FamilyConnect: A Parent's Voice
by Susan Harper
I was recently asked some questions about home schooling by a parent, which got me thinking. The concern was repeating the same curriculum 3 years in a row. As I was writing back, I realized that repeating grades and information is common with kids in public school special education programs.
This has been true in our own family. We had a young man, in high school, who kept repeating 4th grade math. When he finally wanted to join the home school group, he had just one request. He didn't want to repeat 4th grade math again.
Our answer to him was we would test him and find out where he would be placed in the curriculum, and then he would progress from there. He tested at the 4th grade math level, which is where he started. He never repeated it again. After he finished 4th grade math he continued on with 5th grade math and in the next two years completed 8th grade level math.
What you might ask does this have to do with home schooling a blind child?
I teach my children at the level where they are. Age is a number. Development isn't defined by age. I teach using a developmental and a logical, sequential approach to building a foundation for future learning.
Don't be too concerned with grade level. I have been working on many of the same things in different ways for the past three years and they are now beginning to come together for my son. As Vinnie learns some aspect of a task, we then build on that. We keep building on the learned tasks to bridge to new ones.
You start with basic reading and math along with information gained through reading to your child and exposing them to everyday activities in their community. Reading to and with your child is one of the most important things you can do to increase their knowledge of the world around them.
As your child's home school teacher, there is no new teacher who has to learn about your child each year, so no lapse in services while a new provider gets to know your child. You just pick up where you left off the last year with some review. If your child is sick, you simply pick up where you left off when they are well again. If your child can only tolerate short periods of time on task, you can simply adjust, while trying to lengthen the time on task.
You can read anything you want about what kids who are visually impaired are supposed to do when and get all kinds of answers. Go with your child's strengths and work on them and build on them. I use the Oregon Project Check List (PDF) to help decide what concepts I want to work on and which concepts have already been learned. I have an actual book, which an earlier TVI gave me for the Oregon Project.
There are many more things that need to be taught besides academics for a visually impaired child; hence the need in public school for Expanded Core Curriculum. My son has to learn to read and write in a different way. It has taken me 4 years to learn braille and become proficient enough to stay ahead of him and keep on learning. I had to learn O&M techniques because we have spent long periods of time without an O&M because mine was out sick, transferred, or they were hiring one. I got it and I get it. I'm still learning right along with teaching my child. You are going to get excuses for your child not receiving services at one time or another.
Now back to the question of repeating a grade. I sometimes go sideways, switching to another curriculum in math or reading to solidify what we are learning. But to keep repeating the same material over and over is only going to bore and frustrate both you and your child. I try to make it fun and interesting. Sometimes, I ask for help from one of my other providers. I find the speech therapist and occupational therapist the most helpful.
I was trying to toilet train Vinnie. I'm not big into pushing kids to go potty until they are ready and want to do it. I find that once kids have all the skills to go to the bathroom and get on the toilet by themselves, this happens pretty quickly.
Vinnie was going to the bathroom, he didn't pee until I told him to go to the bathroom and go potty. I couldn't figure out what was wrong. He'd be dry, but would only pee in his pull-up. I was frustrated and talked with the speech therapist. Two things factored into this problem. The first was that Vinnie was doing exactly what I told him. He went to the bathroom and went potty (IN HIS PANTS).
The second was I needed to switch him into big boy underwear. Then he was uncomfortable with soiling himself. It was the speech therapist who made me look at what I was requesting. Vinnie follows directions really well. So be careful what you ask. LOL.
I'm Mom and I'm 61. I always get asked if I'm Grandma. Nope, I'm MOM! I am parenting and teaching 3 children of various ages and educational/developmental levels. Age is just a number!
by Scott Truax
Low vision devices help this student keep up with classwork.
February is Low Vision Awareness Month and we would like to take advantage of that to highlight some of the information we have on the FamilyConnect site that explains just what low vision means. The term low vision has come to describe individuals who have some useful vision that can assist in seeing things like large print and pictures.
