Blind Babies, A Program of Junior Blind of America
An New Perspective
By Jordan Venema
Photo courtesy of Blind Babies
Sight is so essential to our development and daily lives that we can hardly communicate without referring to vision – to see is to believe, love at first sight, looking for trouble – let alone imagine what it would be like to wake up blind.
As hard as it is to imagine waking up blind, how much harder it would be for a parent to cope with a child who had lost their vision? Where would you begin, and what would you do? For the last 60 years, local nonprofit Blind Babies (a program of Junior Blind of America) has been there to provide answers for parents and children in Tulare and Kings Counties.
According to Regional Coordinator Kristi Spaite, Blind Babies’ focus is threefold: connecting families to families, helping development through early intervention and walking families through the medical process.
“Blind Babies has been around 60-plus years,” continues Spaite, “and it started when a lot of babies were being born with retinopathy of prematurity,” though the organization works with any child with vision impairment.
Sixty years ago, Spaite adds, there was something of a vision epidemic among premature newborns, and one solution was to institutionalize babies born with vision impairment. Instead, says Spaite, “we trained parents to work with their children. Blind Babies has been going into homes, helping parents understand this is what your child sees, how they see, and the impact your child’s vision loss has on their overall development.”
Through pediatrician and ophthalmologist referrals, Blind Babies connects parents with vision impairment specialists who offer free home visits for children up to 3 years old.
“Most families have never met another blind child or visually impaired child, so they don’t really have any hope or idea what to expect,” says Spaite.
From simple advice and encouragement to helping understand the peculiarities of a unique diagnosis, specialists can help parents navigate unfamiliar waters.
Spaite offers an example: “The human face is complex, so a lot of little ones don’t make eye contact, and that is really hard on a parent. So we’ll help parents know what bonding looks like when there isn’t normal eye contact.”
Specialists also help parents with different methods for developing a child’s motor skills. Simple activities, such as lying on a baby’s stomach and pushing up his arms, helps with physical core training. “But your vision is the driving force for that,” says Spaite, “and when we put a baby down on their tummy, they’re miserable. So instead, we tell parents to put the baby on their chest, so they want to push up to feel a parent’s breath on their face. Different ideas like that.”
These visits can be the difference for parents struggling with the adjustment of raising a child with vision impairment, but maybe the greatest impact on the wellbeing of such a family comes from the social events organized by Blind Babies.
Once a month, Blind Babies organizes playgroups that include “a lot of sensory activities, trying to get a child to use their hands and explore more than they are.” That usually means messy activities, like decorating cupcakes with frosting or playing with chocolate pudding.
“I had one little girl that had limited vision, and we had a great big mirror and put chocolate pudding on it then put the mirror in the sun, so when she rubbed her fingers through it, she’d catch the sunlight,” says Spaite.
While such activities exist to help with children’s development and social interaction, it also helps the parents. These meetings exist, continues Spaite, “so families can meet children of older families, to see their kids are functioning and doing well.”
“It gives parents a sense of, OK, I don’t need to hold my child back because they’re blind. I need to encourage them to experience life just like any other child does.” And that, really, is how Blind Babies is showing children and parents that what many people see as an impairment is really a matter of perspective.
Junior Blind of America, Northern and Central California
Blind Babies Foundation • (510) 446-2229