Other members of a family as well as friends can be an integral part of the lives of the parents and sighted siblings of a visually impaired child, keeping the family grounded and offering help and support.
If other family members or friends want to help, but are not sure how, here are some tips:
- They can give of their time: Parents of a blind child will agree that there is one thing they never have enough of: TIME! The child with a disability requires so much attention that it’s hard for the parents to get dinner on the table, let alone research therapies or take them to the doctor’s appointments. Family and good friends are perfect babysitters even if all they do is sit with the VI child while the mother makes dinner or cleans the house.
- The help offered must be specific: If there are certain things family or friends are good at, such as cooking, they could Offer to make meals for the family. Or if they have the time, they could drive around town and get some errands done or pick up some groceries. These are extremely helpful.
- They can volunteer to help with the other children: They can pick the children up from school, spend time with them, and have fun. It’ll be helpful to the family, and they’ll also be showing the other children that they haven’t been lost in the complications of parents having to give much of their time to the visually impaired child.
- They can lend an ear: Sometimes it’s nice to be listened to. Family and good friends should allow the parents of the child with a disability to tell them about what’s bothering them and how they feel. This can be a real relief for them. However, if friends don’t know what to do, that’s not their fault. Parents may feel that they don’t understand what it’s like to be in the position they are in. Friends just want to be supportive, so they call. Repeatedly. They call to check on the mother and her child, they call to see how they’re doing, and they call to see if things are any better. But over time this may become more about themselves than about the parents or their child. They want to help because it will make them feel better about themselves.
- They should try to learn as much as possible: Family and friends can ask where to find out as much as they can about the child’s diagnosis, if there is one. They should try to use the correct terminology and keep up to date on therapies and treatments. The internet is a good place to start, but they can also ask if the parents have anything they’d like them to read.
- It is important to avoid comparisons: It may be obvious, but it can be hard to let the visually impaired child grow and develop at their own pace. It’s so natural to compare them to their siblings, cousins or friends. Remember, vision is so key to learning that development in a VI child will be slower, even without added disabilities. Family and friends can help the parents by reminding them that it’s OK to take things one day at a time and that no one is in a race here. Everyone is doing their best.
- Express Joy: Learning that a child is blind is sad, but family and friends should try to move past that sadness. The child is beautiful and amazing, and there are so many things that they do which can astound everybody and to be proud of. It can be hard at times, but it’s worthwhile to try to focus on the positive whenever possible and encourage the parents to do the same.
- Laugh: “I think the best gift my father has given me is the gift of laughter. Somehow, he is always able to find the hilarity in any situation, and this can make everyone feel just a little better. Sometimes it’s OK to laugh and smile.”
- Sometimes, just be a friend and talk about ordinary things such as TV programs, music, the latest gossip … and do what you did before the birth of the child with the disability. Parents also need to have some time to relax.
- Respect Differences: Others’ opinion is valid, but it’s not the only one. So many families these days come from mixed religions and backgrounds and it’s important to remember that we all see the world a little differently. Don’t let those differences get in the way of a supportive relationship.
- Let family and friends be themselves: Family and friends have unique gifts that can’t be replicated. Let them be themselves and find comfort in the fact that they haven’t deemed it necessary to change towards the family with the VI child.
- Read books to the VI child, play, and especially have fun. That’s what it’s all about!