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The Best School Environment for Your Child Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

Elementary school student learning to write with his teacher in the library.

You have many options. Your state’s school for the blind; a local school for children with multiple disabilities; a classroom for children with disabilities in your neighborhood elementary; a regular classroom and a part-time resource room; a regular classroom in your neighborhood school with an itinerant (traveling) teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI); homeschooling. Yes, the list begins to feel overwhelming.

Because which is the ideal school environment for your child? Where will he or she make the greatest strides in academics, blindness-specific skills, and social skills? Where will your child feel most comfortable, get the most out of lessons, have access to necessary special education services, and be well prepared for adulthood?

I wish I could tell you there’s a crystal clear answer. The truth is…

  1. The best school environment is one that is least restrictive for your son or daughter. This is a fancy way of saying, "the most normal/ typical environment in which your child can excel." [Take for example this mom's definition of least restrictive for her Matthew.]
  2. The best school environment is different depending on the current needs of your child. [To learn more about the types of needs each school environment best meets, read What Is the Most Appropriate Placement for Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired?]
  3. There is no perfect school placement. Regardless, each school environment can likely be improved upon with you as a strong advocate for your child. As a TVI, I can attest to the fact that we want you to be a strong advocate for your child; a teacher, with the power of a parent backing her up, can best support a student.
  4. Whether or not you officially homeschool your child who is blind or visually impaired, your child needs to learn and practice skills at home in order to be prepared for adulthood. You are your child’s number one teacher; in other words, the best "school environment" absolutely includes the home environment.

I hope the information in this blog (including the linked articles) makes your decision just a little easier. Before I "sign off", I ask you for a favor on behalf of many anxious parents; please let us know which placement(s) you have chosen for your child who is blind or visually impaired and what helped you make the decision.

With much love,
Shannon Carollo


Topics:
Education
Home Schooling
Planning for the Future

Corporal Punishment in U.S. Schools: Not Nearly As Uncommon As One Might Think

We are excited to share this blog that brings to us one of the hot topics generated at the Lighthouse Guild Telephone Support group. These groups are a great way to meet other parents by phone and is a free service. To get more information or to join a group, please contact Susan LaVenture at LaVentureS@lighthouseguild.org.

Corporal Punishment in Schools

By Lilly Jackanin

young girl crying

I recently received a call from a mom moving from the state of California to the southern state of Alabama. She had done a tremendous amount of research in many areas, including the Alabama schools, before embarking on this decision. When she arrived, she went on the school district’s website to read the procedures for registration and attendance. As she proceeded cautiously to read the district’s handbook, she was outraged and alarmed to read – in much smaller print – that Corporal Punishment is legal in the state where she now resides. As she continued to further research this matter, she was appalled to see that this form of discipline is legal in 18 other states. As her explorations continued, she read about the disproportionate number of incidences that occur among disabled children, who are paddled mainly because their disabilities are poorly understood by so-called educators and school administrators. It should also be noted that there is an extreme disparity in the number of black male children targeted.

After hearing all this, I thought it prudent to explore further, because many of the families I work with at times find it necessary to move from one location to another in the hope of obtaining more adequate services for their children who have disabilities. After reading a number of articles regarding this practice, I came to the following conclusion: People are still haunted by memories of witnessing beatings and/or receiving them. Many report that the reasons for being paddled were arbitrary and inconsistent. There seems to be some decline in this method of discipline, primarily because the school districts want to avoid lawsuits. Abolition of this disciplinary measure has been met with mixed results. In some states, such as Texas and Alabama, parents have been given the choice of opting out of this practice. In other states, such as Maryland and Ohio, where Corporal Punishment has been banned, it is sometimes still put into effect. The detrimental effects of Corporal Punishment are so egregious that they are denounced by such groups as the American Psychological Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Medical Association. Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union in 2009 collaborated on a report called "A Violent Education", in which they labeled corporal punishment a violation of students’ "physical integrity and human dignity" and declared it "degrading, humiliating, and damaging."

The 19 states that continue to practice this method are as follows: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wyoming.

The highest rate of incidents occurs in the state of Texas, followed by Mississippi and Alabama.

In conclusion, I feel that this technique causes so much emotional pain to all subjected to it, but particularly those who are weak, defenseless, and subordinate, such as our children. We as parents must nurture, love, and protect our children at any cost.

Handling Your Child's Behavior

Behavioral Issues in Children with Visual Impairments and Blindness: A Guide for Parents

Behavioral Theories: A Foundation for Intervention Approaches

6 Ways to Help the School "Own" Your Child Who Is Blind

Grade Schoolers: When Your Blind Child Goes to School


Topics:
Education
Personal Reflections
Planning for the Future

Back to School Checklist for Parents of a Child Who Is Blind or Visually Impaired

A tablet with a picture of a chalkboard with the sentence back to school written in it, on a rustic wooden desk with worn pencil crayons of different colors

The school year is around the corner and (I’ll be honest), as the momma of two girls who are currently going a little stir crazy at home, I can’t say I’m overly sad. I just may be a tad excited. Perhaps you share in my enthusiasm? Regardless, I think you’ll agree it is time to prepare our children for success in the 2016-2017 school year.

I’ve put together a general checklist and I hope you’ll tailor it for your child:

  1. If your child has low vision, visit a low vision therapist who can provide your child with optical devices such as a monocular (mini telescope) or specialized glasses to help your child best use his or her vision in the classroom this year.

