California Family Raising Confident, Blind Child Sharing Successes to Change Perceptions of Blindness

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California family whose child is thriving in the special education system has an important message for all parents and educators about not teaching fear through over protectiveness. This family is sharing their story of how they learned to let their child’s wild side out, despite her lack of sight due to an extremely premature birth and its complications. They have taken an unexpected, shocking event and turned it into informed advocacy for all children with special needs and their siblings. http://www.babymilagro.org/dvd.

Exuding confidence with her white cane, Milagro walks to her hotel room at the National Federation of the Blind Convention

"It is powerful to see how a child can learn and grow through movement and exploration. Seeing a child over time allows for one to observe how the experiences a child has at one point in time influence her development down the line." Dr. Penny Rosenblum

old girl glides gracefully down the escalator with her long white cane. __title__ blind child on escalator] At the bottom, she laughs and says, “That’s so funny” as people look on in wonder. For anyone in the station that night who believed that blind people are dependent and helpless, their attitudes were likely changed by watching this tiny, young girl move so fluidly and independently. Now parents as far away as Tasmania, Australia are watching these images as the child’s family celebrates the shipment of the 100th DVD called, “Letting Your Child’s Wild Side Out.

When their first child was born at 25 weeks gestation weighing just over a pound, Graciela and Genro Sato could only pray she would live. During the nearly five-month hospitalization that followed, they learned to speak Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) lingo to advocate for their daughter’s medical treatment. This included five surgeries at four different hospitals in two states, four of which were related to her eyes.

Now, seven years later, their daughter Milagro enjoys downhill skiing, reads and writes Braille, plays trombone and has developed quite a routine on her trapeze in the family room. She enjoys gymnastics and is learning to dance.

How has this family succeeded in raising this confident child and how are they now inspiring other families? To show how they did it, the Sato family has created a unique DVD. They show by example why it’s critical for families (and educators) to let go of the urge to overprotect children with disabilities. They show the relationship between letting the child master a sense of self-confidence and achievement of early independence.

The messages apply widely to families with kids with disabilities and to the larger population that includes many parents who may be overprotecting their typically-developing children.

In the presentation, they share five years of photos and videos of their daughter as an infant, toddler, preschooler and kindergartner participating in physically challenging activities that greatly aided in her development. Not overprotecting and setting her free to explore movement in a variety of ways enabled their daughter to achieve an early sense of self-confidence through a strong mastery of skills.

The project originated as a presentation Graciela was asked to present to educators and parents at the California Transcribers and Educators of the Visually Handicapped (CTEVH) conference in 2007. Dr. Penny Rosenblum, a professor at the University of Arizona’s department of Special Education, suggested that Grace create the DVD. She knew that families and educators would benefit greatly from this powerful message most effectively delivered by a parent.

The Satos tackled this project in the evenings after putting their children to bed, utilizing skills gained as professionals in Silicon Valley. The multimedia DVD titled, “Letting Your Child’s Wild Side Out: Raising the Wild and Confident Blind Baby, Toddler and Preschooler,” was the result. The DVD has now shipped to agencies and schools in half of all the United States, plus agencies in Canada and Australia.

Graciela now works as an educational advocate running Tiscareno-Sato Advocacy Services. She has presented her workshops to educators and parents in Los Angeles and San Francisco, early intervention service providers in Tacoma, the Blind Babies Foundation’s home counselors, the Infant Development Association and the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). The NOPBC is the parent division of the National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the largest organization of blind individuals in the United States. The NFB’s tagline is “Changing what it means to be Blind”, now also a goal for the Sato family.

Graciela states: “As our daughter gets older and learns to navigate the world independently, we worry less about her and how she will grow up. We instead worry about the people she will encounter that will attempt to limit what she can do for herself and what she can achieve. We want to dispel the existing widespread ignorance on the topic of blindness in our society. We want to hear less pity when people see our daughter walking by with her cane and more comments like, “Wow! Look at how independent she is at such a young age!”

Genro, the child’s father, states, “We want to show the world that blindness can be relegated to being an inconvenience. One physical disability does not need to define and limit anybody. These are the values we’ve absorbed from the NFB that we want to disseminate as widely as we can. Sharing our daughter as an early example of competence and confidence is the best way we can do this.”

The best reward for Milagro’s parents comes as feedback from families raising blind children much younger than Milagro who have been inspired by the DVD. At a recent family camp for families with blind children, Grace met Bonnie, mother of a two year-old boy who is blind.

“Bonnie and I met at the pool,” Grace recalls. “She recognized Milagro because her son’s Orientation and Mobility Instructor had shown her the DVD when her baby boy was six months old. She said that the philosophy we adopted, about never losing the child to the disability, completely influenced how she’s raising her child. She’s raising her son to be a happy, independent, adventurous little boy.”

Proceeds go directly into Milagro’s college fund. The family donates ten percent of all sales to Blind Babies Foundation and the California Association of Parents of the Visually Impaired. These two organizations provided early intervention services and parent-to-parent knowledge in the first three years of Milagro’s life.

Graciela is actively seeking funding to create the entire DVD in Spanish. http://www.babymilagro.org/dvd

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Graciela Tiscareno-Sato
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