The American Journal of Nursing

Date: 1961

Show Summary

26

Deviant Behavior

ClaireL.Jacksonn/an/an/an/a

Blind Children1

Stop at the corner drugstore. Seated at the counter may be a blind child, joyously licking his ice cream cone. Look in the door of any good nursery school. There you may find a blind child happily taking part in the program. Walk through the park and watch the children playing. You may see a blind child at the top of the 12-foot slide, poised for a ride.

No longer set apart, in many communities blind children are growing up with their families and friends. They are learning to live in the sighted world, where later they will assume their responsible places as adults.

Before its cause was discovered, retrolental fibroplasia blinded over 10,000 prematurely born babies in this country. The largest group of children blinded by retrolental fibroplasia are now about eight years old.

Parents, medical workers, and educators clamored for assistance. Their demands helped to create service programs like that of the Dallas Services for Blind Children, Inc., which is a private agency that gives individualized service to visually handicapped children.

Services are based on convictions that blind children are first of all children, that their families help them best in their growing years, and that recreational, educational, and professional services for community children should be available to blind children as well as sighted children.

As a counselor who has worked with many families of blind children, I have come to recognize the misconceptions which surround blindness. I believe that attitudes, more than blindness itself, affect the development of these children. Nurses who work with blind children need to look at their own attitudes to see if they may be interfering with appropriate care for these youngsters.

What is your immediate, uncensored response to the word "blindness"? If it is for you, as it is for so many, "darkness, gloom, helplessness," how will this affect your care of the child? The worker must hold an honest conviction that blindness need not incapacitate. Conviction comes partly from information, and largely from the experience of observing visually handicapped children in their normal environment.

What does the nurse who may only occasionally serve blind children need to know about blindness and its possible effect on the developing child?

BABIES WHO CAN’T SEE

What is there to offer Gary at seven months? Though he is blind, he seems happy—playing and cooing in his crib. To help him, it is most important for the nurse to ask herself: What would Gary be doing if he were not blind? What might normally be expected of him developmentally?

Are there some plus things that must be done for him because he is blind? It is easy for the bewildered parent to let the baby remain in his crib. He seems content. She knows he is safe. However, for Gary’s sake, the nurse must encourage the family to bring him into the warm interchange of family life that any baby needs.

In his mother’s arms, he will learn how to love and respond to people. On the floor, he will learn to roll and to move about. Curious fingers will explore strange new surfaces. Ears will listen to voices, to water pouring from the kitchen faucet, and to the mother’s footsteps as she moves about. Sitting in his high chair near his mother while she works, he will wave his arms and bang his spoon. He and his mother will converse in a language only they understand.

ANTICIPATING DEVELOPMENT

Freedom to move, a chance to explore, and experiences with his family enable any baby to develop, and they are essential for the blind baby. If not warmly enveloped by love, if not encouraged to grow by a variety of interesting experiences, he may retreat within himself.

The nurse helps the mother to be alert to the child’s readiness for new experiences and his readiness to move to the next stage of development. For example, the mother or nurse must watch to see when he begins to bite and when he begins to carry things to his mouth, so that he may be given finger foods to chew. The child who receives solid foods at the proper time will have no problem with chewing later. And so it is in other developmental areas, if he is to experience confidence later in moving out into the larger world.

One cannot classify blind children and say, "This is what blind children are like." Here is Dannie, his voice loud and commanding. He directs the activities of his playmates, who look to him for leadership and new ideas. Leslie over there is quiet, almost withdrawn, but listening, aware, and sensitive. Freddy is timid and fearful of new experiences; and Laura, who has twice run away from home, loves best of all to explore and discover. These are all blind children, each different in temperament and personality. Developmentally, a blind child is similar to others of his own age group, blind or sighted.

Certainly, there are areas in which his blindness must be considered. At times he will need special help. He will require, especially in a strange environment, properly given information about where things are.

