When People Stare at a Brother or Sister
It’s not unusual for people to look at someone who is different. Your child who is visually impaired and may also have additional disabilities may look different from most other children. Her brothers or sisters may be bothered when someone stares at her, makes a comment, or asks a question about her disability. They may feel embarrassed, ashamed, or angry. These feelings are shared by many siblings of visually impaired children. There are several approaches that may help when this occurs.
- Discuss why people behave the way they do: Your children may not realize that some people stare, ask questions, or make comments because they are uncomfortable or curious and may not be aware that they are being hurtful. Talk with them about the fact that many people have never met a child with a disability and, therefore, are trying to understand how she is different and what she is doing. They may be curious about the equipment they see her using, such as a braille hymn book in church or a magnifier for reading price tags in a store.
- Model appropriate reactions: Your children will be looking to see how you react. If your response when someone stares at your daughter who is visually impaired is to ask whether he or she has a question, your children are likely to do the same thing. Or, if you react by explaining what your child is doing—for example, “I see you’re looking at how Heather uses her cane to find the slide”—your other children may start doing this, too.
- Rehearse ahead of time: It may help siblings to rehearse with you ahead of time what they will do if someone is staring or makes a comment about their brother or sister who has a visual impairment. They also can practice how they will answer common questions they are likely to encounter, such as, “Is she blind,” or “Why is she touching everything?” Encourage your children to act out what they will do and say in specific situations.
- Give your children permission to walk away: There may be times when your children need a break from stares, comments, and questions. Depending on their age and level of responsibility, give them permission to walk away for a few minutes so that they don’t have to feel that they are “part of the show” or always have to be open to public exposure.
- Introduce your children to others who have a sibling with a disability: Your children may find it helpful to talk with others who have a brother or sister with a disability. Talk with your child’s teacher of students with visual impairments, post on the message boards, or contact a parent organization such as the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI) to find out how to locate other siblings with whom your children can talk.