Hesperian Health Guides
What Is the Future for a Blind Child?
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With help and encouragement from family and community, a child who is blind can usually develop early skills as quickly and as well as other children. Helping Children Who Are Blind shows ways he can learn to feed, bathe, dress, and care for himself, and to find his way around the home and village without help. Although he cannot see well, he develops an outstanding ability to use his sense of hearing, touch, and even smell. If he can see at all, he can be helped to make the best use of whatever vision he has. He can and should go to school. Although he may not be able to read ordinary writing, he can develop his memory.
As he grows up, he can become a farmer, or a craftsperson. And if he has the opportunity for training, he can learn any of a wide variety of skills. Where blind persons are given a fair chance, they often take active part in their communities and can live full, happy lives. In many countries, blind people have been leaders in organizing disabled persons to become more self-reliant and to work toward their rightful place in society.
Unfortunately, blind children often are not given a chance to develop as quickly or as fully as they could. In some countries more than half of the children who are born blind die of hunger or neglect before they are 5 years old. Following are 2 stories of blind children that will help you realize the difference that understanding and help from family and community can make.
Shanti is a little blind girl, who was born in a small village in India. When they found that she was blind, her parents and grandparents tried to hide the fact from the other villagers. They thought all blindness was sent to a family as a punishment for sin, and that people would look down on them.
Secretly her parents took Shanti to an orphanage and left her there.
Nobody in the orphanage had ever cared for a blind child, and they did not know what to do. There were so many other children who needed care, that there was no time left for her.
Shanti was kept alive, but that was all. Nobody talked to her or held her lovingly or tried to stimulate her. Her blind eyes made the nurses think she could not understand or recognize anything around her. So when other babies began to reach out for objects they saw, and then to crawl toward things they wanted, Shanti was left lying silently on her cot.
People got used to the blind child. She was picked up when necessary, and cleaned and fed. They fed her with a bottle, or pushed food into her mouth. But nobody tried to teach her how to feed herself or how to walk and talk.
As she grew older, Shanti spent most of her time sitting on the doorstep, rocking herself and poking her eyes (see "Strange Behavior"). She never said a word and only cried when she was hungry. Other children stayed away from her; they were afraid of her dead eyes. Everyone thought she was mentally slow and that nothing could be done about it.
In time, Shanti did begin to talk and walk. But the sad, stony look on her face never disappeared. Now, at age 7 she is in some ways still like a 2-year-old. And in other ways she is no longer a child. We can only guess at her future.
Rani is also a little blind girl, born in another village in India. Like Shanti’s family, when her parents learned she was blind, they were worried about what the villagers would say. But the baby’s grandmother, who had slowly lost her sight 5 years ago, said, “I think we should do everything we can for the baby. Look at me. I, too, am now blind, and yet I still have all the same feelings and needs as I did when I could see. And I can still do most of the things I used to do. I still bring water from the well, grind the rice, milk the goats,...”
“But you could already do all those things before you went blind,” said the father. “How could a blind baby learn?”
“We must help her learn,” said Grandma. “Just as I’ve learned to do things by sound and touch, so Rani must learn. I can help teach her, since I know what it’s like. But we can also get advice from the health worker.”
The village health worker came the next day. She did not know much about blindness, but she knew a little about early child development. She suggested they give the baby a lot of stimulation in hearing and feeling and smelling things, to make up for what she could not see. “And talk to her a lot,” she said.
The family took the advice. They put all kinds of things in Rani’s hands and told her what they were. They gave her bells and squeakers, and cans and bottles to bang on. Grandma, especially, took Rani with her everywhere, and had her feel and listen to everything. She played games with her and sang to her. At age 2, Grandma taught her to feel her way along the walls and fence, just as she did. By age 3, Rani could find her own way to the latrine and the well. When she was 4, the health worker talked with the neighbors, and did some CHILD-to-child activities on blindness with their children. After, a few children came to make friends and play with Rani. Sometimes they would all blindfold their faces and try to find something or tell different things apart. At these games, Rani usually won.
When she was 6, Rani started school. The neighbor children came for her every day. When the villagers saw them all walking down the road together, it was hard to guess which one was blind.