Equal Time for All Your Children
Kyle was excited that his dad was home on Saturday and would be at his soccer game. It was the semifinals, and his team was in first place! As his family ate breakfast, Brittany, his six-year-old sister who was blind, began to twitch, a sure sign that she was going to have a seizure. Before Kyle was done with his cereal, Brittany was lying on the couch in the midst of a seizure with both his parents at her side.
Kyle watched the hands of the clock move closer to 9:45 a.m., the time they needed to leave for his game. At 9:40, he tapped his dad’s arm and said that they needed to get going. His dad snapped at him, “Can’t you see your sister’s having a seizure? She needs me right now, Kyle!” But Kyle needed his dad, too, and his team needed him! How was he supposed to get to the soccer game? Brittany was always ruining things!
Like Kyle, your children without disabilities may sometimes feel life is unfair because of the time and attention you need to give to your child who is visually impaired and may also have additional disabilities. Although you can’t prevent your other children from sometimes feeling ignored or upset, you can take steps to minimize how often this occurs and to plan how you and your children can deal with these feelings when it does.
Have a Backup Plan
When you know an important event is coming up for one of your other children, have a backup plan in case your visually impaired child needs your attention. You might prepare a family member, friend, or respite care provider to be able to step in and lend a hand on short notice.
Talk It Through
Inevitably, there will be times when your nondisabled children feel they have been treated unfairly because of the needs of their visually impaired sibling. It’s important to help them talk through their feelings. Try not to make excuses; instead, listen to what they have to say and acknowledge their feelings. Involve them in coming up with a plan to try to reduce the chances of the same sequence of events occurring again.
Schedule “Dates” with Each of Your Children
All children appreciate some one-on-one time with their parents. Regularly scheduled dates with your children—individually or together, depending on your family’s composition and needs—will make your other children feel important and special. You might have a monthly pizza and movie night with your son, a father-daughter dinner out, or a hike with your older children in a nearby park.
“Take a Break” From the Visual Impairment
Part of parenting your child who is visually impaired is taking advantage of opportunities that arise in the course of everyday experiences to explain the environment or encourage certain behavior—what teachers sometimes call “teachable moments.” Bear in mind, though, that your other children may find living through these experiential teaching opportunities uncomfortable or embarrassing.
For example, you may want to point out braille signs if your child is a braille reader, encourage your child with low vision to use her low vision devices or remind your visually impaired child to look in the direction of people when speaking to them. Although these reminders and teaching moments are important, your other children may feel embarrassed, bored, or simply frustrated that ordinary activities take so long to accomplish.
It’s okay to take a day off now and then from worrying about incidental learning. There may be other times when your nondisabled children will want to help. Try to work on a good balance between the needs of all your children so that you don’t miss too many teachable moments for your visually impaired child and too many chances to give your other children your undivided attention.