  2. Communicate with your child about the upcoming school routine. Talk about when school will begin, what he can expect at school, and his feelings regarding school.

  3. Prepare your child’s body for early mornings by intentionally transitioning from the relaxed summer sleeping pattern to “early to bed, early to rise”. Sleep and wake cycles are particularly complicated for children and adults who are totally blind; you can learn more by reading Sleep Problems of Young Blind Children in the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness and, though geared to adults, Improving Sleep Disorders in People Who Are Blind.

  4. It’s proven that children regress in academic skills over the summer break; to combat this, help your child practice what he was learning in school by incorporating the academic information and assistive technology use into enjoyable games and activities.

  5. Invite your child to help you with back to school purchases. He or she will not only learn from the shopping and purchasing experiences, but will also then bring familiar, preferred items to the new classroom environment.

  6. When making school clothes purchases, bare in mind: Self-Esteem and Adjusting with Blindness by Dean Tuttle and Naomi Tuttle states sighted peers will more easily see that a child who is blind is "just like me" when the child is dressed similarly to his peers. I recommended choosing trendy, age-appropriate, tasteful, and comfortable clothing for the new school year.

  7. Help your child become familiar with teachers in advance. Perhaps your child could come to "meet the teacher night" and additional teacher consults with questions to get to know his teacher and information about himself and his favorite activities.

  8. Talk with your young child’s Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI) and classroom teacher about a plan for a safe, accessible classroom and accessible classroom materials. In addition to obtaining accessible textbooks and assigned readings, you can discuss information important for the new classroom teacher: the best seating assignment for your child, an organized classroom, using tactual markers at your child’s desk and at centers, ensuring your child has the same information that her sighted peers have when they look at the classroom walls, accessible lessons and assignments, etc. Older children should talk directly with their classroom teacher regarding classroom and material accessibility.

  9. Formally introduce your child to her classroom, special classrooms (such as the art room and gymnasium), lunchroom, and school grounds with an Orientation and Mobility Specialist. The more familiar the learning environments, the more your child can focus on learning and building relationships.

  10. Read Emily Coleman’s 6 Ways to Help the School "Own" Your Child Who Is Blind These tips will encourage your involvement in the school, thereby positioning you on the school’s "team". Your child will have the best chance for success when you and the school are united.

Of course, the older your child, the more of the responsibility your child should have over the checklist items.

What else would you add? How will you prepare your child for success this school year?


Topics:
Education
Planning for the Future

Are You Planning to Go to College and Are You Visually Impaired?

Teenage girl wearing a backpack and walking with white cane on sunny day

Here is information about one of the Lighthouse Guild's telephone support groups. With our back-to-school focus, this support group is particularly relevant as its focus is helping visually impaired high school students with their transition into college. These telesupport groups are an excellent way to share and learn from each other.

In September 2016, we will form a free telephone support group for high school juniors and seniors from around the country who are blind or visually impaired and are planning to go to college.

You will have the opportunity to talk about common social, emotional, academic, and practical concerns connected with being at college and having a vision impairment. Some of the subjects we expect to discuss include:

Groups will be led by Daria Zawadzki, JD, LMSW, a social worker who is familiar with eye disorders. Groups meet on a weekly basis by phone, for 60 to 90 minutes. The groups will run from September 2016 to May 2017. Groups will be small so that everyone will have the opportunity to take part. Interesting guest speakers will call in on occasion to share their knowledge and experiences.

To register for this group, please call Lighthouse Guild at: 800-562-6265, or e-mail Daria at: dariazawadzki@hotmail.com.


Topics:
Education
Planning for the Future
Support Groups

Expect Your Teen to Dialogue with Teachers Prior to the School Year (and Other Ways to Help Your Child Self-Advocate at School)

Teacher giving personal instruction to male student

Blindness and low vision are low incidence disabilities; the majority of our children’s and teens’ teachers will not know their specific needs and necessary accommodations. Parents are expected to suit up and get on the field; to play an active role in advocating for their children’s educational needs and services.

But in time, roles shift.

A parent starts in the driver’s seat of the family car and transitions to the passenger seat, allowing the (fully-sighted) teen practice at the wheel; likewise, a parent steps back as the primary advocate to make room for the teen to self-advocate. Yes, it’s scary and most parents would rather remain in control; however, we know this transition period prepares teens to fly solo in college and employment.

So here’s what your teen can begin to take on in effort to practice self-advocacy:

  • Your teen can lead IEP Meetings. He can consider important-to-him long-term and short-term goals and guide the education process, ensuring it is meaningful and motivating to him. He can make use of AFB CareerConnect’s Student-Led IEP Meeting lesson.
  • Your teen can dialogue with teachers prior to the start of the school year. She can discuss her vision, strengths, and necessary accommodations. Take for instance the information in Good-Bye Grade School!
  • Your teen can request/ accept/ decline assistance. He needs to learn it is okay to request, accept, and decline assistance, as well as how to do so appropriately. Guide your teen through theRequest, Accept, and Decline Assistance lesson plan.
  • Your teen can show appreciation. Being a good self-advocate includes recognizing those who are supporting, teaching, mentoring, and coaching you, as well as those who are encouraging use of your accommodations. As Helen Keller said, "Live each day with gentleness, a vigor, and a keenness of appreciation".

Teachers and parents, what else would you add to the list? I know we agree self-advocacy is crucial to our children; how can we urge and encourage them to step up and advocate?


Topics:
Education
Self-Advocacy
Transition

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