Why is it that the word “over-protected” always pushes my buttns? I am very often being referred to as such, merely on the basis that I don’t have good self-care skills. People seem to assume that the statement that when you expect a child to be delayed, she will be delayed, can be used in reverse mode without a problem, stating both that if you expect a person to be normal, she will be normal and that, if a person has delays, she was expected to have them. Also, the topic of over-protection is always connected with being spoiled, “because the poor thing can’t see”.
I always feel hurt by these statements, for they seem to assert that blind children are lazy unless they’re given a good kick in the pants, and that just pushing the child outside of his comfort zone will make him a normal kid. Of course I do agree that anxiety or a feeling that one cannot do something will seriously limit the child’s abilities. I just remember that when I was in the first and second grade, I used to be very afraid when going for swimming classes, to go into the deep water where I couldn’t stand on the bottom anymore. I could swim, but I was scared to go into the deep pool, and that could’ve limited my making progress if my teacher hadn’t pushed me to go into the deep pool (first, with her, and later only with the swimming teachers) to see that I could swim safely there. My teacher believed in me and guided me so I could get out of my comfort zone.
Blindness was no significant factor in this, since all the other children at my school were also blind or visually impaired and none of them feared going into the deep water, and none of them were pushed any harder than I were. Still, it makes clear how, indeed, a child needs to be pushed out of her comfort zone at times. It also makes clear how people who believe in a child’s abilities can support the child to reach her potential. Yet my teacher would not have pushed me out of my comfort zone to go into the deep water, if I hadn’t been able to swim.
And that is where the over-protection movement clashes with my feelings. Too often, it is being assumed that blind children who are not expected to do age-appropriate things, do in essence still have these skills, and yet, that everyone who does not have these skills just wasn’t expected to have them. So pushing a child out of his comfort zone will sort of unfold skills he has always possessed but was never expected to use. Am I far off-base if it leads me to think that a toddler can read if you just expect him to?
What I’m trying to say, again, is that a child will need instruction in the skills he’ll need to master. He’ll need the knowledge of how to do certain things, and if the child doesn’t have that knowledge, expectations won’t get him to master the skill. That counts for every child, but more so for blind children, as they cannot learn by observing as easily as sighted children can. A parent will have to show him how to tie his shoes, hang out the laundry properly, and do his bed. I do not doubt that blind children can master all of these skills and many more, but they’ll need to be taught to, and probably more consciously than sighted children.
Of course, this takes a parent who not only believes in the child, but is willing to push the child outside of his comfort zone. I know how demotivating it can be when you keep failing on a skill, and I know that when you don’t get pushed to keep trying, you may eventually give up on the skill. I experienced this with tying shoes, and that is probably one of my most embarrassing skills deficits: I wear shoes with zippers, sandals or loafers not only cause I find them much prettier than shoes with laces, but also cause I still can’t tie laces.
And that is where I come to the effect inproper instruction may have on a person. Too often, people who were not taught to do the same things their peers did at the same age, are being criticized as if they were spoiled, lazy brats. That’s also related to the prevailing attitude that pity and lack of instruction go hand in hand, and that if a child wasn’t instructed in basic self-care skills, it should’ve been cause the parents felt sorry for her. And being pitied is too often seen as a cool thing for the person who is being pitied, however inaccurate that may be. I hate pity, but for some reason the people in the movement critiquing over-protection see it as the most enjoyable state, that must however be avoided cause otherwise the blind child will think that the world owes her a living once she is an adult. I have never met a blind person who thought the world owes him a living, and yet I’ve met many who don’t have the skills they ought to have. Some of these people did have overly-protecting parents who spoiled them and cared for them way too long, not taking into account the fact that they wouldn’t be there to care for the blind person when he was forty. But many also had parents who simply didn’t know how to teach the blind child. My parents are an example of that. It’s very rarely occurred to me that they took any ability of mine into question, but they didn’t give me the knowledge I needed to accomplish these things. My parents have never questioned that I would go to college, would move out when I was eighteen, would get a great job and maybe a family of my own. I’ve heard visually impaired people and their families saying that they have a very limited range of choices of careers because of their disability, but my parents never thought that way and neither do I. At times, my Dad says something like: “You would probably have done the profile (collection of subjects) of Nature and Technology (instead of Culture and Society) if you were sighted,” but when I was twelve, I was convinced that I wanted to study maths at university, and my Dad was convinced I could do that. My interests just changed. The only subject in which my blindness played a role in my decision not to take it in tenth grade, was biology, but my general lack of motivation in ninth grade also contributed greatly. That’s not my parents’ fault. In fact, in seventh grade I wanted to participate in a maths contest. My teacher doubted my ability, but my Dad was convinced I could do it, so he and another maths teacher together made tactile graphics for me.
