I’ve read the books on “What to Expect When Expecting and During the Toddler Years” ten years ago when I had my oldest son. I didn’t expect my child to come out at 23 weeks, 4 days gestation. It was a tough time watching my baby fight for his life in a NICU (Neo-natal Intensive Care Unit). He weighed one pound and stayed in the incubator for four months. Doctors warned us of possible delays and complications that would as a result of his prematurity. As a first time mom, I was terrified of the things I could face. Of course, I thought the worse. After time in the NICU, he was diagnosed with Retinopathy of Prematurity (an eye disease that affects prematurely born babies). This caused him to lose complete vision in his right eye, and with corrected lenses have some vision in the left. There was no book to show me “what to expect” on coping with my son who had special needs.
I’ve spent the last decade watching a remarkable little boy deal with his differences. This was a learning experience I felt the need to share. My special needs child is the oldest of my three kids. Most parents are not ready to deal with situations like this. I spoke to doctors, teachers and daycare providers to see what experiences they had with families dealing with a disabled child. The more knowledge we obtained, the better we became in helping each other. By the time he was school aged, he was receiving services from early child development and visual impaired agencies.
Parents normally use child proof methods around the house. When a visual impaired child is involved, more steps were taken. We had to make him content and comfortable, so our lives would be less stressful. Darkness is not comforting to a child with low vision. I believe it made him even more curious about his surroundings. We made adjustments by having a light on at all times; whether it was a plug light for his room and hallways. Personal grooming was a task. As he got older and the use of repetition, the process got easier. We had to find creative ways to help him remember certain things. In his room, he was given the top drawers for his clothing. The clothes or objects (toothbrush, games) we bought for him were normally darker in color. If there were toys, they were musical with bright lights. Music kept him calm and at ease. Instead of bar soap, he used the body wash bottle. As a visual impaired child, he had to learn braille. They have stickers in a bubbled shape. I would put those stickers in his shoes to help him distinguish the left from the right foot. Before he got use to the tags in the clothing, we used the stickers for his pants and shirts as well. These few steps helped us to help our child become a little independent.
The same creative techniques applied to him at school. He’s in a Special Education class, where he receives services tailored for him. The most amazing thing about him is that he has to learn as a sighted child by using magnifiers to read his books. The worksheets are enlarged in order for him write. He is given the first or last hook in the coat closet to hang up his jacket. His desk is placed in the front of the class or near an aide. Visual impaired kids sometimes can’t sit still for long periods of time. So when he gets restless, someone is near to bring him back to focus. Nothing beats gym or recess for any child. But for him, he loved to walk around freely to explore his surroundings.
Knowing the strengths and weaknesses of a special needs child can reduce so much stress. Don’t be afraid to seek help from professionals, child agencies or experienced people. The children are stronger than most people think. Having a special needs child forced me to think outside the box and find a creative way of doing things. I did not separate him from his two younger brothers. They play the same games, and go to the same places. When his brothers want to play basketball, he is there to. He loves the sport. He plays the piano, and his brothers are there with him. Our methods are different from most, but that is what we do to cope with special needs.