Challenges of Parenting a Visually Impaired Teen
Being the parent of a teenager can be a challenging job. When your teenager is visually impaired, however, you may find yourself dealing with all the issues most families encounter plus others. You may notice at times that your child’s visual impairment affects her ability to make friends, participate in the activities other teenagers are doing, or keep up in school.
Alternatively, your child may be doing well in these areas but perhaps be struggling emotionally with feelings about her visual impairment, herself, and her future.
From Your Perspective
Each child is unique, and your child’s successes and struggles will be her own. However, you may want to keep the following in mind.
There may be times when you observe your child struggling to do something such as prepare a meal or feeling dejected because her vision loss keeps her from getting a learner’s permit for driving. These incidents may cause you to grieve for the “normal” sight your child doesn’t have. Feelings of anger, denial, or depression are common in circumstances like these, even if your child has had her visual impairment since birth or early childhood.
When you feel this way, it may be helpful to try to turn it around and think about the things your child has learned to do, such as taking the bus downtown by herself or opportunities she’s had because of her visual impairment, such as attending a summer work program or a college preparatory program for teenagers who are visually impaired.
From Your Teenager’s Perspective
It can be a challenge to communicate with any teenager, so don’t be surprised if your child doesn’t want to talk about her feelings about being visually impaired. Let your child know that you’re there to talk but realize she may not want to talk to you, or anyone, about how she’s feeling.
It may help at times to try putting into words how your child appears to you—”You look down-in-the-dumps this morning,” or “You look really excited!” Hearing you acknowledge what she might be feeling may help your child open up and either talk with you or tell you that you’re wrong. Either way, you may be able to help her explore her feelings and give her a chance to express herself.
From Your Family’s Perspective
Keep lines of communication open with your spouse or partner and extended family. Like you, they may be grieving about your child’s visual impairment or feeling anxious about her future beyond high school. Sharing your thoughts and encouraging those you love to do the same can be helpful and therapeutic.
Deciding How Much Responsibility and Independence Is Enough
During the teenage years, parents typically let their children take on more responsibility and support their growing independence as they move toward adulthood. You may be having mixed feelings about this when it comes to your teenager. Your child may seem to be more vulnerable because of her limited vision. Try to weigh the pros and cons of each effort your child makes to be more independent. You won’t always be able to be with her, so find ways to “let go” while keeping her safe. For example, you may want to request extra orientation and mobility (O&M) services as part of your child’s educational program so that you and your teen can be confident that she has the travel skills to take the bus by herself to the mall. If you still have misgivings, encourage your child to go with friends or family on the bus so that she can get more practice in using her mobility skills.
Talking with other families and with adults who are visually impaired may help you to gather information and deal with your feelings. To meet others, post a message on the FamilyConnect message boards; seek out parents’ groups such as the National Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (NAPVI) or organizations such as the American Council of the Blind (ACB) or the National Federation of the Blind (NFB); meet successfully employed adults with visual impairments on CareerConnect; or talk with the professionals on your child’s educational team.
Keeping Your Life in Balance
Try to find time for yourself, time for you and your spouse or partner, and time to do things with friends or family. Maintaining balance in your life can help you feel more positive about your teenager’s future and her prospects for a rewarding life.