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By Cyral Miller, Outreach Director, TSBVI

Abstract: This article provides families with some guidelines to help assess if the IEP is meeting the vision-related needs of a child with a visual impairment.

Key Words: family, visual impairment, IEP, services, quality, guidelines, QPVI


Have you ever wondered whether there is a measurement system for how your child's program is meeting VI specific educational needs? How would you know whether these aspects of programming are truly "quality"? Among all the buzz about educational standards and accountability, how can you tell whether your child's unique needs related to the visual impairment are being met?

While every child is different, the reason that your child is eligible for special education in the category "visual impairment" is that his or her visual functioning requires specialized services. Parents are - by law - members in the team which must meet at least annually to determine whether your child is eligible for special education, review evaluation in all areas related to your child's disability and design an individualized educational program (IEP). For students with visual impairments, there are additional areas of essential educational programming for the committee to consider, known as the Expanded Core Curriculum (see #4 below).

Following are some guidelines for ways to analyze VI specific parts of your child's IEP.

1. The IEP should reflect the impact of the visual impairment.

 

 

___ Is there a functional vision evaluation (FVE) that clearly and accurately describes her visual functioning?

___ Are there recommendations for modifications related to the visual impairment to be implemented in the classroom?

___ Are there plans for material preparation if your child needs adapted materials?

For students who are deafblind, there are additional considerations due to the additional sensory loss. The Texas Deafblind Project has developed a DB IEP Quality Indicators checklist for your use. This document, accessible at http://www.tsbvi.edu/attachments/other/IEP_Indicators.doc is a very useful organizing tool to help you evaluate your child's program.

2. The IEP should reflect the role of a certified teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI).

 

 

_____ What type of service is being provided by a TVI?

TVIs provide effective services both directly to students and indirectly by consulting with the other team members, ensuring that adapted materials are available, and meeting with families and related agency personnel. If you have questions about the terms direct versus consult services, a good article to review might be "Related Services: Direct versus Consult" (http://www.tsbvi.edu/seehear/spring98/related.html). The role of the VI teacher will change as your child gets older, learns new skills or is served in different settings. An important goal is to teach self-advocacy skills so your child can independently get many vision-related needs (such as adapted materials, preferential seating, or readers) met. Talk with your TVI to find out what specific instruction and services your child needs from this specialized teacher. One aspect of a quality VI program is definitely good communication between parents and the TVI (and other team members).

_____ How much time is being provided by a TVI?

This should be directly related to your child's assessment and IEP. Many parents think that the more time a TVI spends directly with their child, the better, yet not all children need direct instruction from a TVI and typically not in all subjects. Some skills are typically best taught by a certified teacher of students with visual impairments, such as use of specialized equipment, low vision device training and other visual efficiency skills, use of the abacus or slate and stylus, braille reading skills and some daily living skills. These can then be reinforced and practiced with others.

3. The IEP should reflect the role of a certified orientation and mobility specialist (COMS).

 

 

_____ Is there an O&M evaluation and/or IEP goals?

Children must move and interact with their world to learn. Safe and efficient movement is critical to lifelong learning. If your child's visual condition effects her orientation and movement in her home, school or community, a COMS should be involved in her education. Look for an evaluation of your child's O&M skills and a determination on whether O&M services are needed. The need for O&M instruction varies for each child each year. If your child is entering a new setting or a new developmental level, starting a community job or changing classes, she may have a greater need for O&M than in the past. Orientation and mobility is one of the expanded core curriculum areas (see the next section) considered critical for the education of children with visual impairments.

4. The IEP should reflect the Expanded Core Curriculum.

 

 

_____ Does your child's IEP include goals related to areas beyond academics? The expanded core curriculum is the heart of specialized VI programming.

A major consideration should be to ensure that your child is being assessed and instructed as appropriate in what is called the Expanded Core Curriculum. These areas of instruction were highlighted as part of the National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities based upon how the presence of a visual impairment can affect a child's ability to learn necessary life skills. More information is available on each of these areas at the TSBVI website http://www.tsbvi.edu/what-is-the-expanded-core-curriculum-ecc. A visual impairment puts children at risk for missing critical competencies that sighted children learn by observation.

