Most special needs parents know the well-known poem,“Welcome to Holland” written by Emily Perl Kingsley. For those not familiar, it’s a poem that describes the experience of raising a child with a disability. You plan an extravagant trip to Italy, including buying guidebooks and making all the magnificent plans only to find out you are going to Holland. A different place. This means you must make different plans and buy new guidebooks. Oh my, you have to learn a new language. There are unfamiliar people here.
It’s really different than Italy, but as time passes, you catch your breath. As you look around you there are windmills, tulips, and stunning Rembrandt flowers. Although, you still had friends that made it to Italy, and they brag about their lovely time for the rest of your life. You will always say, “I was supposed to go there.” And the agony of that won’t go away because the absence of that dream is a very real loss. But, if you choose to spend your time grieving that trip to Italy, you may never be able to enjoy the wonderful things about Holland.
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I’m that mom who thought I was going to Italy. However, Italy gave us Ace, but Holland gave us Gunner. We’re a family of four: my husband is a United States Marine Corps Veteran, Ace is our gamer, “sighted” son in grade school, Gunner is our sweet, visually impaired child, and I am the “mom-ager” who just tries to keep up with everyone’s schedules.
Our trip to Holland also brought us the adventure of braille. Braille (n): “a form of written language for blind people, in which characters are represented by patterns of raised dots that are felt with the fingertips.” To me, braille isn’t just a few raised dots you may see on a sign—it is the power of independence for my son. It is just as important as his cane. It’s the ability to access and obtain reading materials just as you and I easily can.
Gunner started reading braille at a young age; we tried to expose it to him as young as a few months old. We were lucky to get him into early intervention services early on because of his different-ability and have a TVI on our team. A TVI is a teacher certified in visual impairment. I firmly believe it is very important to have a strong foundation, in our case in braille, to build on to help be successful.
Today, Gunner is in third grade and doing well with his braille. His favorite books are Clifford and anything that has to do with dogs and puppies. We are blessed to receive braille books free of charge through Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, have the ability to order books from a few websites, as well as receive books from his School for the Blind.
I may not have ended up in Italy, but Holland has opened my eyes to a whole new world. Without my new trip, I would miss out on all the joys Gunner has taught me, “The less we see with our eyes, the more we see with our hearts.” Holland is full of many adventures, it’s almost like sightseeing, and amongst all the sights to see, there is reading in Holland.