THE HOSPITALIZED CHILD

When a blind child is in the hospital, the nurse interprets the environment to him, until he becomes familiar with sounds. "That’s the meal truck," or "The bell is to call the doctor," she says. Or she may save the child unnecessary alarm if she says, "We’re changing Robert’s bandages, not yours, today."

Let the child know the names of other children near him, and help build bridges of communication. For example, say to the sighted child, "Johnny doesn’t know how glad you are to see him. You’ll have to use your voice to say ’hello.’"

Talk to a blind child when approaching him and before touching him. Tell him your name without indulging in such guessing games as, "Don’t you know who I am?" Be sure suitable explanations are made about what is going to take place, and, when possible, let the child handle stethoscopes, syringes, and the like.

Be sure to remember that the child can often do things for himself, if he knows what is expected. Do not lift him if he is old enough and well enough to climb by himself. Let him feed himself, even if he uses his fingers instead of the spoon. Encourage him to do for himself whatever he can, but also recognize that he will at times need reassurance and support and to be taken care of, even if he is "big enough to do it by himself."

Any environment that is safe for young children should be safe for blind children. When an older child needs a guide, encourage him to take the guide’s arm, rather than the reverse. This affords greater protection and much easier mobility.

Questions come often from nurses to us at the Dallas Services for Blind Children. "Johnny has been at the hospital about three months. Should he be feeding himself?" Our answer usually consists of questions. "How ill is Johnny? Can he eat at the table? How old is he? Has he always been blind? What has been expected of him at home?" We respond similarily to sometimes desperate queries about playthings for Johnny.

There is no special list of toys suitable for blind children. I happened to observe one particular "Johnny" recently in the pediatric department of our Children’s Hospital. He was "shooting ’em up" with several friends—typical behavior for a five-year-old boy.

Imagination and resourcefulness are always required to reduce the tedium of hospital life for young children. This is no less true for blind children. When adaptations are called for, remember to take cognizance of all the ways in which a blind child perceives the world. His fingers need to become nimble and dexterous. His ears require training to tune in significant sounds. Games involving smell, and touch, and listening, as well as memory, can involve sighted children, thus increasing a blind child’s perception of the world.

A LARGER WORLD

As children grow into the preschool years, they begin moving out into the world beyond the home, into Sunday school groups, nursery schools, and neighborhood play groups. A blind child, with help, can become a real participant in most of the activities his sighted friends enjoy. Like all children, he needs to run, to climb, to slide, to shout. He needs the opportunity to see the needs of others, to take his turn, to sit still for short periods of time, to listen, and not disturb others who want to listen, and to make friends. It is a time of great discovery and wonder. The sensitive teacher helps all children find out about the world in many ways. Teachers and parents alike should be helped to discover the excitement in sensations of sound and touch, which they then transmit to all the children. Blind children should be helped to find that their ways of perception have as much validity and are as valued as sight. Wherever he is, a blind child, as well as his sighted friends, should be given the chance to experience life around him over and over again, each in his own way.

EVERYDAY THINGS

It is important for adults to become aware of their own great dependence on vision, and to concern themselves consciously with other ways of perception. Otherwise, the blind child may develop gaps in his understanding of the world. One such child busily working in clay suddenly said, "Oh, I must put a trunk on this car." She put an elephant’s trunk at the rear of the car. She had been to the zoo, but never had been given the chance to clamber about the family car—inside and out, all over, and repeatedly. Another child thought there were sidewalks up in trees. The nurse or counselor should remind parents to make available to the child the simple everyday things over and over.

In advising parents, the nurse should inquire if there are classes in the public schools for blind children. In recent years a greatly increased number of blind children attend public school classes. The percentage of blind children in this country who go to school in their home communities with sighted friends has increased from 10 to 50 over the past 10 years. Think what this can mean in the attitudes of sighted persons toward blind individuals.

Think also what it can mean to a blind child himself. It should lead to greater resourcefulness and adaptiveness. No longer is he growing up in a protected world, isolated from sighted people with whom he must get along in later years. Growing up belonging to a family, to a neighborhood, to a community, the chances are much greater that he will build a real place within community life.

