Your Child's Educational Team: Understanding and Working with Your Blind Child's Teachers, Specialists, and Aides
No one person has all the necessary specialized knowledge and skills to meet your child's unique needs. For this reason, the concept of the "team" is fundamental when it comes to promoting your child's growth and development and learning. Throughout your child's school years, you will be working with a variety of professionals to ensure that your child gets the educational services he needs for a successful foundation in life.
Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the law that governs the education of students with disabilities, the educational team has a central role in your child's education. While the team consists of the professionals who work with your child and plan his education, every child's team will be different, depending on the particular needs of that child and family, as well as his age. For very young children, the team works directly with the family as well as the child (see Early Intervention Services), and develops an Individual Family Service Plan (ISFP) to detail the services that are needed to meet the needs of both the child and the family as a whole. Once your child turns 3 years old, his educational team will focus on his individual and educational needs and will write an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that outlines his educational goals and the services that will help meet them.
Some of the team members provide what are considered "related services" under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). Related services are those required to help your child benefit from his special education. There is no cost to you for these related services.
An important thing to keep in mind is that you are an integral and equal member of your child's team, and your child, when appropriate, may also be a team member. Over your child's lifetime, members of his team will change regularly, but you will remain the one constant. As a parent, you know your child best, having seen his behavior and progress under all kinds of circumstances and over a period of time. Your input is crucial for understanding both his abilities and needs. Team members who are professionals trained in the education and rehabilitation of visually impaired students have the specialized knowledge and skills to assess and instruct students. When their efforts are combined with yours, your child gets the maximum benefit.
Who Is On Your Team?
- Teacher of students with visual impairment: The teacher of students with visual impairment is a professional with training in how a visual impairment affects a child's development and learning and in the strategies and tools that can assist your child in learning about the world, performing everyday activities, and participating in the regular curriculum in school. Regardless of your child's age, the teacher of students with visual impairment will be a central member of your team (see The Central Role of the Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments for more information).
- Orientation and mobility (O&M) specialist: The O&M specialist helps children learn to travel safely and independently in their environment. They also teach concepts about the body, space and direction, movement, and the physical environment to children of all ages. Even before a baby is crawling or walking, the O&M specialist can give you ideas on how to help him learn about his own body and the world around him. Orientation and mobility is considered a related service under IDEA. (See Working With the Orientation and Mobility Specialist.)
- Early interventionist: If your child is younger than 3 years old, your team may include an early interventionist, a professional who is trained to support families of young children with disabilities. Many early interventionists have a strong background in child development. However, the early interventionist on your team may or may not have experience and expertise related to working with a child with a visual impairment. Therefore it's important for the early interventionist to collaborate with a teacher of students with visual impairments.
- Classroom teacher: Most students with visual impairments today attend a public school and are taught in general education classrooms with their sighted peers. If your child is in a regular classroom, his general education classroom teacher will be a key member of his educational team. This teacher will work closely with the teacher of students with visual impairments to get information about the best ways to teach your child and get his class materials (see The Central Role of the Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments). However, the classroom teacher has the responsibility for teaching him the school's core curriculum.
- Paraeducator: Paraeducators (who are also called teachers' aides, paraprofessionals, school aides, or teaching assistants) are sometimes assigned to work with students who are visually impaired under the supervision of the classroom teacher and teacher of students with visual impairments (see Teaching Assistant Responsibilities for more information). They may be assigned to the classroom or to the individual student who is visually impaired.
Other members of your child's educational team may be specialists in other areas, depending on his individual needs. These team members may or may not have experience with children who are visually impaired. Some professionals who are related service personnel commonly found on educational teams include
- Occupational therapist: An occupational therapist focuses on the development of your child's fine motor skills. These are the skills he uses for eating, dressing, keyboarding at a computer or electronic notetaker, and other tasks mostly using his hands.
- Physical therapist: The physical therapist's specialty is your child's gross motor skills—those used for activities such as crawling, sitting, walking, and running.
- Speech therapist: Speech therapists—also known as speech and language pathologists—focus on helping young children learn to communicate, improving speech and communication, and developing alternative methods of communication for children with multiple disabilities. Many speech therapists also have expertise in helping young children learn eating skills.
The educational team might also include any of the following professionals, and if your child has multiple disabilities, there may be others as well: