How to better communicate with a child about blindness?

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Part One: On Prejudices and Blind Children among Sighted Parents

The arrival of a child is always a significant event for parents, bringing immense joy. However, sometimes it happens that parents without any disabilities have a child with limited abilities. For example, a couple without vision impairments may have a blind or visually impaired baby.

In such cases, several questions become relevant:

  • How to raise a decent person who is tolerant of people with disabilities?
  • How to raise a child who is not ashamed of their own peculiarities?
  • When and at what age is it best to talk to a child about blindness?

First of all, parents should pay attention to the fact that the status of any disabled person in society and their perception by society differs from that of ordinary people and understand the reasons for this difference. This will help prepare for the conversation and allow conveying the most complete and honest picture to the child when the time comes.

American sociologist Erving Goffman noted the presence of physical stigmatization in society, i.e., a negative attitude towards those who have disabilities or other distinctive features. The basis of stigmatization is social stereotypes, “myths,” often without a solid foundation. The formation of stigmas can also be a result of insufficient empathy.

Stigmatization can have a strong impact on a child’s self-identification. A person’s identity is formed parallel to their psychological development. It is shaped both by individual traits and those of the surrounding people. Therefore, a child may classify themselves as part of the “normal people” group and adhere to it while rejecting people with disabilities, particularly the blind, based on societal stigmas and stereotypes. In such cases, it becomes extremely important for the child not to be like the blind in any way. Hence, there’s aggression and a fierce rejection of the blind by “ordinary” people.

People with vision problems are also susceptible to stigmatization, but it works differently. Such individuals, seeing how society treats them, may start to think that something is wrong with them. It’s understandable – it’s hard not to doubt yourself when the majority emphasizes the validity of those doubts. Thus, the stigma “Blind people are deviant and essentially defective” becomes entrenched and flourishes.

This is why it’s crucial for society, and especially for the blind and visually impaired themselves, to break down stereotypes. And this is why it’s important to talk about the issue of blindness from an early age, not to silence it, thereby forming the right life attitudes. Because in this way, it’s possible to directly influence established stigmas, breaking them down. And the fewer stigmas, the better and more comfortable life will be for both the blind and visually impaired, who won’t be demeaned because of their peculiarities, and for people without vision impairments.

Now that we’ve delved into the basics of how society perceives people with vision problems, let’s talk about how sighted parents should behave if they have a blind child.

According to Denis Igorevich Kalaida, an educator-psychologist, it’s necessary to talk to the child about their vision from an early age, gradually preparing them for a more serious conversation, without confronting the child with the fact of blindness as in “You’re blind. Deal with it.” Such discussions need to be conducted very carefully, and the parents themselves must be prepared for them. Otherwise, there’s a high risk of traumatizing the child’s developing psyche.

Parents should also encourage their child to explore the world using the senses available to them: hearing, smell, and touch. It’s important to remember that a sighted child will naturally try to explore the world, but for a blind or visually impaired child, it’s more difficult because they lack the visual layer of perception, so the help of mom and dad is extremely necessary.

Another important point is that a blind child must be equipped with the skills and information that will enable them to stand up for themselves and stay safe, even though they cannot see. The problem here is that many parents, knowing their child has vision problems, tend to worry about them too much, overprotecting and sheltering them, believing that the child cannot manage without their help. This is a big mistake, which affects the person’s ability to cope with life situations on their own, and it’s an important skill to have – mom and dad won’t always be around.

Another common parental mistake is limiting their child’s social circle out of fear that someone might start asking about their blindness and inadvertently cause harm. It’s important not to forget – children often can’t realize that such actions by their parents are an attempt to protect them. Faced with this, they are more likely to start looking for the problem within themselves: “If I’m not allowed, then I must be doing something wrong, right?” This is how children mostly think.

However, if you gradually explain to the child the nuances of their blindness, they will soon learn to perceive themselves as a complete person, and questions like: “What’s wrong with your eyes?” won’t confound them.

This again brings us to the idea of why it’s important from a young age to explain to children what blindness is, how the perception of sighted people differs from that of the blind, and most importantly – that blindness is not necessarily an obstacle to a full life.