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Building and Maintaining Resilience for Students Who Are Blind

Categories: Blind or Visually Impaired

Group of college studentsIn his blog for Psychology Today, Peter Gray wrote a thought-provoking post entitled, “Declining Student Resilience: A Serious Problem for Colleges”. The article cites some of the growing evidence that parents overprotect their children, even when they are theoretically old enough to make their way in the world. He laments that students have never had the opportunity to fall, so they don’t know how to get up.  In other words, small stressors like a bad grade, a breakup or a day not going well can trigger learned helplessness in students, sending them running for the counseling center.  Because of this trend of parental overprotection and learned helplessness in students, parents are increasingly expecting that colleges take on a parental role. As the coordinator of the College Success Program, my job is to oversee both the content of our website and the College Success mentorship program.  So I’m steeped in the student-centered approach all day, every day. Thus, I found it interesting to step back and read an article, which overwhelmingly sided with faculty, college counselors and administrators.  Learning Ally is deeply student focused and we work to provide solutions. As a student who is blind or visually impaired, you may have already developed resilience before you entered college, just to get through the challenges of elementary and secondary school.  But if you feel that you haven’t, resilience can be the most important personality trait for building your college success.  Not only will you deal with the typical problems facing all students—possible bad grades, breakups and confrontations—but you’ll also deal with the challenge of explaining your visual impairment to people who don’t understand it, or defending your right to take a course to a professor who feels vision is an integral part of your success. So how can you build resilience? Here are just a few suggestions for thickening your skin in preparation for the outside world:
  • Take some time to think about the problem and a way forward. Unless you’ve had a lot of practice in advocating for yourself, your first reaction may not be the best one. Take some time to back off from the situation—but not too much time—so you can come back to it later with some thoughts about how you would define the problem and some possible ways forward.  If you received a bad grade, for instance, think about how you will either get help with your next assignment or take more time to work harder on it.  If a professor doesn’t want you in a class, ask to come back to talk during office hours.  Often, just taking some time to step back will enable you to step forward again.

  • Talk with someone you trust. Whether it’s a family member, a friend, a Learning Ally College Success mentor, another student who is blind or visually impaired, or, yes, the counseling center, be sure to find someone with whom you can share the problem.  Sighted or not, other people will have had a similar problem and can either recommend solutions or just listen.  If you worry about being the one who needs help, remember that as you become more resilient yourself, you will be able to pay these listening skills back to the friend who once helped you or forward to a newer student.

  • Reflect after the crisis has ended. After you have solved the immediate problem or regained some form of equilibrium, take some time to think about the incident. How can you prevent it from happening again, or how can you take the wisdom you’ve gained from it and apply it to the future?  Thinking this way may provide you with some closure about the problem along with a way forward for making the rest of your college life less difficult in the future.

Resilience is learned and should be taught by parents to all children, but if you’re a college student who is blind or visually impaired, Learning Ally may be able to help.  Go to www.learningally.org/collegesuccess and join our program at no charge. Do you have any additional tips for building or maintain resilience?  Share them with us in the comments section. Kristen WituckiKristen Witucki is the community coordinator for students who are blind or visually impaired at Learning Ally and is excited to be working on the College Success Program. Her past roles at Learning Ally have included member, advocate, intern, product support representative and product tester, among others. She loves to teach and to write and lives in New Jersey with her husband and their four-year-old son. Valeria ParadisoStart the next school year strong by getting advice from our amazing College Success Program mentors. Like Kristen, they are all individuals who are blind or visually impaired and have succeeded in college. To learn more or request a fall 2015 mentoring session, visit www.LearningAlly.org/CollegeSuccess.