This afternoon I met with the service manager of the Canadian National Institute of the Blind ~ the CNIB.
Kids with mental illnesses and visual impairments…
A New Challenge…
Admittedly, I have never spoken or facilitated any kind of workshop on the subject of mental and emotional health for children and youth who are visually-impaired, had never even thought about this particular demographic
The topic fascinated me, so I was anxious to continue our dialogue.
With my hearing loss, it seems I’m one “advocate” with a bit of an edge. Empathy for how isolating sensory deprivation can be ~ any sense. Hearing loss is invisible, aligning it, curiously, to a mental illness.
Blindness, however, was utterly new to me…
Quite understandably, children and young people with blindness or visual losses have a score of extra emotional health problems, not the least of which is depression, feelings of isolation and marginalization. Imagine, in this world of touch screens, iTunes, iPods, iPads ~ this utterly and completely visual world ~ not being able to play.
Then, layer on a mental illness.
Imagine how excruciatingly hard it must be for kids to accept a mental illness or a psychiatric diagnosis on top of being blind or visually impaired. How do they cope? How do their families cope? In many cases, they don’t.
Most of these children and teens are integrated into the public school system, “though that’s changing,” this woman told me. Often, a visually impaired child may be the only one in his or her school. It’s seems so inhumane.
Bullying is a serious problem…
Social integration can be close to impossible for these kids, which is why their families are increasingly moving them to schools for the blind where they can relax and use all the aids available to them.
“In these schools, they can flourish. In an integrated situation, they tend to feel so ‘different’ that they will refuse to use their white canes in order to attempt to fit in and in doing so can handicap themselves even more,” the CNIB service manager told me.
Some of these young people experience depression so severe they contemplate suicide.
Several years ago, a young visually impaired teenager died by suicide. This teenager was using the services of the CNIB, but somehow, he was beyond reach and fell between the cracks. There was no one there who could help him or understand him.
A suicide in a young blind teenager prompted this conference…
Sending one of our children in emotional distress to an ER often proves futile because the information their psychiatrists and psychologists have rarely gets to us, said this service manager. It’s a strange situation.
This suicide prompted the idea of a special conference to address the complex issues of “Mental Health and Young People with Visual Impairments,” a workshop she wants very much to coordinate.
I suggested something interactive, with participants using blindfolds for group activities. Lots of teamwork and cross pollination. Sharing of experiences and ideas, especially as some of the teachers have visual losses. Perhaps several of the young people at the CNIB might be willing to come in for an impromptu panel, I suggested. Very informal and somewhat staged. I would meet them ahead of time, to help them relax. Get to know them.
A safe, open forum where everyone can express their feelings…
“Don’t you think it’s important to hear how these kids speak up about how they’re feeling? Their emotions? If we could create some cross-pollination, I think that might be helpful. For everyone. Think of how this kind of open dialogue might help everyone develop resilience. And deal with the stress.”
As far as I can see, the real insights will not come from me, but from the kids and their parents and teachers. The meeting of minds. Hearing how they feel and knowing they’re not alone.
They need a chance to speak up, speak out and listen to each other and be heard in a safe and non-threatening environment. To know they’re not alone.
If you have any insights, thoughts, ideas, would you share them with us? I would be eternally grateful for your help. Any help.
So would these kids.
This conversation will be continued. I’ll keep you posted.
Photo Credit: Mega Mack at Pinterest