partnering with your school
Partnerships between schools and other community organizations and families are helping to create supports that enable children and youth to learn and succeed and help families and communities to thrive. These partnerships bring together diverse individuals and groups, including parents, educators and administrators, school boards, community-based organizations, youth development organizations, and health and human service agencies to expand opportunities for children with low vision and their families.
An important first step is to assess the broad range of resources that are currently available within or connected to their school. Some of these programs and services may be directly supported by the school; others may be supported by community organizations as well as local county and state agencies. Parents should ask and take inventory of the programs and services already administered by the school and its community partners. Once you know what programs and services exist, your challenge is to make sure these programs and services are coordinated and implemented to achieve desired results and to identify new programs and services that may be needed.
Building the “Team”
No one person has all the necessary specialized knowledge and skills to meet a low vision child's unique need. For this reason, the concept of the "team" is fundamental when it comes to promoting your child's growth, 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 a low vision child's education. While the team consists of the school, community, and local agency 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 (known as "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 three 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 services required to help your child benefit from his special education.
Your Role as a Parent
One thing to never forget is that the parents are an equal member of your child’s team. Over your child's lifetime, members of his team will change regularly, but you will remain the one constant. As a parent, you are the critical and integral member of the team. You know your child best, having seen his / her behavior. You have witnessed his / her progress under all kinds of circumstances. Over time, you have seen your child develop and grow as well as have a better understanding of his / her limitation. 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 as you have the specialized knowledge and skills to assess and instruct. When their efforts are combined with yours, your child gets the maximum benefit.
Important members of the team will be professionals who specialize in working with children who are visually impaired and those who work directly with him in the classroom include:
Special Educator: The Special Education Teacher is normally the “case manager” or special educator advocate. The Special Educator coordinates and manages the appropriate curriculum, accommodations, and assessments as well as leads the Team in developing the optimal education plan for the low vision student.
Teacher of students with visual impairment (TVI): The TVI has specialized 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. The TVI is the central member of your team.
Classroom teacher: Most students with visual impairments today attend a public school and are taught in general education classrooms with their sighted peers. In a regular classroom, the general education classroom teacher will be a key member of his educational team. This teacher will work closely with the Special Educator and TVI to get information about the best ways to teach your child and get his class materials. The classroom teacher has the responsibility for teaching the school's core curriculum.
Orientation and Mobility (O&M) specialist: The O&M specialist helps children learn to travel safely and independently in their environments. 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 parents ideas on how to help their child learn about his/her own body and the world around them. Orientation and mobility is considered a related service under IDEA.
Para-educator: Para-educators (who are also called teachers' aides or teaching assistants (TA’s), paraprofessionals, school aides) are often assigned to work with students who are visually impaired under the supervision of the classroom teacher and TVI. They may be assigned to the classroom or to the individual student who is visually impaired.
Early interventionist: If your child is younger than three years old, your team may include an early interventionist; this is 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, if your early interventionist is not a trained TVI, it is critical for the early interventionist to collaborate with the TVI on the team.
Other members of your child's educational team may be specialists in other areas, depending each child’s unique 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 note-taker, 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.
Assistive Technology Specialist: With rapid increases in technology, many schools have Assistive Technology Specialists to use technology to assist in the learning for children with special needs. For visually impaired children, assistive technology has limitless applications to assist students in the classroom. The AT specialist is critical in tailoring and customizing technology for each child’s unique needs.
Principal, Assistant Principal, or other School Administrator:While not always present at each Team meeting, Principals, Assistant Principals, or School Administrators are an important part of the team as they can assist in guiding the team, resolving conflict, and negotiating solutions when the team struggles with agreements on assessments, optimal accommodations, and appropriate services.
The educational team might also include any of the following professionals, and if your child has multiple disabilities, there may be others as well:
· Social worker
· Pediatrician or medical doctor
Your child's educational team is responsible for assessing his strengths and needs, setting goals for his education on the basis of these assessments, and providing the services to help him meet those goals. Your child's IFSP or IEP is the product of the team's efforts and is intended to guide his educational path. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) mandates the minimum frequency with which the team needs to meet, conduct assessments, and review your child's IFSP or IEP. The team is required to notify you when meetings are held and to arrange to hold them at times convenient for you.