New Year, New Goals (In Your Role as Grandparent, Aunt, or Uncle of a Child Who is Blind or Low Vision)
Grandma and Grandpa (AKA “Abuela”, “Gigi”, “Grammy”, “Nana”, “Abuelo”, “Papa”, “Partner”) and Auntie and Uncle (Tía or Tío), this blog is for you.
You have an essential role in the life of your grandchild, niece, or nephew who is blind or low vision.
You may spend ample time with them, or you may wish you had a more active role but live thousands of miles away.
This is applicable regardless. Because, thankfully, your part…your investment…is valuable whether it comes from near or far.
Let’s look at how you can invest in your grandchild, niece, or nephew who is blind or low vision. Perhaps you can view these investments as seeds to plant in 2021.
Love and Acceptance
Love and accept the child as they are. Don’t we all want unconditional love and acceptance? Like every person, your family member is precious and unique; treasure their personhood, personality, character, interests, and characteristics such as an eye condition and any additional disability.
It isn’t grades, skill sets, perfect behavior, or 20/20 vision that make one lovable and worthy of our affection and admiration.
So, how can you demonstrate love and acceptance?
- Get to know the child’s personality and preferences. What makes them laugh? What do they enjoy? Ask them and their parents. This displays a genuine interest in the child—and once you know who they are, you know the aspects to value and affirm.
- Focus on the child and not the cure. It is well-meaning to persistently search for a cure for the eye condition, but not accepting an eye condition can feel like not accepting the person and their features.
- You can express love through words of affirmation, through time together (even over a phone or video call), through acts of service (being mindful not to overhelp), through physical affection when possible (virtual hugs may have to do), and through gift giving (yes, you can send a gift for a holiday, but think about sending an occasional note or treat). [These five expressions of love are from Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages.]
Blindness and Low Vision is a low incidence disability; you may not know anyone with this diagnosis. Your experience with vision loss may be from media alone, and let’s face it, stories of people who are blind have for too long been unempowering and inaccurate.
Blindness or low vision is not a sentence to unemployment, dependence on others, or a miserable life of isolation.
You can invest in your family member by believing in their capabilities and not imposing limits.
So, how can you uphold high expectations?
- Before spending time with your grandchild, niece, or nephew, ask their parents about skills they’ve mattered and skills they’re still working towards. It’s important to know where you can step back from helping. Of course, there’s a delicate balance. You may know they can make eggs independently but choose to make eggs for them out of love. This is entirely different than telling a capable child they can’t make eggs because it isn’t safe or jumping in to too quickly to “rescue” a child who is working hard to tie shoes.
- Communicate your high expectations with your young family member in an age-appropriate way. This may sound like, “You may enjoy baseball. This is what a baseball—or beep baseball—feels like.”, “I wonder what book your favorite will be to read.”, “Want to navigate us to the store?”, or “What career do you have in mind?”
Supporting the Child’s Goals
You may be able to champion your family member as they strive to reach goals. This is highly individualized; be creative!
Here’s what I mean:
- If learning to read is the goal, send a braille book or be available to listen to them read.
- If learning a musical instrument is the goal, ask if you can video chat to listen to them play. You may even be able to pay for a season of lessons.
- If learning to cook is the goal, share a favorite recipe you think they’ll like.
- If learning technology is the goal, send emails to which they can reply.
- If obtaining a particular career is the goal, you may be able to introduce them to a mentor in the field.
No matter the physical or social distance from your grandchild, niece, or nephew, you can love, support, and champion them.