Again it is the time of year that has families gearing up for another holiday season. For those of us with a child who is visually impaired we not only have to think about organizing our families, but also how to include our visually impaired children in a way that will be enjoyable to them. As a mom of one such child, I happen to have a few thoughts on this very topic. Important things to remember over the holidays are keeping with tradition, teaching in the moment, adaptation, and time management.
I understand that my four-year-old son who is blind, Eddie, doesn’t always love every family activity, but neither does my older child who is sighted. However, I feel it is very important to stick with family traditions. I don’t mean those traditions handed down to you that you’ve always hated and now think your children should suffer through. (Admit it; we all have a few of those.) I’m referring to family traditions that are important to you and to your family and give meaning to the holidays.
It might be hard to take our children to a big Thanksgiving dinner because it is loud, chaotic, and totally out of their routine. But, if family gatherings are something you like to do, you should definitely attend and take the opportunity to work with your child on adapting to new social settings. Show them around the unfamiliar house, introduce them to everyone (or have them say hi to family they know), and help them feel comfortable in their surroundings. Families should not skip traditions due to their child with a visual impairment; we all have been surprised to find new things they like that we never thought they would.
One reason I find it hard being the parent of a visually impaired child is because you are always teaching, which happens even during the holidays. As all of us know, without sight a child with a visual impairment needs everything explained to them in detail. Lengthy explanations can be tiring, and for those with visually impaired children that are communicating verbally, the questions can seem endless. That is why it is important to take advantage of common holiday occurrences by teaching in the moment.
With three children, I hardly have time to sit down with Eddie and explain all aspects of the holidays. So, while we are selecting a Christmas tree, baking cookies, or making a turkey I try to describe every step of the process and let him get his hands dirty. For example, in the process of preparing the turkey, I let him feel the skin and discuss the parts of the turkey. This includes where the stuffing goes, even though that explanation tends to make stuffing a little less appetizing, understandably. Including him in the process is surprisingly easy. Making the turkey is something I’m going to do anyway, so I might as well have him experience the process along with my sighted children.
For children who are visually impaired, we also are often required to adapt activities so they can enjoy them, which is just as true during the holidays. For instance, we all have our favorite Christmas stories and many kids just like to listen to those wonderful tales, but we need to remember to let them experience the stories through braille or real objects as well. For braille readers, be sure to get copies of these stories in braille so they can read aloud to the family. For all children with visual impairments, including nonreaders, simply take your favorite book or song and find as many real objects from that story that you can and put them into a bag. Then, as you read the book or sing the song, you can hand your visually impaired child the actual item mentioned. Since they are not able to view the pictures, it will help their imagination define what they are hearing.
The final item I want to mention is time management. Adapting activities, trying to maintain traditions, and teaching in the moment do require some extra time when considering our children with visual impairments. We tend to rush our way from Thanksgiving through the New Year, so I recommend trying to stop, take a breath, and enjoy the season.
Instead of cramming the month of December with multiple plans, pick your favorites and take the extra time needed to help your VI child fully experience this time of year. Revel in the look of understanding we get from our kids when we do an activity justice. I feel gratification in explaining something in its entirety and feeling I succeeded and that success is multiplied during the holidays.
I’ve only mentioned a couple quick examples of how I include Eddie, but we would all enjoy hearing how you include your child with a visual impairment in holiday activities. Do they help you bake cookies, wrap presents, or make ornaments? If you have any great suggestions or tips please post them to share with the rest of us. Your pearls of wisdom might be just the idea someone else could use to make this holiday season truly memorable.