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For parents of children with visual impairments

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Have You Ever Been to an Easter Egg Hunt for Children Who Are Blind?

a girl gleefully running across a field with her white cane

Have you been to an Easter Egg hunt for children who are blind or visually impaired? Have you thought about starting one? These events are a wonderful time for the entire family and are also a good place to practice those mobility skills.

Here is information for a recent beeping egg event held in Florida and another in Texas, and a search on Google finds many more spread across the country.

If you would like to learn how to set up an event in your community we have an article written by David Hyche, Instructions for Beeping Easter Egg Hunts for Visually Impaired Children, which gives you all sorts of ideas. The site WonderBaby also has good information on commercially available talking eggs and using real grass in your basket.

These are great toys to use if you participate in Easter egg hunts but also are a fun way to stimulate a "treasure hunt" year round that helps to sharpen those auditory skills.

Social Life and Recreation
Getting Around

The Big Picture: Planning for the Future

Well, it is snowing again, actually snow, sleet, and freezing rain. The prediction for today is 3 to 6 inches and/or 6 to 12 inches and it is going to last into tomorrow. We live in the border region, the foot hills. A few miles makes a big difference. So, today, I have time to brood/think. No church for us.

What is in our future? I do mean "our." My twins will soon be 8. I am 61. Will I be in sufficient health to raise our sons to adulthood? Will Vinnie continue to progress as he is now? Will Brandon's retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) get worse or remain stable? All questions we face each day. I tend to push those to the back of my mind and continue on with our daily routine. Do you worry about the future?

I want to share a piece of the present today. As always, I am looking at next year's curriculum ideas/needs and what the next step is in teaching. My twins aren't so different in their needs. They remain on about the same developmental level, just different learning styles. We share some curriculum resources and others are very different. Vinnie is total immersion in braille, Brandon works in print, large print. But, if I purchase my curriculum now, I get a 20% discount. I use Brandon's print curriculum as a guide for Vinnie. So it is a no-brainer on this one.

While shopping for curriculum, the Lakeshore catalogue came. It is one of my favorite resources for materials. They are bright and colorful and engaging. (Yeah, I know, not so important for someone who can't see.) Some of their materials are easily adaptable for braille. I found some word family flip books. They will enhance and reinforce our reading skills. They are great! It is a very organized way to teach words and phonics, while increasing vocabulary all at once. They are large print, about a 36 point pitch type, great for large print. They are easily adapted to braille. I just put braille in the print sections, and then placed the full braille word on the flip page. (I'm all about making lessons a "twofer.") Vinnie went full speed ahead with the braille. He is blending new words from the very first introduction a couple of days ago. These were going to be my new materials for next year. They also have another more advanced version with more complex blends. The great thing about these flip books is that it is an easy way to introduce braille contractions as well as word sounds and blends.

That is about next year's big picture. What I started talking about was down the road. I know some days we get overwhelmed with today. This is important too!

We have done some estate planning and named people responsible for making decisions when WE can't. We can't predict the future but we can plan like with education and who will be there when we can't. It is important to look at the big picture. What we do today is going to last into tomorrow!

Planning for the Future
Personal Reflections

Free Golf Clinics for Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

a volunteer coaches a young boy who is visually impaired and learning to play golf

To reach out to the parents of every blind and or visually impaired child in this country is a dream we have had for many years. The chance to explain to these caring parents that their children can achieve above and beyond their wildest dreams is something that the Middle Atlantic Blind Golf Association has had on their wish list. While we are a golfing organization, our children go far beyond the fairways and greens. We open doors for life using golf as a conduit.

In the world of Junior Golf, 2013 has been a bigger and more exciting venture into peer education in both golf and living. This year we have expanded our horizons even more than before. Baltimore, Maryland; Greenville, North Carolina; Aurora, Colorado: our website is attracting new members each year. Our program is designed so that all of the children, no matter where they live, can learn and participate in the sport of golf at no cost to their parents. We reach out to all equally. However, in areas away from our sphere, we are limited to persons surfing the web, and this has brought us to the conclusion that many parents of blind children can and should be made aware of what we can do for their children.

