My son Thomas is rambunctious and full of joy. He is also blind, and that makes his life a little different. When we celebrate anything, we try to think of things from Tommy’s perspective to make sure he is included and fully understands the festivities. Being with family is at the heart of every celebration, and that is something that everyone can understand.
Celebrations and events can be hard when you have a child with special needs. When my son was younger I had a hard time accepting the fact that he would never have the same holiday experience I had growing up. It took time for me to realize that I could be okay with that. Watching my son enjoy his everyday life helped me to accept his blindness and understand him. Tom never had sight so he doesn’t miss anything. He experiences the world in a different way than I do, but that doesn’t mean his experiences aren’t rich and fulfilling.
Adapting Celebrations for Blind Children
When your child is blind you have to build knowledge of abstract concepts using stories, activities, crafts, and field trips. A sighted child can learn a lot about holidays and events with little effort. Tom’s blindness forces us to take a more proactive approach to events and celebrations. It is a challenge and an unexpected delight because we do so many fun activities.
Christmas is a great example. Christmas doesn’t have to mean less to Tom just because he has never seen a Christmas tree. He has felt and smelled Christmas trees. He knows what they are and what they mean.
Here are some examples of activities that Tom participated in at school and at home during the Christmas season:
- Making ornaments out of applesauce and cinnamon dough. Multi-sensory activities are excellent for children with visual impairments, and this activity involves touch and scent. The dough must be rolled out and shaped into ornaments. This is a great fine motor skill building activity that is good for any child, but especially good for those who will learn Braille.
- Christmas tree walk. Tom’s school sells Christmas trees to raise money. His class took a walk to explore the trees and learn about them.
- Decorating the tree. Tom helps me by pulling the ornaments out of the box so I can put them on the tree. This keeps him involved and gives him a special and important job. He also enjoys feeling every ornament thoroughly before he gives it to me.
- Foam Wreath. Tom made a cute holiday wreath using an inexpensive foam sticker set. I let him do it and he was very proud of himself. I removed the backing from the stickers and then let him go wild. He enjoyed this but it took two sessions to complete. Rather than making him finish it, I let him stop when he lost interest and we finished the project the next day. The stickers are sort of 3D so they have a more interesting texture that he likes.
- Sensory Gift Wrap. When I wrap Tom’s gifts I add Braille labels to the tags and small tactile elements to make it more fun for him.
Gift with Braille label and tactile element (puff of garland)
Slow it down
We try to give Tom some time to process events and parties. Sometimes just finding a quiet moment for a snack or drink will make it easier for Tom to return to a party or event in a good mood. Loud and crowded events can easily become overstimulating for Tom, causing a fearful or tantrum response.
We try new things but usually make sure we can make a quick exit if we need to. Tom loves music so we went to an outdoor jazz concert once. It was a free event so we didn’t feel like we had to stay if Tom didn’t enjoy it, and because it was outside we didn’t have to worry about Tom being loud or running around.
Tom will probably never care about fireworks on the Fourth of July, but that doesn’t mean that he won’t look forward to the big family picnics we attend on that day. It can be hard to come to terms with some limitations that exist when your child has special needs, but great memories can be made when you focus on the things your child can participate in and enjoy.