Since I've always been blind, independence is an important issue for me. I don't know if sighted or able-bodied people ever think about it. People have cars, and they can just pick up and go whenever if they have the money and the time. Sighted children are always learning from their environment, and they watch the people around them to learn behavior.
I was a sheltered child, but thanks to a social worker, I entered preschool when I was three-years-old. I was so happy to go; I remember grabbing my backpack and running out the door. By that time, I loved books and stories, and my family told me there would be more of those there. What I didn't know how to do was talk to and play with other children. The next oldest cousin was 11 or 12, so the opportunity just wasn't there. I had a cane and took it with me whenever I went with my family, but I wasn't encouraged to explore. There I was in an unfamiliar environment with all of these other people I didn't know. I don't remember when it happened, but the teachers encouraged me to walk around the room and touch everything. They did the same thing outside on the playground. Eventually, after a couple weeks, I started talking to and playing with the other kids. Some of our favorite games were pretending to drive the cars, racing to climb the jungle gym and slide down the pole, and climbing in and out of tunnels and boxes.
As the year progressed, I became talkative, but I was still scared of new experiences. We had show and tell, and people brought pets to school. I attended preschool all day, unlike most children who went either for the morning or afternoon session. Someone brought in a kitten; I wouldn't touch it. Another time, the teacher brought in a bunny. I was so scared it was going to get me that I sat in a chair all morning and refused to go anywhere in the classroom. By the afternoon, everyone was playing with the bunny, and I decided to go over to it. Of course, it didn't do anything to me, and my classmates and I spent at least an hour trying to get it to hop and play with us. Parents and teachers of blind children should encourage them to explore and look at everything if they can. It is good to have them around as many different people and animals as possible, especially if there is the opportunity for a play group. I wish I had had that chance, and it is something I encourage my students to do now and will continue it in the future.
Another thing I wish I knew was how to keep advocating for myself when I was little. By the time I was in kindergarten and first grade, I was outspoken. I had an aide with me who would walk withme from classes, help me at lunch, help me on the playground,ETC. Children are not tactful, so I was always saying I can do it myself. One morning, she wanted to tie my shoes for me and carry my tray. tole her to go away and I ddidn't need her help! This made her cry, and she told the first grade teacher. I also told her the same thing later in the day when I wanted to walk back from lunch to class. Some time later, maybe the next day or next week, a teacher pulled me aside. She took me into a closet and shut the door. She kept telling me I needed to be a good girl and not sass my aide; she was there to help me, and I should let her do her job. I remember it wasn't a nice tone of voice. I was scared, but I continued telling people what I could do for myself.
The thing that broke me was when I was called to a confernce. Everyone was there: the aide, the first grade teacher, the school psychiatrist, some person from the intermediate unit, the principal, and me. They kept telling me it was a safety issue, and she had to carry my tray in the cafeteria because other people could run in to me. I wasn't allowed to walk to class because I could get lost. I wasn't allowed to say what I could do for myself because it was rude and hurt people's feelings. Maybe I was allowed to at home, but that conflicted with what the teachers wanted for me at school. I just remember being really afraid of all of the adults, and I just nodded and smiled when they were done talking.
After that day, till seventh grade, I didn't speak up for myself. If someone asked me something, such as "did you miss me?" I said yes even if it wasn't true. I didn't learn to travel well because the mobility instructor I had at the time was afraid to take me outside and let me cross streets. I let my aide carry my tray and get my food, even though I should have been encouraged to learn it for myself. There won't always be someone to do the day-to-day things for a blind child, so I encourage all of my students to do as much as they can for themselves.