An Interview with Jennifer (Joy’s Mother)
I’m Joy’s mother, and my husband and I have three children and Joy’s our youngest one. Joy has been blind since age 5 and that was just a few months before she about to start kindergarten. And right now, she’s in seventh grade, just a few days from her 13th birthday. She attends Thoreau Middle School, a Fairfax County public school in Virginia.
What is the parents’ role in raising a visually impaired child?
Well, before I talk about Joy and her accomplishments, I would like to emphasize that every child is different with their unique personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. As well as the people they get to work with at each stage of their lives. All of these help shape who they become later on. Joy was fortunate to have several teachers and adult mentors who played an important role in her life. Some of these people went out of their way to encourage her and to challenge her to truly take part in her learning and growing, and we’re very grateful for them.
My husband and I have a goal in raising Joy to be a well-rounded person who is independent and who can contribute to society when that time comes. In order to achieve that goal, I maintain a close communication with her teachers at school. I try to encourage her to participate in various activities. I sent to sleep away camps at a very early age, and I provide opportunities for her to foster her diversified interests. It’s also very crucial for parents to know when to let go of their child and let them make the mistakes and just learn from their own mistakes.
Besides—because I’m a person with very keen observation—I also watch Joy a lot as she walks and she eats—both at home and in restaurants. How she interacts with people and so on. Then I have talks with her afterwards. About what she did right and what she didn’t do right.
Remember the reason that our blind child doesn’t do something right, it’s probably because no one has shown them the right way. So as a parent, our job is to educate and form our blind child as socially acceptable ways of doing things.
However I understand teaching and reinforcing a new skill can be frustrating for parents, and sometimes we have the tendency to do things ourselves so they can be done quicker and neater. And we don’t have to be frustrated with each other.
Well, in that respect, I recommend parents try wearing sleep shades yourselves to experience what your child has to live with every minute of their lives. Until then, you may not fully appreciate the skills they have already learned and the difficulties they have to overcome to learn new skills.
What has helped Joy the most to succeed in school and outside of school?
Well, Joy is a very hard working person with amazing determination and perseverance. When she was in kindergarten and first grade, when she was about 5 and 6 years old, she spent about two hours per night to learn how to read and write in braille. She didn’t treat learning as hard work but enjoyed the challenge and took pride in her accomplishments. Because she loves to read so much, she was reading at 141 words per minute at age 10 and was a Virginia State Reader for three consecutive years.
In terms of being successful in school, I think it’s important for parents to be realistic and do not put too much pressure on their child. Again, each child is born with different intelligence and attitudes toward learning. Some see learning as hard and therefore, are resistant to learning. And other see learning as fun and a challenge and love to learn. Ideally, the student will set high expectations for themselves and not be satisfied with mediocre performance just because they are blind. Notice I said “the student” will set high expectations, not the parents because I truly believe the motivation to succeed should come from the child and not the parents.
There are a couple of things I think have contributed to Joy’s success in school. First, as I said earlier, Joy is very enthusiastic about learning. She loves school. She also has good time management skills. She’s able to multitask. She has good study skills and has an excellent memory that helps her to get good grades. She also grasps new concepts very quickly.
Personality-wise, Joy is very pleasant and easy-going person. I think these qualities help her make new friends easily. Also, having a sense of humor helps tremendously when transitioning to a new school or dealing with people who have no idea how to interact with a blind person.
And there’s one thing I think that’s worth mentioning—that is Joy’s adventurous spirit. She loves to try new things. She has this fearless spirit in her. Just a few weeks after she learned how to swim she jumped into the 8′ deep lane with her brothers, and she also tried a zip wire during a high adventurer camping trip with her Girl Scout troop. She was not afraid to try rock climbing, canoeing, roller skating, ice skating, archery, horseback riding, and many other new experiences. She loves the theatre and is involved in her school’s spring musical, Cinderella.
All of these have nothing to do with being a blind person or sighted person. It’s just who Joy is, and there are plenty people with perfect sight who are afraid to try new things and who lack the zeal for life.
What are some words of caution and encouragement to other parents?
Well, I just want to say we all tend to look up to someone successful and wish we or our children were just like them. So I want to just caution people that in raising a visually impaired child, there’s no one-size-fits-all advice that would work for everyone. Parents really need to tune into who their child is by spending time with them in order to discover their potential. Then work with the child and professionals as a team. Do not bring your child to school or to therapists and expect them to fix the problems or make things right. Ultimately, it’s the parents’ responsibility to raise the child, and all the other people are just there to help.
Like many parents I was worried if Joy would grow up to be a normal person, but instead of collecting advice and getting confused, Joy and I have decided that letting her be herself is the most important thing.
She’s not to grow up to be like anyone else. She’s to grow up to be Joy. Because of your child’s unique qualities, he or she will grow up to be the person with all the instructions, values, encouragements, corrections, and unique life experiences she has had along the way. If you have played an active role in shaping her, you should be proud of yourself and your child, as what she has become is the outcome of your teamwork.