Encouraging Independence, By Holly Tuke
Independence. It’s a word that can fill you with many emotions. Determination, a sense of belief, positivity, excitement, fear, anxiety and worry. The word ‘independence’ means something different to everyone. Whether it is making a hot drink for the first time, cooking a meal, learning to use a long cane, going out with friends, going on a solo trip, travelling on public transport, getting a job, starting University, or moving away from home, there are so many ways we can be independent, sometimes more than we even think of.
The long cane
Like many blind and visually impaired people, getting to grips with using the long cane is something that I struggled with. I’ve always been rather independent, but learning to use the long cane presented many challenges for me.
Anxiety, frustration and self-consciousness took over whenever I had to use my cane. I’d do everything I could not to use it. I started having cane training when I was at school. As well as dealing with all of the usual teenager stuff, I also had the added pressure of learning to use a long cane. It felt like people were forcing me into doing something I didn’t want to do. Now I know this came from a good place, but at the time it felt like the exact opposite. I felt like no one understood how using my cane made me feel. I felt alone and like I was the only one experiencing these feelings, and this resentment towards the cane. Later, I found out that I most definitely wasn’t alone in feeling like this because it’s more common than you might think. Most blind or visually impaired people I have spoken to about this subject express the same trepidation that I once felt.
As I was in sixth form, I gradually started to use my cane more and by the time I was at University, it was the norm.
I grew to realise that my cane was the key to my independence. My cane is always with me, guiding me along the paths we encounter.
But without my own journey of acceptance and the encouragement from others, I never would have reached that milestone, or have the mindset about using the cane I do today, and I wouldn’t have my independence.
Part (okay a lot) of the reason I’m so independent and have always been is because of my parents. They’ve always encouraged and believed in me. They taught me that independence is essential in life.
I’ve met many blind and visually impaired people, and parents of blind or visually impaired children, and the topic of independence is one that seems to crop up quite a lot. When I tell them that I attended mainstream education, went onto University, now have a job and do all the things my sighted friends do including travelling independently and going to way too many gigs, they seem surprised.
Parents feel worried about their child being independent. But independence is vital in so many aspects of life.
So how do you encourage your child to be independent?
Don’t do everything for them
When teaching your child new skills or when they’re doing something for the first time, that parenting instinct may kick in. You want to help, you don’t want anything to go wrong and you want everything to be okay. This is only natural, but it’s just as important that your blind or visually impaired child does things themselves too.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with giving a bit of support or a helping hand. But they don’t learn or grow if you do everything for them.
Don’t make all their decisions
We all have to make decisions, no matter how big or small. You can point them in the right direction and there are times when you will have to make the decision for them, but there are things that your child can decide on themselves independently.
Teach them it’s okay to need a bit of support
Independence certainly doesn’t mean doing something on your own, and it’s very important that children know this.
When I was at school, like most children with a visual impairment, I had Teaching Assistants and they were fantastic. They would put work into an accessible format for me, help me with tasks in class if I needed it and accompany me in lessons.
As I got older, I wanted independence, and I wanted to work on my own in lessons just like my sighted peers. Everyone around me was extremely supportive of this and we came up with strategies that worked well. I had a balance of having TAs in lessons at times when they were needed, and being on my own.
At University, I had people in my lectures who would make written notes for me, but I was conscious of people thinking I couldn’t do the work on my own. Some of my friends would question where they were if they weren’t there for one reason or another which I knew came from a good place. But I didn’t need people constantly with me. I tried to have a balance between working on my own and having the support of others.
I’m now in employment and I still need a bit of support from my sighted colleagues from time to time, just like they need my support too.
Why is it that if we need a bit of support, people question it, or if we don’t have that support, we’re then seen as not being independent?
This may make children feel like having support doesn’t make them independent, when in fact it does. That support is enabling them, rather than disabling them.
Empowering and encouraging children is key. Giving them a bit of motivation and empowerment can make them even more determined to succeed. This could be the turning point if they are struggling with independence in any way.
Change can be scary but empowering your child to embrace the change can make a difference.
Talk to each other
Gaining independence over time can be exciting, thrilling and the start of something new. But it can also be daunting and may leave us feeling worried and scared. It is natural to feel a range of emotions and it is completely okay to do so. Talking to your children about life, education, independence and all aspects of their disability is really important. We all need someone to talk to at times and sometimes we just want to open up.
Not all conversations have to be deep and serious, you could tell them about your own experiences. Either way, talking is one of the best things we can do.
By talking a bit about my own journey and sharing a few tips, I hope it empowers people to grab independence with both hands. I hope these tips help you to encourage your child to be independent, and I also hope that it gives parents some reassurance in a way.
I found my independence and so can your child.
We all go on our own journey of independence so enjoy the ride.
Read our other blogs by our Young Adult bloggers in the Stories Section.
Learn more about mobility and independence in the Support Section.
Visit Holly’s blog page to find out more about her and her writing: Visit Life of a Blind Girl >