Im often asked, Did you go to the school for the blind? And I always reply, No, I didnt even realize I was blind until I was 18. My parents didnt know it either, and they had never heard of mainstreaming. Mainstreaming is the term used when a visually impaired child attends public school, rather than a school for the blind.
I attended public school for 2 reasons. First, I wasnt declared legally blind until I was 18, and secondly, even if my prognosis had been made earlier, Im sure my parents would not have considered sending me away to a school for the blind. Im very glad I was mainstreamed, but it might have been rough, had it not been for my best friend and next-door neighbor, Lynda.
At the time, I didnt give it much thought, but looking back, I see that it was pretty amazing that my parents built a house on a lot that happened to be next door to a family with a girl exactly my age. Im sure they chose the property because it was within an easy walking distance of the high school, but could they have actually sought out a friend to be next door?No, but it sure was lucky. I believe that Lynda was just as excited as I to learn that her new neighbors came with a girl her age, but how did she feel when she found out that girl couldnt see very well? To Lyndas credit, even at the age of 14, it didnt seem to be an issue. We spent hours together every day after school, talking about boys we liked, sharing dreams, complaining about our parents, and doing homework together, just as any 2 girls our age would do. Lynda read our literature assignments aloud, which not only got the job done for me, but also for her, and with her flare for drama, it was fun for us both. Doing math homework was a little trickier, but I remember feeling good about being able to help Lynda with the concepts of plain geometry, which I loved. (There was something just so satisfying about writing Q.E.D. at the bottom of the page.) On the other hand, I never did understand algebra, so it was Lynda who got me through that course too. These days, children who are mainstreamed have resource teachers, who provide brailled and recorded materials, and help the student with mobility and orientation. When I was a freshman in high school, we didnt know to ask for such services, but I got a better deal anyway. I had Lynda.
It was also Lynda who took me under her wing and guided me through the perils of our high school social life. She invited me to my first boy/girl party, so I could meet some of the kids Id be going to school with. When I danced with a boy she had her cap set for, she discretely pulled me aside and explained a few rules, which basically boiled down to, Not that one. Hes mine.
I was on the drill team, and Lynda was in the band so I always had someone to walk to the games with.
Other than never having a date in high school, I dont recall anyone making fun of me or giving me a hard time about not being able to see. I asked Lynda, not too long ago, if she thought the kids treated me differently from other kids. Had I not noticed? Had I just forgotten? She confessed that there were times that I was not included in party plans or special events, but she would see to it that I eventually got an invitation. For 4 years, Lynda was my guardian angel, and I didnt even know it. How naive I was. What a true friend she was. I believe that if you asked her today why she was so helpful to me, she would deny that it was out of kindness to the new blind girl. It was because we were best friends.