Considering Preschool for Your Visually Impaired Child

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As your baby grows into a toddler, you may be so busy that dealing with daily life tends to crowd out thoughts and plans for what comes next. But as your child approaches the age of three, you may find yourself beginning to think about preschool and education in general. Although not all children attend preschool, the experience can offer your child many benefits.

  • Preschool provides your blind child with an opportunity to socialize with other children and to learn from them.

  • Because of your child's visual impairment, he needs hands-on opportunities to learn. At preschool he'll have new experiences that will enable him to learn more about the world.

  • If your child is eligible for special education services in a public school preschool program, your child will be entitled to have access to a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) and other professionals who can help him continue to expand his learning.

Exploring the possibilities now will prepare you for making an informed decision about what's best for your child as his third birthday approaches. As you learn about preschool options for him, you may find that you have more than one choice of where he can go to school. The options may include:

  • A class for children with visual impairments in a local elementary school or preschool

  • A class for children with varying disabilities in a local elementary school or preschool

  • A class in a local elementary school or preschool for children who are typically developing, in which some may receive special services because they're considered "at risk"

  • A class at a school for blind children (also called a residential or specialized school) if you live near the school in your state

There is great variability throughout the country with regard to options for preschool programs for children with visual impairments. You can search this FamilyConnect site to learn about services for blind children in your area. You can also post a question on the message boards for parents of children who are blind or visually impaired to ask other families who live in your area about their experience with local programs. This sort of investigating will help you know what your choices are and help you evaluate them.

Here are other ways you can begin gathering information about what is available for your child:

  • Talk with your child's early intervention service providers.

  • Talk to parents of older children with visual impairments in your community.

  • Contact the special education department in your school district.

  • Contact your state's department of education.

If you've not yet had a chance to meet the teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) who provides services in your area, contact your local school district to try to set up a meeting with him or her to learn more about how the district provides services to preschool-age children with visual impairments. If there are classes in session, ask to visit them and observe so you can learn more about the programs. Speak to parents of children attending programs you are considering for your child.

There are advantages and disadvantages to every kind of program. In general, if your child attends a program with children without disabilities:

  • Your child will have a chance to get to know, interact with, and learn from, as well as with, other children in a regular classroom.

  • Some or all of the staff members will have limited experience in working with youngsters who are visually impaired.

If your child attends a program with children who are visually impaired and have other disabilities:

  • A number of the staff may be specialists in working with visually impaired children and understanding their needs.

  • Class sizes may be smaller and instruction more individually tailored to each child.

  • Your child may not learn social and other incidental skills used by sighted children unless they are specifically taught.

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