I wrote this sort of entry in my now-defunct Hearing Change, Seeing Promise blog, and it seemed to be quite popular. Also, I have many new readers and some who are asking about this very topic. So, let’s see if I can resurrect that same type of explanation to a degree that most find at least passable.
< p>“Blindisms” refer, at least colloquially, to a set of behaviors that are commonly seen in and expressed by blind folks, and especially children. Yes, the stereotypical ones: rocking back and forth in a chair that doesn’t actually rock, jumping and flapping arms, hands, and legs, and I guess to some extent not holding one’s head in the upright position. I think I may have had one that was peculiar only to me: a sort of interlocking of both sets of thumbs and forefingers that indicate extreme excitement.
Why do these occur? Well that’s just it; usually we are unable to get rid of that pinned-up energy in any other way, or at least in so far as we see it. Vision, a sense that, when present, takes up to 90% of perception, thus naturally helps individuals consume a good amount of energy. Not all, certainly, as adults who have been charged with wrangling sighted children can attest. They’ll still sometimes feel the need to run around, fuss at each other and said adults, and generally engage in annoying behaviors.
The difference is that in blind kids, we pretty much feel like bouncing all the time. We are also not privy to the social norms that would allow us to know that most kids are not, in fact, banging their knees together or spinning in circles.
I can still vividly remember my parents’ first attempts to rid me of this unseemly activity.
“Stop acting silly!” my biological father would often say, with little or no explanation of what “silly” meant. And, I’m gonna use a word that is now generally considered offensive, but it was acceptable then and thus part of my story. “You know what those white folk (a generic term used to refer to any sort of professionals) say. You supposed to be retarded. You ain’t retarded, so don’t act like it!”
This was and still is very hurtful, especially with no context to know what I was even doing to be so perceived. I can’t say that I really began to conceptualize what was meant, and to understand the extent to which I am observed by others on a regular basis, till near adulthood.
It therefore thrills me to have parents and teachers who regularly interact with such children working to ascertain what our experiences were like, and attempting to do better for the upcoming generation. So, I hope it is of some help for me to give some of my thoughts.
First, I think most of us will never entirely rid ourselves of these quirks. And neither should we have to! Sometimes, it just feels good to let things out in this odd way. Hopefully though, the child can eventually come to understand that it is usually wisest to wait until he or she is in a private setting, then ah to be let free to find whatever energetic center is desired. Hey, everyone has oddities, whether they can be outwardly observed or not.
Secondly, if you are going to try and correct a behavior, fine. But, try to ensure that the child understands the actions at which you are targeting your intervention. For instance, it might be helpful to say “John, remember what I told you about flapping your hands?”
Of course, to make these changes stick, it is best to incentivize alteration of, or redirect behaviors. I’m not an actual psychologist/counselor, though I did spend years of my life trying to become one. I think that what I learned during that foray suggests that the best way to possibly channel that energy is through sensory stimulation. This could be done simply by giving the child a toy to play with, probably one that engages many of the senses simultaneously. The individual with whom I spoke about this told me about a site called Wonder Baby which seems designed especially to help parents of blind children in this way. Cool stuff.
This is why I’m so glad to have the Internet in existence nowadays. It’s of course a lot easier to find relevant information, and thus just more likely that parents and others can make better choices regarding how to interact with the child. A thing I will give my parents, and one that probably explains their shortcomings, is that it’s an even greater challenge to intervene in a more positive way when you have five other screaming kids to take care of. I thought of this when in discussion with someone else. Not only did they have to contend with managing a large household, but also that of being among a lower socioeconomic status. So yeah, these things never happen in a vacuum. And even with all that, I didn’t turn out too badly in the end. So there’s hope!
I’m sitting at my reading spot, my patio table at Dunkin Donuts. Isn’t that where everything happens? I’ve wrapped up what was probably the best, if saddest, chapter of the book on Laura Bridgman’s life. Wow, her story definitely reads like fiction!
Anyway, I like to turn everything off and just take in my surroundings for approximately 15 minutes before packing everything up and going home. Technology is a beautiful thing, true, but I can agree that we’ve often let it saturate our lives with so much “noise” that we never fully relax and unwind.
As soon as the phone and Braille display have been stowed, I hear “Deet, deet, deet”. It seems that a few fire alarms of the businesses that flank that patio have gone off simultaneously. People begin to stream out, not panicking but just milling around and chattering. I know what’s about to happen though, sirens! Then likely a more difficult crossing, so I grudgingly begin my journey home right away. I do not know what actually happened down there, but hope that no building sustained significant damage.