FRANCHESCA

Franchesca was born on August 2, 1986, with anophthalmia, a condition in which the child has no eyes. An MRI when she was six indicated that she may have some optic nerve development.

Franchesca has had numerous surgeries in attempts to provide her with prosthetic eyes. These surgeries were done incorrectly, and during some of them she was not anesthetized. She was given Phenobarbital daily for 18 months as a sedative to keep her from doing things which would interfere with the healing process.

Franchesca is classified educationally as mentally retarded and speech handicapped, in addition to being totally blind. It is not known how much her speech difficulties interfere with her ability to display her intellectual abilities. She has a large vocabulary and is quite expressive; however, her words are difficult to understand much of the time.

I met Franchesca when she was two and a half years old. I was one of several teenagers providing child care at a local support meeting for parents. Franchesca and her two older sisters were among the children for whom we were caring. Franchesca was very active but still unable to walk. Shortly after I met her, she began wearing AFO's, a special kind of brace designed to correct the turning inward of her feet. When I met Franchesca, she could not talk or perform any self-care skills.

Since that day in 1989, I have watched with sheer joy and excitement as Franchesca, whom I affectionately call Fran, has developed the skills of walking, talking, feeding and dressing herself independently, and much more. Today she is in a self-contained classroom. Her classmates have varying disabilities, including autism and cerebral palsy. Franchesca is the only child in the classroom who is verbal. Her mom reports that she has an uncanny ability to identify the needs of other children in the classroom who cannot be understood by the teacher. Franchesca also receives adaptive physical education, orientation and mobility instruction, and speech and occupational therapy. She is mastering the correct use of the white cane.

This page is dedicated in part to Franchesca, who has inspired me to continue to work toward my certification as a teacher of the visually impaired despite obstacles presented by my own blindness and to continue to be a resource to parents of blind and visually impaired children.

A Note from Franchesca

This is my transcript of a conversation with Franchesca which took place on May 13, 1998. She is now 11 years old and has recently learned to call me on the telephone independently. Today I asked her if she would like to write a story together. What follows is the result of our conversation.

Note: In this conversation, Franchesca makes reference to talking loud at school. She tends to speak very softly, and one of her goals is to speak louder. She also makes reference to sweeping her cane. The cane is designed to be moved back and forth in front of a blind person, thus providing tactual input about objects in front and just to either side of the body. Franchesca has very poor fine motor skills and has had a great struggle with controlling the back-and-forth motion of the cane, generally being content to hold it straight in front of her.

Franchesca: Franchesca Dawn Forsythe is my name. I play on my dizzy disk. It's at school.

Sarah: What's a dizzy disk?

Franchesca: It's a dizzy disk that you spin on and go around and around and around. I like to spin on it while I make it go.

Sarah: What else would you like to talk about?

Franchesca: I go to school at Sibell's. I am 11. I'm in sixth grade. I learn braille. (She proceeded to sing her ABC's.) I can count. (She counted to 20.)

Sarah: What else do you do at school?

Franchesca: I can talk loud at school. I can take a bubble bath at home. I spin on my dizzy disk at home. I live in Mill Creek Apartments. I have two sisters. One is 13 and one is 15, one named Christina and one named Kelly. Angela is my mommy. She snuggles with me. She tickles me. I tell her not to and she still tickles me.

My eyes are blue. I have big eyes. I got a haircut. My hair is yellow. It's long.

Mr. Bryan teaches me how to sweep with my cane.

Sarah: Why do you have to do that?

Franchesca: Because that's the technique.

I like music. I love Sarah. I like to take a bubble bath. When you go to bed, you lay down and go to sleep. I'm

(Some time passed, and I talked with her mom for a while. The next bit of conversation we had went like this.)

Franchesca: I'm frustrated.

Sarah: Why are you frustrated?

Franchesca: Because you can't understand me. I like you to talk to me. I eat sausage and eggs for breakfast. I eat eggs and toast. I make a turkey sandwich. I sleep in the bed.

Sarah: When is your birthday?

Franchesca: My birthday is August the second.

Some more time passed, and we had a repeat of some of the topics previously discussed.

Franchesca: People stare at me. It makes me feel angry and sad. When people talk to me and don't stare at me it makes me feel good.

Notes from Mom

My youngest daughter, Franchesca, was born with anophthalmia. She was a full-term pregnancy with no complications. They discovered her eye problem after she was born when they couldn't put silver nitrate in her eyes. No one will ever understand what it's like to have a child born with a handicapped unless you are that person. She is a very special little girl who has gone through so so much in her short little life. Through the years she's had numerous surgeries on her eyes, not to correct a problem but for the doctor to experiment different techniques upon her. When you have a child born with an abnormality, you try very hard in the beginning to do whatever you can to present your child as normal. I went through this stage. It's called denial. When you come to the point in your life where you accept your child as is, from that point on you and your child can go forth and conquer many things together.

It has not been easy raising a child with a handicap, let alone on your own as a single parent. I feel my faith in God and the friends who have supported me have helped make Franchesca what she is today: a special little girl with a disability. It took me a long time to get to this point, but she is a special little girl with a disability, not a disabled little girl. If you look at your child, or any child, with the idea of "I can" instead of "she cannot" you will go very far. My best advice to any parent is to love your child with all your heart and treat him with the best care and discipline you know how to give. Love never fails.


Links

The following links are places where I have found information that has helped me in learning about what Franchesca is going through. If your child has any of the conditions that she has, these may be helpful to you. Franchesca has had a lot of difficulty with self-stimulation. Some of this she has overcome. In the blindness field, it is commonly believed that self-stimulation (also referred to as stereotyped behaviors, mannerisms, or blindisms) is the result of boredom or lack of sensory input. Fatigue and emotional upset may also be contributing factors. Below are some links related to self-stimulation and the teaching of leisure skills. I have witnessed the struggle of this family to come to terms with having a blind child and with many other aspects of everyday life.  Angela is willing to communicate with other parents of children with anophthalmia about her experiences. Unfortunately, she does not have on-line access. I hope that someday she will be able to purchase a working computer and modem so that she can get on line and take advantage of the wonderful information and support offered by the Internet community. For now, she has agreed to share her and her family's story via this Web site, and I am willing to field information back to them. If you wish to write to them, please send email to me at Sarahfiles@geocities.com and put the words "to Angela" in the subject line. I will be glad to read your mail to her and to take down her dictated response or to pass along snail mail addresses as appropriate.