I mentioned in my last blog post that one of the biggest challenges for us with Finn thus far has been socialization. He’s not even two years old yet, but play dates with other babies seem to start the moment our kids are born, as you are immediately thrust into the world of Mommy and Me classes or Moms social clubs the second you add ‘Mom’ to your identity. If you’re a stay-at-home mom, these opportunities are endless. If you put your child in day care, socialization is a big built-in advantage. For us, we decided pretty immediately after learning of Finn’s blindness that we would start with a nanny instead. Both Patrick and I work from home so we felt this was the best way to allow us to be involved in all of Finn’s appointments, therapies and day to day development without either of us putting our careers on hold. This has meant that socialization is something we have to actively seek out for Finn on weekends, days off or while in his nanny’s care, and it hasn’t been easy for any of us.
As an infant, there aren’t too many glaring differences between a sighted baby and a blind baby — the lack of eye contact is about it. But, as that child grows into a toddler the differences become much more apparent, never more so than when Finn is side by side with a sighted peer. We’ve done the play dates, had friends with their kids over, and taken Finn to group activities such as music class, tumbling class, and story time. What happens almost every time is that Finn gets overwhelmed by the noise of the other children and becomes very clingy. He can’t see what the other children are doing or playing in order to create a motivation to join in, while the other children are busy playing and too young at this point to understand why Finn is sitting alone with his head down and back turned to them. This makes our job that much more difficult – we have to constantly work to encourage Finn to engage, or to explain Finn’s blindness to the other parents or instructors, in the hopes that they’ll likewise encourage the other kids to interact with him. There have been times where I’ve just given up and left the situation, Finn screaming or clinging so hard to my chest that his nails have drawn blood. But, I know Finn can only overcome his feeling overwhelmed in large groups if we keep trying. He’ll have to learn how to effectively interact with his peers at some point so the earlier we encourage it the better.
I’ve had more success with Finn playing one-on-one with children rather than in groups and with older children who can understand Finn’s blindness than with those his own age. I have to say I’ve been blown away by the patience, kindness and interest older children have shown my son, in fact. And for a special needs mom who worries about future bullies, this has made my heart so full and eased my fears more than once. I’ve also learned that the more we expose Finn to the same people or settings, the more relaxed and comfortable he becomes. Of course he’s most comfortable in our own home which means having people over to our house is the best case scenario, but with music class, for example, he’s been going since he was an infant (huge thank you to my dad and stepmom who have gifted these classes to Finn since day one to encourage his love of music). The classroom, the teacher and the general format of the class is always the same. So when I say, “Finn, today we’re going to music class” he knows what I’m talking about and doesn’t protest. Even once or twice I think he’s been happy about going and embraced it- a huge win!
Our TVI (Teacher for the Visually Impaired) recently recommended we mimic this every day by laying out a weekly routine for Finn that includes one outing per day that always falls on the same day of the week. We’ve just started trying it — Monday is park day, Tuesday is tumbling class, Wednesday is story time, Thursday is an outing to the store or other errand, and Friday is music class. We’re hoping the routine and knowing what to expect each day will get Finn more comfortable with encounters with people outside of our home and with group settings with other children.
Finn is no longer a baby and the only way for him to truly learn about the world is to get out in it — to explore, to engage, to interact. This is true for any toddler, but we’ve realized now just how important socialization is for our very curious but sensitive blind toddler as talking, hearing and touching are his lifelines to that knowledge of the world. We can only teach him so much at home.
So, we made the decision last month to enroll Finn in a preschool two days a week starting mid-August. We found an inclusive preschool close by that operates under a 60% typically developing child to 40% special needs child ratio. They have a full- time onsite staff of therapists which means Finn’s speech and developmental therapy can be done in house on the days he is there, and his TVI can do visits at the school in addition to our home. They also have a sensory room that Finn will love. We toured the school last month and it seemed to be the perfect solution to helping us all work through the socialization challenge. Of course, I know the adjustment is going to be tough both for Finn and for me. We’re both accustomed to our routine in the house and the flexibility to be together on a whim any time of day. But, as all parents who send their children off to school for the first time know, it’s what’s best for our child – we can’t shelter and coddle him forever as much as I’m tempted to do just that. So cross your fingers for us that Finn will learn how to engage with other children, that other children will be kind and engaging with him, and that his mom doesn’t fall apart at the seams with worry.
We’re also pleased to announce the arrival of Finn’s new live-in playmate and eventual socializer, baby sister Sloane Christine born on 7/11/19. We do not know for sure yet, but at first examination in the hospital and pediatrician’s office Sloane’s eyes and vision appear to have developed normally. We’ll know for certain next month after an exam with Dr. S. – we just want to know for certain so we can be prepared.
I am so excited for Finn to have a sibling under our roof and to watch these two grow together. For now, Finn is beyond uninterested. He shakes his head no when he hears his sister and refuses to hold her. So, things are just as we’d expect having two under two! For now we are patient and letting him adjust to his new housemate on his own terms. We remain hopeful that he’ll soon realize she’s part of the routine, not going anywhere and he will embrace her too!