The scope of who would be considered "low vision" is very broad and can mean many things to different people. It may range from moderate visual impairment to near-total blindness. Low vision cannot be fully corrected by eyeglasses, contact lenses, or surgery. However, a person with low vision may benefit from any of a variety of available optical devices, such as electronic magnifying glasses or eyeglass-mounted telescopes. The content included in How Students with Low Vision Read and Write gives a good overview and is a great place to start learning about low vision devices.
FamilyConnect's directory of services can connect you to local agencies that provide low vision services, evaluations, and support.
For older children with low vision, the question of whether or not they will eventually be able to drive may weigh heavily on their minds. The article Is Low Vision Driving an Option? addresses some of the questions and preparations involved in becoming a low vision driver.
The assistive technology that can help in using low vision is changing rapidly as technology brings us new tools, software, and ideas. The iPad-type devices alone are now being used to magnify on the fly and are helping to reduce the reluctance of students to use assistive devices.
Please explore FamilyConnect's low vision resources, share your favorite links and ideas in the comments, and help us to celebrate Low Vision Month!
by Dr. Mahadeo A. Sukhai
Editor's note: Today we are delighted to welcome CareerConnect mentor Dr. Mahadeo A. Sukhai as a guest blogger.
Dr. Mahadeo A. Sukhai
Growing up in the Caribbean, as a partially sighted child, was an interesting experience — I had no appreciation at the time that my childhood was any different from that of my siblings, or that it could have been different from that of any other child. One significant reason for that was that there were, at that time, in the 1980s, no significant supports for blind and partially sighted children, nor were there support mechanisms for their parents and families. Indeed, the only resources we had to draw on, first in Guyana, and subsequently in Jamaica and Barbados, were the ophthalmologists — none of whom were pediatric specialists.
Looking back on that experience now, I recognize that my parents had to operate in near-impossible circumstances, with negligible levels of support. There was no one qualified to tell them what their child could do...and, perhaps more importantly, there was no one qualified to tell them what their child could NOT do. Indeed, for the first 10 years of my life, my parents had to invent their own ways of dealing with my care, my schooling, my social life, and my interests.
When we emigrated to Canada, my parents encountered a support network in the form of the CNIB, and in the form of the special education department of my high school. Thinking about their interactions with those support systems now, I see that my parents weren't fully comfortable with them, or the advice that they were offering. Certainly, that advice was based upon experience, and would have worked in the majority of cases — my parents' thinking was that it didn't hold with their child, and the situations they had evolved and become comfortable with.
As a result of these, and other, choices, my parents gave me three intangible, but very powerful, gifts:
First, the ability to learn in my own space and pursue my own desires and dreams when it came to my education and career. For as long as I can remember, I have always wanted to be a scientist. I honestly don't know if my parents knew what to do with that desire, but I am quite certain that they didn't know what NOT to do with it. In not ever saying to me that this was an unattainable dream, and in fostering as best they could my interest and desire to learn, they gave me the space to learn about something that interested me, without the constriction of preconceived notions about what I could or could not do.
Second, the social and transferable tools I would need in order to execute my chosen path, and gain the ability to make a difference to society. Without the benefit of research or the growing literature on the benefits of socialization to blind and partially sighted youth, my parents recognized the important and fundamental requirement that I learn organizational, communication and leadership skills. To achieve this goal, my parents fostered my community and volunteer engagement at a young age — and after a 20 year career as a volunteer and successful leader in the communities I serve, I appreciate this gift all the more, because I see its value in all aspects of what I do.
Third, and most importantly, by their example, the courage and moral fiber to hold fast to my dreams and convictions in the face of conventional thought. Specialists in the Caribbean had discouraged any significant investment on my parents' part in my development and education – even today, children with disabilities have little in the way of positive supports in that part of the world. In parallel, as I advanced through my education, teachers, instructors and faculty were at various points doubtful of — or outright hostile toward — my ability to succeed as a partially sighted practicing scientist.
