Role of the TVI with Preschoolers
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Teachers of students with visual impairments, often referred to as TVIs, are trained and certified to teach visually impaired students, including those with additional disabilities, the special skills that they need to learn in order to participate in the regular school program. This teacher will also work with the other members of your child's educational team to help them understand the best ways of working with a child who is blind or has low vision.
Teachers of students with visual impairments teach a wide array of skills and subjects, and have a variety of responsibilities. The particular services your preschooler receives from the TVI will depend on his individual needs and abilities, but they are likely to include the following:
- Teaching expanded core curriculum skills: The teacher of students with visual impairments will work with your preschooler to teach specific skills that your child needs to learn because of his visual impairment. (These skills are called the "expanded core curriculum," and are also sometimes referred to as "disability-specific skills"). These may include the following areas:
- Braille skills: If learning to read and write in braille is appropriate for your child, the teacher of students with visual impairments will begin introducing preliteracy skills using the braille code. The instruction may take place in your child's preschool classroom at the same time other children are learning beginning reading and writing concepts and skills, or the teacher may take your child to another room and work with him individually on braille activities.
- Use of vision: If your child has low vision, the teacher of students with visual impairments may help him learn how to use his vision more efficiently. He or she may show him how to use a magnifier to see things close up, such as the print on the page of a book, or a monocular to see things in the distance, such as the pictures on the bulletin board.
- Technology: Preschools are increasingly offering activities involving computers and other types of technology. The teacher of students with visual impairments may work with your child on beginning computer skills, such as locating the space bar or "enter" key to make a choice in a game. He or she may also teach your child how to use some types of assistive technology, such as a video magnifier, or closed-circuit television system (CCTV), to look at pictures, pages in a book, or small objects such as bugs in the science center.
- Social skills: The teacher of students with visual impairments may work with your child on learning ways to make friends and to interact with other children. For example, the teacher may help him learn how to ask to join a group of other children, rather than just barging into the middle of the group, or not joining the group at all, how to wait his turn, and how to let others know when he can't see something.
- Orientation and mobility (O&M) skills: A teacher of students with visual impairments receives some training in basic O&M techniques, so she is able to show your child how to get around safely in the classroom and to reinforce the travel skills and concepts that an O&M instructor may be teaching your child.
- Assessment: Teachers of students with visual impairments conduct various assessments of your child in order to plan a program that is suited to his abilities and needs. These assessments include a functional vision assessment (how he uses any usable vision) and a learning media assessment (what method of reading and writing would work best for him). Your child's educational team will use the results of these and other assessments to develop an Individualized Education Program (IEP) with specific learning goals for your child.
- Consultation with teachers and other team members: The teacher of students with visual impairments may meet regularly with your child's preschool teacher or other members of his educational team to discuss how his visual impairment is affecting his learning. He or she may offer suggestions to the other professionals, such as how to alter the environment to help your child see better (for example, close the window shades to reduce glare), what materials to use to help your child learn (for example, bring in some real fruit to replace the plastic fruit in the play center), or specific instructional strategies to use (for example, work from behind the child when demonstrating a new skill).
- Preparing and adapting materials: One of the responsibilities of the teacher of students with visual impairments is to make sure that your child has access to the same materials—books, games, worksheets, and so forth—that his classmates do, at the same time. Many materials in a preschool classroom, such as the pictures on the bulletin boards, alphabet chart, lunch menu, and books in the story corner, are visual, and therefore your child may not be able to use them. This teacher can make these items available to your child by preparing them in an accessible medium—that is, in a way your child can understand. Depending on your child's needs, this may mean using braille, larger print, or print on a background that provides more contrast or is a less busy background.
Because the teacher of students with visual impairments is such a key member in your preschooler's education, you will want to keep in regular contact with her. If you're not receiving information about your child's progress and the skills he is working on, you can call or e-mail this teacher. If you can, visit the school when the teacher of students with visual impairments is working with your child and observe what they are doing, so you can help your child practice the skills at home.
If your child is not working with a teacher of students with visual impairments at this time, but you feel he may benefit from these services, contact the special education department of your public school district to ask for a referral and an assessment.