That is about academics. My parents are good with computers (Dad is a system manager) and my father is really good in maths and has studied physics himself. They have always found adaptations to let me do the same thing as the others in my class did. When teachers questioned my abilities, my parents were always there to reassure them that I could do the same as my peers and that they could expect the same level of accountability of me. An example is the Model European Parliament debating contest in tenth grade. Ten students were chosen (out of about twenty-five candidates) in a school selection procedure. At the selection, the teacher who guides the project was ill, so a couple of participants from the year before were the only ones to elect participants. They selected me, and the teacher was very worried. I’m almost certain I would not have been chosen, had the teacher been present to help with the selection. The teacher went up to my father with all sorts of questions and doubts, and Dad made clear that I could do the same things as the other participants. And he was completely right. When I wanted to participate in Saturday’s debating contest, I indeed was afraid that the guiding teacher (another one) would not allow me to and that almost kept me from applying as a participant, but I was positively surprised when the teacher was happy I wanted to participate in the training and even said he would like me to participate in the contest (it appeared we wouldn’t need a selection, but he’d made clear his appreciation of my participation).
With daily living/self-care skills, the situation is a bit different. My parents always made clear that they did expect the same of me as of sighted people my age. But what do you do when you don’t know how to teach a child to do something for herself? My Mum is, indeed, a little too eager to help me, especially if I’ve tried doing something and she thinks it’s not done properly. My father makes an art out of telling me that once I’m out of the house I’ll need to do certain things, but never teaches me to do them. Which is why I think they don’t know how to teach me: they do realize that self-care skills are needed, otherwise they would not tell me that it’s expected of me, but they don’t tell me how to do these things. Is that over-protection or just ignorance? I would think the latter.
Is that to blame on the parents? I don’t think so. Over-protection is not to blame on the parents entirely, but it is an attitude the parents can change about themselves. If a parent is ignorant of ways to teach a child, he may get the knowledge, but that may not be that easy. Not everywhere are parent organisations, and those that do exist may have poor attitudes about blindness, so they won’t help at all.
Is it to blame on the blind person, either as a child or as an adult? The “the world owes me a living” attitude may be, but what about the lack of skills, either resulting from over-protection or from lack of instruction? In the first instance, I imagine an adult may be ashamed for the image that generally exists of the person who thinks that the world owees him a living. He may become an advocate of the “don’t over-protect your child” movement, and send the messages that are so pushing my buttons. People tell me that there are lots of blind adults who have been in my situation, who didn’t magically acquire their skills. They likely mean these people, who didn’t receive a needed kick in the pants when they were little but who realized that they should have, and who hence went to a “kick in the pants” centre (ie. the NFB-type of rehab centres) and there learnt that blindness is only a nuisance and that everyone who doesn’t think so should get a good kick in the pants from the people who once believed blindness was a tragedy.
But I don’t believe blindness is a tragedy. It has greater implications, for me, than being a physical nuisance, but that has to do with my lack of skills and also with emotional problems not at all like “the world owes me a living”. I do believe that with the right training I can learn to care for myself. Only I wished that people would take the time to teach me these skills. I wished that people would stop their continuous kicking in the ass and come up with something that’d truly help me. But my parents keep nagging that I should have the skills, as if that would magically get me the skills. Is that over-protection? Is that spoiling? If it were, I could’ve all the skills I needed by now, for it’d imply that by merely deciding that you need them, you’ll have the skills. It’s been nearly two years since I first realized that college was coming near and that my parents’ telling me what skills I’d need wouldn’t get me those skills, and yet I still don’t have the skills. So I’m obviously spoiled? Is it strange that I feel hurt by these allegations?