Recently, we had the unfortunate experience of spending a few days in the hospital with our son, Eddie. Our brief medical residency reminded me that not everybody knows what to do with children who are blind. Here are five tips I thought of to ease a hospital experience for our kids.
1. Pay attention to the notes in the file. Within our first hour, we had people come in and wave in Eddie’s face and ask him if he liked the designs on their shirts. Each time we had to say, “He’s actually blind.” This left us feeling like non-subtle jerks, and them feeling like idiots. It clearly says he’s blind in his file so check it out.
2. Explain all procedures. Eddie’s favorite phrase is “and then.” He wants you to tell him what’s going to happen before it happens. You can’t “surprise” children who are blind with a shot or a thermometer or anything. If you even try, they will immediately distrust you.
3. Speaking of explaining, talk directly to the child. Although Eddie isn’t very verbal, he listens, and if you talk to him, he’ll pay attention. Simply treat kids who are blind like all kids. If you’d typically explain to a child who is sighted, just do the same. Just because they don’t make eye contact doesn’t mean they aren’t listening.
4. When safe, let them explore the instruments you use. From the Band-Aid to the IV bag, they won’t understand until their hands are on it. After showing Eddie what a stethoscope was, he enjoyed having his vitals checked and was asked to “help” hold it down. This kept him still and engaged instead of making him fearful of what it was and what it was going to do to him.
5. Finally, don’t move any part of them or touch them with anything without telling them first. Simply say, “I’m going to move your arm now” instead of grabbing their arm and moving it. This is another way to lose trust immediately if you mess this up. As I said before, surprises are not helpful when working with kids who are blind. They may not want you to do what must be done, but it’s better to share than to shock.
Overall, we were impressed with the medical team working with our son last week. They paid attention to Eddie, and they asked us how to make the whole experience better for him. We have definitely seen everything I mentioned done wrong before, and we will again. By sharing these five tips, maybe some medical practitioners will be more aware the next time they encounter a child who is blind.