So, check your child's IEP and see if these areas are being addressed:

  1. Assistive Technology - skills and the necessary equipment to hook into the information technology explosion and succeed in school, recreational and career areas

  2. Compensatory or Functional Academic Skills, Including Communication Modes - includes concept development, vi specific study and organizational skills, braille, calendar systems, tactile graphics and adaptations necessary for accessing all areas of the existing core curriculum, such as literacy instruction (see below)

  3. Career Education - learning about the world of work and skills for meaningful and appropriate personal career goals

  4. Recreation and Leisure Skills - organized exposure and skill development that match interests and abilities with options for fun

  5. Orientation and Mobility - skills for accurate body image, spatial awareness and safe and efficient movement

  6. Social Interaction Skills - interaction and relationship skills that are difficult to acquire without systematic instruction

  7. Self-Determination Skills - choice-making, decision-making, problem solving, personal advocacy, assertiveness, and goal setting

  8. Sensory Efficiency Skills - systematic instruction to maximize use of functional vision, low vision devices or low vision technology

  9. Independent Living Skills - daily living skills to promote independence in personal life

As a parent, you will want to ask the teacher of visual impairments (TVI) and certified O&M specialist (COMS) to review assessment in each area with you as a basis for developing priorities for your child. Not every child will need instruction in every area, but the only way to find the gaps is through systematic assessment. Informal checklists and assessment tools as well as academic records and progress notes should be collected from many members of the team and shared. This allows the team to compile a comprehensive review of your child's current functioning. Remember that you are part of the team, and your information about how well your child uses skills in daily living, recreation and leisure, and social skills in the home setting is crucial. Your knowledge of your child's level of functioning in these areas and others is necessary for the school to have an accurate overview.Although your child is eligible for schooling from birth through age 22, most skills are best learned in small stages throughout educational years. Go over the Expanded Core Curriculum with your VI staff and ask when specific skills in each area will be addressed.

5. The IEP should reflect VI specific input into literacy instruction.

 

_____ Is there a Learning Media Assessment (LMA) that clearly defines how your child will access written materials (as well as other materials)?

Literacy is an area of compensatory skill programming. An LMA will be important for decisions on whether your child will read tactually, with braille or tactile symbols, regular print and pictures with low vision devices, or enlarged print. Although developing literacy skills is emphasized in regular education programs, researchers are continuing to investigate how best to support instruction for visually impaired students. Cay Holbrook and Alan Koenig's research (Holbrook and Koenig, "Ensuring High-Quality Instruction for Students in Braille Literacy Programs," JVIB, Nov. 2000) found widespread professional agreement that daily direct instruction from a certified VI teacher for one to two hours each day is essential for a child engaged in beginning braille literacy. These researchers and others have also studied literacy instruction for students with low vision. The amount and type of instruction for your child will vary based on your child's visual needs and her age, learning styles, presence of other disabilities, and instructional setting.

_____ Is your child making progress in reading?

You need accurate information about your child's reading levels. Some students struggle with reading for reasons that are not related to their visual status, and more time from a TVI may not solve the problem. For others, the visual impairment causes significant access issues and a TVI is the best professional to support your child's literacy instruction. These differences are not always easy to diagnose. Usually reading problems are best addressed by a team that includes the reading instructor or specialist working with the VI teacher to diagnose the source of the challenge and design a successful program.

6. The IEP should reflect a long-term view of education.

 

_____ Is there a transition focus to your annual IEP development?

According to the Individuals with Disabilities Act, the goal of special education is to prepare students for employment and independent living. There are so many areas to think about in writing IEPs that it can become overwhelming. Remember that each year builds upon the last, and that there is a team to help you. You might want to seek out older students and adults who have visual impairment to develop a model for your child's future. Most people haven't come into contact with many blind or visually impaired adults and question what is possible. It is helpful to cultivate dreams for your child's adult (or at least young adult) life and then try to design each school year to lead most effectively towards making those dreams come true. This will help you to decide if the IEP goals are important, reflect your child's abilities and strengths and preferences, and will help her grow up to find a fulfilling life.

_____ What if my child doesn't have an IEP with vision specific goals?

 

 

If your child has a visual impairment that qualifies her for special education, the team must ensure that evaluation of current functioning in all areas related to the disability have been reviewed in developing an annual IEP. If your child does not appear to have any IEP goals or recommended modifications for instruction that reflect the presence of a visual impairment, or any role for a TVI related to the visual impairment, ask to see the informal assessment in all areas of the expanded core curriculum. Decisions on the type and amount of VI service delivery should be based upon how your child is doing in all areas related to the disability.So, how do you know if your child's VI specific program is high quality? Ask questions, look for progress, check that all areas of the expanded core curriculum have been assessed and addressed and that appropriate VI professional support is available. A quality VI program addresses the impact of vision loss on learning, and provides compensatory and specialized skills training so that your child can become a productive and happy adult.Note: These guidelines were created in part using information from A Guide to Quality Programs for Students with Visual Impairments. The QPVI process has been used by many districts in Texas and across the country to establish overall quality indicators for district programs. You might ask if your district has participated in that program. An individual student is more likely to receive a quality VI program if the overall district program is well supported. More information is available on the TSBVI website at http://www.tsbvi.edu/outreach-programs-items/3569-qpvi