Brielle Buzzard is a smart, charming, and enthusiastic eight-year-old who loves reading, math, and music. She’s learning to play piano, ukulele, and drums and especially enjoys the drums. Brielle loves swinging on swings, playing with her four-year-old brother, Thomas, and caring for her black Labrador, Lambo.
When people learn that Brielle is blind, they often respond with pity or set low expectations for her, says her mother, Tiffany. But that isn’t how Brielle feels about her life at all.
“She’s not sad – she’s very happy, and she loves life,” Tiffany says. “As soon as we learned she was born blind, we started with early intervention services. They set us on a road to success by having high expectations for Brielle. The teacher who came to the house told us, ‘Do all the things with her you would do if she were sighted,’ and that’s what we do.”
Teaching Brielle to thrive and nurturing her caring spirit
Brielle, who completed second grade this year, attends a public school with a Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI) teaching her braille and the Nemeth code for math. She also uses a white cane to learn Orientation and Mobility (O&M) skills. Although she doesn’t need them, Brielle wears glasses. When she was younger, she had light sensitivity and needed transition lenses that turned dark in sunlight. Now, Tiffany says Brielle wears them to protect her eyes in case she bumps into anything – plus, she looks cute in them.
Tiffany didn’t realize at first that Brielle was born with Leber congenital amaurosis. But when she was about four months old, Tiffany noticed Brielle wasn’t looking at her like the other kids in her mom’s group did with their mothers. That led Tiffany and her husband, Daniel, to seek a diagnosis.
“I immediately started looking for resources everywhere because I didn’t know anyone who was blind, and suddenly I had to raise a person who is blind,” Tiffany says.
Taking the advice of the early intervention specialist to heart, Brielle’s family has made sure she knows she can do anything a sighted person can.
“When I grow up, I want to be a nurse because I want to help kids who are hurt,” Brielle says.
Having a little brother and caring for Lambo are building a foundation of caring. Lambo is a K9 Buddy from Guide Dogs for the Blind. Not a dog guide, a K9 Buddy is a companion animal, and, for Brielle, it’s helped her overcome her fear of dogs in case she does want a dog guide someday.
Plus, she knows her mother takes care of others, too. As part of her pursuit of finding a community of support, Tiffany is a member of the APH ConnectCenter Parent Advisory Board.
“I like when she helps parents and other kids that are blind,” Brielle says, “because everyone needs help sometimes.”
Finding strength and compassion in advocating for Brielle
Seeking out resources ever since she learned Brielle is blind has been what Tiffany describes as “empowering,” especially as she’s found a community of educators and other adults who are blind. The Parent Advisory Board is another important resource of information and support as parents share their experiences. In her effort to gain as much knowledge as possible, Tiffany is also learning braille to help Brielle with schoolwork.
“Picking up all these bits and pieces, especially from other parents, helps me be a better parent to Brielle and advocate for her, too,” she says.
Tiffany admits it’s been challenging at times getting Brielle’s school to fully understand the needs of a student who is blind because there’s never been one in her school district.
“I’ve just made sure I’m very involved in her education to advocate for her needs,” she says. “Kiddos who are blind are very capable, but sometimes you just have to think outside the box and figure out a different way for Brielle to do something or give her time to figure it out, which is so important. We have to teach the world to have high expectations for our kids.”
Tiffany values the music school Brielle attends on Saturdays because every child there is blind, as are some of the instructors. “I knew I needed to give her a community of people who are blind, and everyone helps each other. Having friends who are blind is important, and it’s been great for Brielle’s confidence because she’s not the only one.”
Despite giving her opportunities to interact with other kids who are blind, Tiffany and Daniel treat Brielle like any other kid, something her brother started figuring out at a young age.
“He just picked up on it, and from when he was two, he was guiding his sister. If he wants to show her something, he knows to put it in her hand,” Tiffany says. “He sees her as his sister, friend, and playmate first and her blindness second. It’s so beautiful, and if more kids could see people for who they are, there would be much more acceptance.”
Sharing her story
Learn more from Tiffany by listening to her parenting journey in a Celebrate Success video on APH FamilyConnect.