seems to improve. Conversely, if there are few resources to address the basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, and medical care, the ability of parents to manage their emotional reactions to a visually impaired child may be stretched to the breaking point. Financial assistance can go a long way towards balancing the emotional levels of the family.

It is important to the visually impaired child that he/she feel "accepted" within the family. Being treated "like the other kids" can help build this feeling of security. The child's self-image and self-esteem are closely related to how he/she perceives his/her value within the family. Nurturing parents, regardless of socioeconomic status, are good for all children, but crucial to visually impaired children. Pride in the child's achievements, no matter how small , and praise for effort, can build a sense of accomplishment: "I did it myself!" Since services for visually impaired children in the B-3 year old range focus on the family (the child i in the family), every effort should be made to assess each family's specific and unique needs. Because timing for intervention is so critical for visually impaired children in this age group, the VI teacher should be an active member of the IFSP team, to provide both strategies and suggestions for cooperative service provision. This is especially critical in the early years, when parent - child bonding is taking place. Blindness or visual impairments can interfere with the bonding process (the child may not make eye contact, may startle when touched, or may turn his/her head away). Moreover, the child with early medical problems may have had either extended hospital time, with separation from caregivers, or have had uncomfortable experiences with physical contact (shots, intensive care procedures, etc.). These children may require special handling (soothing, calming, stroking), and their parents/caregivers may need extra support and counseling. On-going family support can help resolve miscommunication issues, and ensure the necessary bonding between child and parents.

Back to Main Page

Next Section of Infants and Toddlers with Visual Impairments by Virginia Bishop