Since learning of your child’s visual impairment, I am sure there have been millions of questions running through your head. How is he going to play? How is she going to learn how to walk? How is he going to learn in school? Will she be able to live independently? Who is going to teach them braille? Should I learn braille? I get it. I asked whomever would listen the same questions and several hundred more. As a parent of two visually impaired children who are now 18 and (almost) 16 years old, I would like to share with you my thoughts on one of those questions. Should you learn braille? Absolutely, yes! Here are five reasons why I believe caregivers of children with vision loss should learn the braille code.
- As a child, do you remember peeking at gifts to see which ones had your name on it? Did your parents leave you notes in your lunchbox or on the kitchen counter? These are just a couple of examples of what you would NOT be able to do with your child if you did not learn the basic braille code. There are so many routines as well as fun opportunities that our children miss out on if we are not able to surround them with braille in their home. Rather than reading their birthday cards to them, we can sit back and watch them enjoy their special moments after we added the braille to a print card or made a braille card ourselves. We can hide notes of encouragement in their backpacks to make them smile during a hard day at school. We can write them letters for keepsake memories. When they are older and we do not want to wake them up, we can leave them a note on the refrigerator letting them know that we ran to the store and will be right back. You can braille their baby book or scrapbooks so that they can enjoy the memories and share with others as they get older. The braille possibilities are endless and encourages independent participation in daily routines and special events.
- Surrounding our children with braille at a young age provides them with a language rich environment. Sighted children see print and symbols everywhere. Of course, they may not know what the letters or signs mean but it does not take them long to figure some of them out. They are not very old when they equate the golden arches with French fries! Those are all examples of early literacy opportunities. Our children with vision loss need those opportunities as well. We can do this by placing braille on items around the home. We can label appliances, rooms, toys, games, and puzzles just to name a few examples. We can adapt books and add braille to the pages. Just as a sighted child may not know what the word says, they know it means something. During story time, they know the print on the page that someone is reading to them is telling them the story. We can provide the same opportunities with braille and it is so crucial that we do so to encourage braille literacy.
- Having a caregiver model braille reading and writing increases the likelihood of our child’s success as a braille reader and writer. Children naturally learn by imitation. Children with sight watch their caregivers and people around them and mimic their actions, their movements, and their gestures. They learn many concepts simply by watching. If we as caregivers incorporate braille into our daily routines, our children with vision loss are more likely to copy our actions. They will notice that braille is a part of their caregiver’s life and therefore it will seem more natural. Reading and writing braille will become an activity that they will be encouraged to learn from modeling. We can do this by reading braille books with them, leaving them notes, making lists, or labeling items around the home. As a caregiver of a child with vision loss, we have the opportunity to model and provide positive experiences with braille literacy.
- Being able to help with homework may not sound like a positive experience to us as caregivers, especially right now as remote learning has affected most of us for some period of time in the last year. If a child struggled with homework, however, do you think they would be encouraged to complete it at home? Can you imagine being stuck on your homework and have no one to ask for help because no one knew braille? That must be very frustrating and discouraging for a child. By learning braille, we can work closely with our child’s teacher for students with visual impairments (TVI) to help them learn how to read and write the braille code. If they need help figuring out a word or contraction, we can be of assistance. If they do not understand the directions of an assignment, we can help them figure it out. We can read over their assignments and give them feedback before they turn it in to their teacher. We can provide them with the support that all students need as they work on school assignments at home.
- Learning the braille code also promotes bonding with your child. Regardless if you have just recently decided to learn the code or if you choose to learn braille alongside your child, it is something you can do with and for your child. It shows them that not only are they important but learning braille is important as well. We always hear people say how “cool” they think braille is but how many take the time to learn the code? When no one knows braille, it can make our children feel very isolated and lonely. When we take the time to learn braille, it shows them it is important enough to us to learn it too.
I hope as a caregiver you consider learning the basics of braille for your child. Siblings, friends, and extended family members can learn too. I know in my family it has allowed us to participate in daily activities, games, and special events like any other family with sighted children. It has helped with my children’s growing independence and confidence inside and outside of the classroom. Rather than feeling helpless when they need support, I can be of assistance. But what is even better is their smiles and laughs when I ask them for help (“what’s the contraction for ___?), because after all they are the experts.