Assessment for Preschoolers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

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Four-year-old Zac sat on a chair 10 feet from Ms. Lundy, his teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI). As Ms. Lundy held up a card with a picture on it, Zac pointed to the corresponding picture on a puzzle he had in front of him. Gradually, the pictures Ms. Lundy held up got smaller and smaller. Using the information from this test, Ms. Lundy was able to determine Zac's distance vision (known as visual acuity). This was one of several activities Ms. Lundy did with Zac over a two-week period as she gathered information for a functional vision assessment she was completing prior to Zac's upcoming Individualized Education Program (IEP) team meeting.


preschooler writing with a marker As the TVI watches this preschooler writing she is gathering information about how he uses his vision when copying his name from a paper the classroom teacher provided him. This observation, along with others, adds to information gathered for both the functional vision assessment and learning media assessment.

Assessment—conducting tests to find out your child's strengths and needs—will be important for him throughout his education. As a preschooler, your child's educational team will be gathering information to help them make a formal plan—the IEP—for what he needs to learn as a result of his visual impairment and the best ways to teach him. These assessments are similar to the ones he may have had as an infant or toddler (see Assessments for Infants and Toddlers), but since he is now old enough to contribute to the process, as Zac did with Ms. Lundy, the teacher of visually impaired students will probably use some different techniques. Then, based on the information gathered in the assessments, he or she will make specific recommendations for ways to help your child in learning the skills needed to succeed in preschool—the skills all children need as well as those specific to children with visual impairments.

As always, it is important to ask questions of any professional who seeks your permission to assess your child. Find out the purpose of the assessment, how the information will be used, and where you can learn more about the particular instrument (test) and procedure. You will also want to get a copy of the assessment report, which will include for your files.

Vision-Related Assessments

There are several types of specialized assessments specifically for students with visual impairments that a teacher of students with visual impairments may conduct with your child (see Assessments for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired for more details about these and other specialized assessments):

Functional Vision Assessment — The functional vision assessment is the cornerstone of the assessments done by a teacher of students with visual impairments if your preschooler has useful vision. The functional vision assessment is done to find out how he is using his vision for near tasks (closer than 16 inches), intermediate tasks (16 inches to 3 feet) and distance tasks (greater than 3 feet). It combines formal tests, such as the test of visual acuity that Zac took, with informal activities that the teacher of students with visual impairments designs so that he or she can observe your child using his vision. For example, your child may be asked to match toys according to their color to indicate when he can see an object held to his left or right side. Based on the information gathered through such activities the teacher will make recommendations about ways to help your child learn to use her vision more effectively. These recommendations may include

  • changes to the environment
  • materials that may assist her
  • instructional strategies
  • referrals for services from other professionals

Learning Media Assessment (LMA) — The Learning Media Assessment involves observing how your child uses his senses (primarily vision, touch and hearing) when he is involved in such activities as playing a game, walking outdoors, or looking at a book. The object is to determine the way in which your child takes in most of his information, also known as his "primary sensory channel." The teacher of students with visual impairments can use this information to make recommendations about whether your child should be starting to learn to read and write in print, braille, or both at the same time. The teacher will also make recommendations about the types of literacy tools (see How Students with Low Vision Read and Write and How Students Who Are Blind Read and Write) or assistive technology that can help your child with near vision tasks, such as reading a book, and distance tasks, such as watching an educational video in school. The teacher of students with visual impairments will also determine if your child seems to be ready to begin formal instruction in reading and writing or if he still needs some exposure to preliteracy activities and skills at this time before formal instruction begins.

Other Assessments

Developmental Assessments — Your child's educational team will continue to conduct assessments that help gather information about your child's development. They compare his behavior against developmental guidelines for when a child is expected to do a specific task, such as properly using pronouns (such as "he," "she," or "they"), skipping, or recognizing his name out of a group of names in print or braille. Professionals use them to chart your child's development over time and to compare his progress from one administration of the assessment to the next. When considering the results of any developmental assessments, it's important to remember that they only provide guidelines for a range of typical development, not hard-and-fast rules, and that every child's development is different.

The teacher of students with visual impairments may observe your child and fill out a checklist of skills expected of a child at this age. He or she will probably speak with you to get some information about your child's behavior, especially about skills that he or she probably cannot observe at school, such as taking a bath without assistance or ordering food at a restaurant. Some assessments have been developed specifically for children with visual impairments, while others have items that are very appropriate for children with visual impairments and can assist the teacher of students with visual impairments in gathering information to guide instruction for your child. However, because these assessments are not all geared to the development of children with visual impairments, which can sometimes be different from that of children with typical vision, it is important that any person who is conducting or interpreting any developmental tests for your child should be experienced in working with children who are visually impaired or else consult with a teacher of students with visual impairments.

Observations and Checklists — When gathering information about your child, it's a good idea for the teacher of students with visual impairments to do more than one type of assessment. Observing your child in a variety of activities is usually a key component of all assessments, so the teacher of students with visual impairments may gather information for the functional vision assessment, learning media assessment, and developmental assessment all at the same time. Or, the teacher may just take notes to analyze later about what he or she observes. Different checklists are available to guide his or her observations; for example, there are checklists to help gauge your child's knowledge of how to use a braillewriter, his or her social interaction skills, or eating skills.

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