Visiting Preschool Programs
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If your child is visually impaired and eligible for early intervention services, you will find that as she approaches the age of three, a process of moving her through the educational system will begin. Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), when your toddler turns three, she moves into "school age services."
Getting her, and you, ready for this big transition may be nerve-racking, as you both may be uncertain about what "school" is going to be like. But by thinking carefully about your child and her needs; getting information about special education services; and exploring the possibilities, you can find a program that will be a good start for your child's educational life.
You can begin by talking to your child's early intervention team. Your child may have the option of going to a preschool program for children with visual impairments, for children with different types of disabilities, or for children who don't have disabilities at all. Find out what your options are and visit the programs to see them for yourself. Like everything else, each program will have its strengths and its shortcomings. Look closely at them and think about which one might work best for your child.
When you visit a program, take your child with you. Pay attention to how adults and children at the school respond to her. Although first impressions sometimes can be misleading, more often than not the reception you and your child get when you visit will tell you a lot about how the program is run.
Ask to talk to some other families whose children attend the program you're considering for your child. Though each family will have a unique experience, you can still get a good overall picture by talking to other parents.
In each program, get specifics on what services will be available to your child and how often she'll receive them. Find out the qualifications of the person providing the service. For example, if your daughter is a potential braille reader, it is important to find out if a teacher of children with visual impairments who has knowledge about early braille literacy will be working with her.
Getting Answers to Your Questions
Under IDEA, your child's educational team assesses your child and creates an educational program in keeping with her needs. You are a member of that team! There are a number of considerations that can help you decide whether a preschool program is right for your child, will meet her needs, and support her development. Here are some questions you may want to ask when visiting preschools; some are questions any parent might ask, but in addition you will want to focus on your child's needs as a visually impaired student:
- How long is the school day?
- How many days a week is the program offered?
- Does the program include sighted as well as visually impaired students?
- How many children are in a typical class? What's the maximum number of children in a classroom?
- What's the staff-to-student ratio—how many staff members are there to work with the children in class?
- Does the school district provide a teacher who's certified to teach students with visual impairments (TVI) to:
- Work directly with your child daily or several times a week?
- Consult with the classroom teacher to give advice, information, and technical help?
Here are some additional considerations you might want to take into account.
- Do children in the classroom seem engaged in learning?
- Are visits from parents and family members allowed? Welcomed? Encouraged?
- If there are blind children in the classroom, are braille materials available? Are there tactile markings on switches, cubbies, lockers, and so forth?
- Does the teacher know braille and understand techniques for demonstrating or using verbal cues rather than pointing or referring to pictorial information?
- How are instructions given to the children during class? Are there clear, verbal explanations, or is the environment visually oriented?
- Is the classroom set up in a way that will let your child move independently from area to area?
- If your child has low vision, are there learning materials that have high contrast and make good use of color?
- Are things your child would enjoy seeing or need to see positioned at her eye level?
- Are there any optical devices for her to use (for example, a closed-circuit television [CCTV], also known as a video magnifier)?
- Is the school location convenient to your home or place of work?
- If your child needs transportation between home and school, are the times scheduled for pick-up and drop-off convenient? Are the pick-up and drop-off locations convenient?