What I Learned from a Blind Student and How You Can Gain Insight When You Open Your Eyes

Blind girl holding tulips

This is a refreshed rerun of a previous post.

On October 31, 1989 I met 3-year-old Amanda. She was very articulate, and with great expression recited a Halloween poem for me. Her golden curls rested lightly on her tiny shoulders. Shoulders that would carry many burdens in the years ahead.

Amanda was born totally blind. She was a bright student, however, and attended regular classrooms where modifications were made in her lessons and materials. That was my job.

Her lack of understanding of the sighted and visual world caused her and her teachers problems. She didn’t have much patience with sighted people.

When told that she must wear the clothes her mother had set out because they ‘matched,’ she would grumble as she stomped upstairs to change, “Sighted people and all this matching stuff!”

After colliding with a child in the gym, Amanda pleaded, “I just want to run free, like everyone else.” I explained that sighted people couldn’t always see her coming because we cannot see behind us. She replied, “That’s why I wish you had two sets of eyes.”

She lost her temper with teachers and they lost patience with her. She wanted help immediately when she needed it, unaware of the needs of others around her.

Her sight was lacking, but her insights were profound.

One day I attempted to convey to Amanda the vast distance between the sun, the stars, and us.

After a little thought she replied, “The earth is really as small as a piece of sand and we just don’t know it.”

On another occasion when Amanda was in second grade it started to snow. Since this is highly unusual where we live, all the children were allowed to go out to see if they could catch a snowflake. Discussion followed in the classrooms about snowflakes and how beautiful and unique they are.

When Amanda came to me for instruction later that day she was somber. She said, “I wish I could see, just once so I would know what they are talking about.” Some days she just needed a hug.

As Amanda grew there were many things that were difficult for her to understand. She did not use facial expressions and the reference to such made no sense to her. Since an enormous part of communication is visual, she frequently became confused and irritated.

Amanda did not make friends. She behaved differently than the other children. She liked strange noises and often made many of her own. She lived in her own little world most of the time.

Her inability to comprehend simple visual concepts was interesting, for example when a fellow student was trying to help her down the hall, she ran into the wall and blamed the child. The child had turned around to look at someone else. Amanda didn’t understand this at all and lashed out in anger.

“If you can see why can’t you see behind you?”

Over time Amanda developed her own interests and talents. In high school she received two Superior ratings for trombone solos at State competition. I introduced various experiences to Amanda such as horseback riding, orchestra, and art. She loved animals and would sit and pet our cat for long periods at a time. He would come running when he heard the tap, tap, tap of her cane.

Though she could comprehend math, her ideas about people and culture were not clear. Answering her questions kept me alert.

I had the privilege of teaching Amanda to read – Braille, of course. One of her books included the story of Stevie Wonder. As we read the story it told of his troubled childhood, how poor his family was and how prejudice affected his life. Afterwards Amanda asked, “What is prejudice?”

Hoping to keep it simple I told her, “Some people have light colored skin and some have very dark colored skin. Often the people with light skin are not nice to the people with dark skin.”

She asked, “Why?”

“The light colored people think they are better.” I was wondering what meaning this would have for her. She thought seriously for a long moment then asked, “What color is my skin?”

The end of Amanda’s first grade year she asked, “Do you think God made a mistake when He made me born blind?”

“I don’t think God makes mistakes,” I replied. “He knew you would be special just the way you are.”

“I am special and I feel special,” Amanda said confidently.

Today Amanda is a grown woman living on her own.

I treasure to this day the lessons I learned from Amanda.

To learn more about Amanda visit:

http://www.statesman.com/news/education/acc-professor-brings-physics-lessons-to-blind-students-2014334.html

http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/how-a-professor-gave-a-blind-student-a-new-outlook-on-science/34424

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