I think many might argue against my parents' choices — in fact, it's easy to argue against my parents' choices. Certainly, those choices were not easy, cheap, or safe. Certainly, there was no safety net for a long period of time. Certainly, when a support system became available, it would have been easy to accede to their greater expertise. To put it in other terms, my parents didn't know what they didn't know, and, in their own way, were blindly striking out into the unknown. In hindsight, there were probably a thousand ways of doing things differently, or better. We don't have the luxury of living in hindsight, though — we must make decisions as life puts them in front of us.
I have often wondered how life would have been different had I and my parents had full access to child and youth services supports, such as those offered by the CNIB today. I wonder if, despite the expertise and support system available, some of the opportunities and choices I had would have not materialized in that different reality.
Today, I am Canada's only congenitally blind or partially sighted PhD scientist in the biomedical disciplines. I know that this would not have been likely, or even possible, without the three gifts my parents gave me, or without their courage and example.
- Personal Reflections
by Joe Strechay
The fact is, whether your child is being homeschooled or is in public or private education, parents and family members are teachers, too. Teachers in the schools only have so many hours with your child, and the rest of the time they are typically with family. In either case, I have some easy ready-made lessons for you.
I am the American Foundation for the Blind's CareerConnect Program Manager. I spend my days working on curriculum, projects, and initiatives specific to the employment of persons who are blind or visually impaired. Of course, I have a strong passion for the transition from school to work. CareerConnect launched a new section about six months ago, Lesson Plans for Teachers and Professionals. This section is packed with short lessons specific to the transition of youth who are blind or visually impaired. The section has grown quickly and continues to grow month to month.
This is a way to get your children started early on their Money Management and other concepts with this great series of lesson plans.
If you haven't been following the CareerConnect Blog or visiting the Lesson Plans for Teachers and Professionals section often, it has been growing by leaps and bounds. The topics covered are money management, social skills, preparation for work experience, and problem solving. Hold the presses; you might think there is only one lesson on each topic. But, no! They range from six to sixteen lesson plans on these topics.
Some Other Lesson Ideas for Children and Teens Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
- You can use the Aaron's Adventures in Employment series for some fun and educational content about employment preparation. These multimedia pieces offer three main points to each segment. Check out the full series today!
- Use the Our Stories section to explore stories about mentors and successful people who are blind or visually impaired and employed. Your children will be see the possibilities!
- Get your children registered for the free Job Seeker's Toolkit online course on navigating the employment process. The course includes lessons and assignments. You can sign up for free and associate as a teacher to your child by having them enter your professional code.
Our good friend Shannon Carollo keeps pumping out the lessons and you should check them out and use them with your kids. Are you looking for lessons to get you started on these great transition topics? Well, the Lesson Plans for Teachers and Professionals section brings that to you. Help them get their debits and credits straight, and check out the Money Management module of lessons today—you know that every cent counts!
by Scott Truax
In honor of what would have been Louis Braille's 205th birthday, we asked parents and educators to reflect on the importance of his braille code in their children's lives.
- Emily Coleman writes about Why Those Dots Are Important to Me
- Susan Harper, a home-schooling mom and frequent guest blogger, writes about What Braille Means to Our Son and Family
- Dr. Kay Ferrell, who monitors FamilyConnect's Parents of Infants and Toddlers message board, shared an excerpt from her book, Reach Out and Teach, on Early Tools of Literacy for Your Child Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired
No matter your child's age, visual acuity, or stage of development, FamilyConnect has articles on everything from the basics of braille, to Helping Your Blind or Visually Impaired Baby Learn about Reading and Writing to Reading and Making Tactile Books with Your Child and more.
You can learn more about braille on the AFB site, and explore early photographs, engravings, and illustrations from books preserved in the American Foundation for the Blind's Archives and Rare Book Collection in the online Louis Braille museum. And don't forget our favorite kid-friendly resource, the Braille Bug®!
What does braille mean to you? Has your child been learning the braille code, or finding another route to literacy?