Being told your small bundle of joy can’t see is devastating. It’s a huge shock to the system and you do have to allow for a time of grieving. Grieving for the loss of their sight is all part of the process.
But believe me, it’s not all gloom and doom. And I should know. I have been there, done that and bought the T-shirt – twice. Tom is partially sighted and his younger brother, Jack, is blind.
No matter what you might think in the early days and what horrible scenarios you might conjure up in your head, you will see in time that having a visually-impaired child can open up a whole new world to enjoy. You will look back on the early days, as I do now, and remember some very special moments because you do have a very special child.
It is so important to let a visually-impaired child explore their surroundings from the moment they are born (within reason of course).
There will be knocks and bumps to overcome, but I'm sure as your child starts to move around and then take their first steps, they will want to discover for themselves what the world is made up of. You, your family and friends are there to help them – not to create even more obstacles!
Be prepared to get back to your own childhood. I'm talking about splashing in puddles in the middle of the street, getting your fingers dirty, squealing at the delights of slimy worms and snails! You are going to be out there in all weathers, experiencing the delights of the rain on your face, the wind in your hair.
You will discover the rough and the smooth of walls and fences, that some manhole covers are round and some are square. You'll be hugging trees and picking flowers... Oh you are in for a treat!
Concentrate on the other senses
Remember the five senses. Your child is missing one (or has a blurry alternative) so you have to use the other four to make life as interesting and fun as possible for them. The fifth – sight – you have to adapt to suit the child.
Some visually-impaired children do not like bright lights, others thrive on them. If your child has a particular eye condition find out as much as you can from the professionals before installing enough electrical equipment to light up Blackpool!
Sound and smell will also be very important to your baby from the moment they are born. Let them hear. Take time out to just sit and listen with them and talk to them from day one about the noises they might be hearing.
I think most parents do regardless of whether their baby has a disability or not. But when you have a visually-impaired child, speech is one of the most important aspects of their learning. Tell them everything you see and hear when out, be prepared to give a running commentary. You are their eyes in those early days.
If you have a favourite perfume or aftershave, stick with it. I've been wearing the same perfume for 13 years all because that is 'mummy's smell'.
Get creative and get active
There are many fun games and things you can do at home with a growing visually-impaired child. Just about everything you can think of to do with a sighted child, you can do with a visually-impaired one (or at least adapt accordingly).
Over the years I have done many crafty things with Tom and Jack in my kitchen, from baking to making things out of paper and felt! Think about creating textures, not just in craft activities but in baking too. Create with different tastes and smells.
Let them experience different sounds, sit in the garden and listen to the birds. Sit out front and listen to the world go by. Change radio channels. Let them discover ways of creating their own noise.
Another great love of both boys started almost from the day they learnt to walk, and that was being able to run! Find a dog free park for obvious reasons and a big open space, hold hands and run.
As they got older and more confident get them running beside or behind you, allowing them complete freedom of movement. Running downhill is also great fun!
It's very important with a visually-impaired child to encourage movement. They too need to build up muscles and strength – it can be so easy to lead a very sedate life when you can't see.
Of course there are ups and downs to having a pre-schooler who is visually impaired. Tom cried a lot through sheer frustration of not being able to see clearly and Jack was awake most of the day and most of the night!
Their eating habits can be somewhat demanding too. Jack spent nearly a whole year at one point living off jam sandwiches and bananas refusing to eat anything else. Tom, being partially sighted, loved the bright red colour of tinned spaghetti. Jack on the other hand hated the slimy feel in his mouth. Children can be fickle at the best of times, but having two pernickety eaters was a nightmare.
Jack went through a stage of refusing to walk anywhere. Both children hated busy shops. For Tom, everything became a moving blur and Jack appeared to hate the continuous noise of all the hustle and bustle. He would often lie down in the middle of an aisle and refuse to move, much to the embarrassment of his mother.
Seek out advice and support
Your first port of call should always be the RNIB. They are there to help you. Never worry about how stupid your questions put to them might be – they have heard it all before!
Another first step for you to take is to check in with your local education department. Do not wait until someone contacts you. You might have a baby and think it's too soon to be thinking about schooling. It's never too soon to make contact. All councils have a Sensory Impairment Team and they deal with children from birth.
Also look up your local blind or partially-sighted society. Most major towns have one and they should be able to put you in touch with other groups and parents. It is important in the early days to make contact with parents in a similar position to yourself.
Talking to someone really does help. I can vividly remember the first time I met another parent with a blind child, the relief was enormous. Just to be able to share some experiences and worries felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.
Most of us have never come into contact with a blind person, let alone a blind or visually-impaired child, and most of our worries are based on the fear of the unknown. I found visiting some of the blind schools that are dotted around the country another great help. Most have open days, so go along.