Blind children are in public school classes because the community recognizes its responsibility to exceptional children. A tremendous labor of love on the part of hundreds of volunteers throughout the country has made this public school education possible. Most of the braille books used by these youngsters are prepared by hand by volunteers.

CONSCIOUS OF A DIFFERENCE

As a blind child reaches school age, he begins to develop a conscious awareness of his difference. He should be encouraged to verbalize his feelings. Even though he has grown up in an accepting family, it would be unusual if he did not experience some resentment or unhappiness at the problems blindness brings.

Nevertheless, with understanding help from his parents, teachers, or other counselors, he will continue to regard himself as a worthwhile person. He is bound to make friends, if he has the attributes which attract people. Whining, giving up in the face of difficulty, and overdependence are signs of trouble in the blind child. as well as in sighted youngsters. If these or other manifestations of emotional problems occur, the family should be encouraged to make use of usual community resources—child guidance clinics, family service agencies, and the like.

All help must be given to the child, so that he can develop skills that will enable him to operate with the maximum of independence. He must also learn to accept his own need to depend on others at times. This is not an easy balance but he can achieve it when properly assisted. With the opportunity to grow up at home and the chance to share many experiences with his family and friends, a blind child more truly learns to know himself, to understand his own strengths, and accept his limitations.

A blind child going off to scout camp with friends has as significant an experience as any other child. His memories will be as bright as the warmth of the crackling campfire. He can join a swim party with friends, if he can care for himself in the water. His parents, we hope, will have insured this through proper instruction when he was growing up.

At adolescence, the normal rebellion seen at this difficult period may be accentuated by the child’s acute resentment of his difference. He may hit out at the world angrily, or may withdraw into a world of books and records. Certainly, in either instance, counseling service should be available. Together, parents and counselor can ask, does his behavior merely reflect the usual turbulence observed in adolescence or something beyond?

The child, himself, may make good use of help from interested adults outside his own family at this time. School personnel should assist him in his assimilation into the group, remembering that sighted adolescents are also having problems with their own concern about differences.

One blind youngster was very much distressed, because he was not making friends in his high school. Looking at his problem with a counselor he discovered that a change of schedule would probably make a difference. He had a scheduled study hour before lunch. This meant he went alone to the cafeteria, where groups had already formed. Changing the study hour to a class hour made all the difference in the world.

An adolescent girl, wise in the ways "of being a girl," told of a boy who always came to fetch her for class; as he put it, he came "to help her find her way." "Of course," she confessed with a grin, "I didn’t tell him I knew the way."

At this age, too, when the urge for independence is so strong, learning skillful use of the cane can make much difference in the sense of freedom. One boy, following his first trial run on a bus alone downtown said, "Boy, I feel like you’ve let me in on a big secret. I feel as though I’ve broken the sound barrier."

Not all blind children seen in hospitals or in the community have the proper freedom for growth. They do not all live in homes where warm acceptance and encouragement are provided. Unresolved guilt, feelings of inadequacy, and misconceptions about blindness on the part of parents and other significant persons are limiting to the blind child.

1 From , 1961, 61: 52–55.

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Chicago: The American Journal of Nursing in Principles of Sociology: A Reader in Theory and Research, ed. Young, Kimball, and Mack, Raymond W. (New York: American Book Company, 1962), Original Sources, accessed May 25, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4T6QZXZUM7BMMKL.

MLA: . The American Journal of Nursing, Vol. 61, in Principles of Sociology: A Reader in Theory and Research, edited by Young, Kimball, and Mack, Raymond W., New York, American Book Company, 1962, Original Sources. 25 May. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4T6QZXZUM7BMMKL.

Harvard: , The American Journal of Nursing. cited in 1962, Principles of Sociology: A Reader in Theory and Research, ed. , American Book Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 25 May 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=4T6QZXZUM7BMMKL.