Ahhh…He’s sleeping: Dealing with public perception

Ronan On Swing

Ronan On Swing

Ronan has very limited light perception and therefore rarely opens his eye very much. It is a common occurrence that when people see him snuggled on my back, they say, “Ahhh…He’s sleeping. How sweet.” Some people poke their heads this way and that to try and get a good look at his face so that they can reassure me that he is asleep. While I can’t see his face in this position, I know that he is not asleep because he wiggles his toes against my side and runs his hand along my arm inside our shared coat. Others say, “My goodness, he’s fallen asleep on the swing” or “The sun is too strong for him. He is closing his eyes.” They are all well-meaning comments of friendly passers-by, but leave us with a sinking feeling.

I have learned to say to them, “Ahhh…He is just fooling you. He’s practicing his magician skills.” We are acutely aware that our response now will shape how Ronan perceives himself in social situation. If blind is the first label applied to him when he meets someone new, it suggests to him that it is his most defining feature. We would prefer him to be defined by his talents. After all, how many people can see with their hands. Alternatively, there is the smile and say nothing approach. This sends a message to Ronan that it is best not to engage with others because it is too much effort to find common ground. Sometimes we re-focus people’s comments onto some share experience – the weather, the quality of the playground, or the coolness of squeaky shoes. This is sometimes easier said than done for two shy computer scientists, but I’m sure we’ll have lots of practice.

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