We have two clinics a year (spring and fall) at the Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia. This year we had twenty two children join our ranks. We supplied them with golf clubs, balls, a bag, and lessons from a P.G.A. Professional. All this is free and that includes lunch and a fun time for all. We have volunteer coaches for the kids at the clinics and everyone goes home with a prize.

One of our junior golfers, Brian Mackey completed his first year in the adult program serving as an assistant golf coach. Patrick Molloy, graduated from high school and is now a junior at Mullenberg College, the first totally blind student to attend in many years. Another one of our graduates, Casey Burkhardt received his masters degree from Villanova University and is now working for Google. Jon Gabry, our deafblind youth is the poster boy for the Helen Keller National Center. He has been selling his art works (that's right, artwork) in both New Jersey and New York. He currently has four pieces hanging in the Metropolitan Museum. If I sound excited, I am; these kids are great.

In the fall of 1993, the M.A.B.G.A. initiated this program of specialized golfing lessons the the blind youth of Philadelphia and surrounding areas. Gil Kayson, the chairman of the junior program, was the motivating factor in getting this started. This pilot program is the first known effort between a P.G.A. Section (thanks to Geoffrey Surrette) and a regional Blind Golf Association. Our goal is to have this program reach out to all blind children ages five to twenty-one throughout this country.

Social Life and Recreation

My Son's Experience with the Perkins SMART Brailler

I have been asking for the new Perkins SMART Brailler®, since it first came on the market. The price tag of $2,000.00 is just a little out of my price range. It is not covered by quota funds. The services for the blind, through Catholic Charities in Maine, doesn't even have one to use/try. So we have been slogging along with the electric brailler with me dictating. We have been working on finger positions of the braille cell. Vinnie is now able to write about anything I dictate including correct capitalization and punctuation. I understand that teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs) do not teach punctuation and capitalization when they begin teaching braille writing (please correct me if I am wrong!). I find it much easier to teach it once and do it as I normally would for a sighted child. I find myself wanting to correct the TVI. I have a great TVI and we have some great discussions and sometimes one or the other of us will change our perspective.

We asked about funding for the SMART Brailler so many times, I think people were sick of hearing from me. But someone was listening and provided me information about the Robbie Foundation. The Robbie Foundation provides adaptive equipment not covered by insurance, "Helping one child at a time." I think they only cover Maine children.

It took me 6 weeks last summer to get all of my application materials and references saying why Vinnie needed the SMART Brailler and how it would benefit him. I finally sent the application in August, 2013, last summer. I got an email it would be reviewed in October. It wasn't. So I thought, "Oh, well, I guess they are not going to fund it."

In the bleak of mid-winter, January, I got a call. They were going to fund it! Would I come to Scarborough, Maine, March 1, with Vinnie and attend a reception that was also a media event to promote the foundation. "You bet!" I sent my husband and daughter and I stayed home with the rest of the family. This day was about Vinnie! Besides, the three of them are way prettier than me.

The Brailler has been here for three days now. What a difference for Vinnie. He loves cause and effect stuff. He loves auditory feedback. He likes his pianos and word boards. In the last 3 days his speed on the Brailler has tripled and he is able to remember 3- and 4-letter words and type them without my dictating every letter. Then it is read back to him. He can now type the entire alphabet without me saying anything, because it reads the letters to him and he can remember where he is in the alphabet. Wow! Imagine what the next few weeks and months are going to bring.

I have a caution for you if you are thinking of getting this piece of equipment. Your child should fully understand the braille cell and dot placement on a number basis and the corresponding fingering to write the letters on a Brailler. With these skills, Vinnie was able to take right off and use the SMART Brailler independently. It has increased his speed and allowed for him to use memory skills for the task of writing. For you the teacher, you can see what he is writing on the screen, both the braille and written (large print, good for older seasoned teachers and those with visual impairments) letter/word, as well as hear it. There are a few glitches I need to follow up with Perkins, but that is okay. Overall, this is a great tool! Now I am waiting for the additional add-on software. I give this 4.5 stars out of 5! Yes, I would recommend this to all my friends!

Assistive Technology

Age Is Just a Number

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!

Personal Reflections