By Angela Raske
So what’s it like to have a child who has a vision impairment? Or, another layer...to adopt a child who has a vision impairment? When we adopted our son Isaac from China when he was almost 3, many people assumed we must have had prior experience with blindness. Nope, nada, not even a smidge. But we felt drawn to Isaac and reminded ourselves that parents give birth to babies with vision impairment without “experience” and children also lose vision and families adapt and continue to thrive. And we trusted God’s invitation to our hearts that this little boy, who happened to be blind, belonged in our family. And over 5 years later, we cannot imagine life without him!
I encourage prospective adoptive families to consider children with vision impairment. It is very difficult to have vision impairment in many countries. In the U.S., it is certainly a challenge, but as we were told in China, a blind child’s “destiny changes” when he is adopted internationally...simply because he comes to a place where his unique needs can be met and potential realized, not to mention experiencing a forever family. Our son, now 8, has a severe vision impairment and is learning braille and cane use. He also loves his scooter, Toy Story, climbing trees, play dates, Disney World, camping, mystery books, and much much more! He also has an older sister age 12, a brother age 9, and soon will add a little sister through adoption from China.
Fishing with Grandpa
First let’s talk in generalities about blindness. Blindness everywhere is a pretty rare thing; most people do not personally know someone who is blind (especially a child) and therefore have many misconceptions about what vision impairment is and how it affects everyday and long-term life. First let me say that there is a very wide spectrum of vision impairment, from completely blind on the extreme end to mildly affected on the other, and lots in between.
Let me begin with educational considerations. Some students with mild to moderate vision impairment may not need to learn braille and use a white cane; however, they may need simple classroom accommodations and/or therapies that your public school would provide (free) through an itinerant vision therapist. Some children with more severe impairment will need to learn braille and cane use in addition to some special therapies (these can also be done through itinerants provided by public schools). In nearly every U. S. state there is a school for the blind but there are often good educational options close by that you may not be aware of. In our area, there is low vision program within a local school that serves children with vision impairment in a two-county radius. Before we had Isaac, we didn’t even know these wonderful resources existed so close to us!
Medically, you will usually need occasional access to a good ophthalmologist within a distance you are willing to travel for appointments. Also, sometimes blindness is part of a larger syndrome and often it stands alone. It is not generally linked with cognitive
impairment. Sometimes blindness can be addressed surgically and sometimes not. You will not know whether surgery will be an option until you come home, and it can take time to know the final “outcome” of any procedures. Do not assume you will be able to provide more vision. With us, we did have a surgical journey with Isaac’s eyes, giving him a little more vision in the end but not much. He is still on the far side of blind; but he loves the little bit of vision he has. We continue to monitor his vision and eye health and will likely have more surgeries down the road. Note, eye procedures are usually outpatient procedures with no long hospital stays; recovery is often quick and relatively simple. Lastly, technology and science are rapidly changing and providing more and more opportunities for people with vision impairment.
Now let’s specifically cover blindness & adoption. When we prepared to bring Isaac home, one relative worried about how we would bond without the benefit of eye contact. While I knew this would be a new challenge, I trusted that God would show us how to connect with Isaac. And He did. In those early days before he knew English, we did a lot of verbal play, made-up songs/sounds, and lots and lots of physical touch and laughter (not so different than a sighted child’s bonding). Kids who are blind experience their world through words, touch, sounds, taste, and smells. They are often highly verbal and auditory; they also often have a better than average memory. We learned that physical touch and verbal communication was Isaac’s “eye contact” equivalent and so we adapted our parenting accordingly. I think our whole family has benefitted from greater awareness of the importance of these bonding techniques.
Here’s some more things you might be wondering about: You don’t need to have special accommodations to your home. You don’t have to send your child away to a school for the blind. You don’t have to learn braille yourself (although it’s cool if you do). You pretty much do everything you did in life before, you just may do them a little differently. You’ll discover some pretty cool tools & technology for people with vision impairment (more coming all the time!).
Some things you will learn while parenting a child who is blind: You will learn to be more patient because you may move through life a little more slowly (sometimes). You will learn to instinctively notice the walking terrain of everywhere you go...steps, stairs, bumps in sidewalks. You will actually stop and smell the roses (and feel them, too). You will hear things and smell things and touch things you never noticed before. You will get a view into what it’s like to not be biased by how something/someone looks--to judge a book by its content and not its cover. You will learn the deeper value of a cheek next to yours, a long “sit-down” hug, a hand in yours. You will learn to verbally describe things in a way your child can “see” and understand, and thus you will understand them better yourself. PS. Your other children will learn all this, too.
Things Isaac does that might surprise you:
- He rides a bike (with training wheels). On longer trips, he rides a tandem.
- He rides a horse (with assistance) and climbs trees higher than mom approves.
- He rides his scooter around the neighborhood on the sidewalk.
- He goes down the slides at the waterpark AND off the diving board by himself.
- He runs a 1/2 K race with his dad and brother every summer.
- He does chores just like big bro and sis.
- He gets in trouble just like big bro and sis.
- He notices when I use a different shampoo (super-smeller man).
- He hears and remembers everything. Everything.
- He’s a fantastic conversationalist and has a great sense of humor.
- He loves life.
- He loves God.
- He loves his family.
There are very real challenges that go along with blindness; this is true. I don’t mean to diminish what is a lifelong disability. I would do nearly anything for my little boy to see. He wishes for this, too. But mostly he just loves life and oh how we love this sweet boy we are blessed to call our son. Would I encourage prospective adoptive families to really consider and pray about adopting a child who is blind? Absolutely, positively YES!
America World’s China program currently has children with various levels of vision impairment and particularly a need for families interested in boys with vision impairment as well as many other medical needs! For families interested in younger or older boys, there can often be little to no wait time depending on the age range and medical needs requested. If your family is interested in adopting a child with a vision impairment or another medical need, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.