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Spring 2006 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

Building a Foundation of Confidence, part 2

By Barbara J. Madrigal, Assistant Commissioner, Division for Blind Services

Abstract:  this article reviews services available through DBS and how to access those services.

Key Words:  Division for Blind Services, DARS, blindness, disability, News & Views, confidence, self-esteem, services

In the last edition, I shared information about DBS services for children and youth and how those services support and challenge our youth to meet their potential, to become confident and independent, and to contribute to the community.  I described our Blind Children’s Vocational Discovery and Development Program and our Transition Program as well as the six major skill areas that we consider stepping stones to an independent, productive, and satisfying life.

In this edition I want to share some “real people” stories­­—stories that I hope will give a vivid picture of our services.    (Please note: identifying information has been changed to protect confidentiality.)  How exactly do DBS services help our youth and families to meet the challenges of life and to develop and strengthen self-esteem and independence?  In this edition I plan to focus on three of the six major skill areas, and I will complete Part 3 of this series in a future edition.

Adjustment to Blindness services focus on familiarizing families with diagnostic procedures, medical treatments, and other things they need to know to support their child as well as promoting coping and self-advocacy skills.  For example, Isadora is a 5-year-old girl with glaucoma whose left eye was removed at age 18 months; the acuity in her right eye is 20/100.  Isadora had recently become aware that she “looked different” from other children and she did not know how to respond when classmates asked why her eyes looked “that way.”  The DBS Blind Children’s Specialist accompanied Isadora and her custodial aunt to the ocularist where she was fitted with a prosthetic eye.  The Specialist also counseled and reassured the aunt that she would be able to insert, remove, and take care of the prosthesis as well as to teach Isadora to assume responsibility for these tasks when she reached an appropriate age.  Upon receiving her prosthetic eye, Isadora was very excited to look in the mirror and see that she looked like “all the other kids.” 

In another region, Blind Children’s Specialists arranged for group meetings with a professional counselor where consumers could discuss concerns about their visual impairments.  In these sessions they also learned stress relaxation techniques, coping skills, and problem-solving skills.  In between classes, the consumers completed homework assignments in which they could practice the skills and concepts they learned in class.  

These are just a couple of examples of our services.  Other services that fall within this category include preparing families for eye appointments, helping families understand medical procedures, helping families develop a list of questions for their medical providers, assisting with referrals to eye medical providers in the community, assisting families in working through the grief process, and identifying and referring families to support group resources in the community.  Specialists and Counselors also organize activities that include training on any of the above topics in a group setting where families can learn together and support one another in the adjustment process.

Another primary skill area is Independent Living Skills.  In very young children, independent living skills refers to the attainment of developmental milestones, such as crawling, walking, and language development.  Blind Children’s Specialists may assist parents by providing a developmental assessment, attending ECI meetings, or recommending specialized toys or equipment that foster skill development.  One of our Specialists recalled assisting 10-month-old Jordan who loved playing in the water, but had not developed the muscle strength to sit for more than a few minutes.  The Specialist attended an ECI meeting with the mother where the ECI team, consisting of the parent, the Specialist, the ECI Services Coordinator, the Teacher of the Visually Impaired, and the Physical Therapist, discussed the child’s developmental needs.  The ECI team had loaner equipment available, and was able to loan the mother a bath seat and a corner chair, as well as provide the mother suggestions for how to increase strength and coordination in the routine of her daily activities with Jordan.  Jordan and his mother also participated in a therapeutic swimming class, a group activity arranged by the DBS Specialist and facilitated by a physical therapist, and the Specialist also provided ongoing counseling and guidance.   

For older children, independent living skills refers to grooming and hygiene, table skills, household and money management skills, organizational skills, and social/recreational skills.  For example, eight-year-old Stephen has 20/400 vision due to congenital nystagmus.  When the Specialist observed him in a school setting, he was shy and withdrawn; on the playground, he stood near the building or asked to stay inside with the teacher’s aide.  The parents had attempted to enroll him in a karate class, but were unable to find one.  They had spoken to several teachers but all expressed safety concerns about having a visually-impaired child in the class.  The Specialist, however, met with a teacher, addressed his concerns, and identified simple adaptations that would enable Stephen to participate in the class.  Stephen, now age ten, is still quiet and reserved by nature, but he has made friends at school and he participates in other social activities. 

Children’s Specialists frequently work in conjunction with DBS Vocational Rehabilitation Teachers (VRT) to instruct a consumer or parent in specific skills such as food preparation, matching clothes, organizing personal items, identifying coins and dollar bills, or performing household chores.  Often, however, training in independent living skills is most effectively provided in a group format.  From El Paso to Texarkana, from Lubbock to Houston, children, adolescents and their parents participate in group activities where they not only learn specific skills, but also provide mentoring and support to one another.  Here is a sample of group skills training activities that have occurred in the past year:

It’s great when one teacher or caseworker can teach a consumer how to prepare a sandwich or apply make-up, but it is really powerful when consumers and families meet together to share success stories, support one another through challenging life situations and to demonstrate by example real opportunities and possibilities!

Communication Skills refers to the development of reading and literacy skills, including reading, writing and using Braille and other techniques, using assistive technology, and accessing information.  I am thinking of one child who has been a consumer since birth.  Andrew was born with Goldenhar Syndrome which results in malformation on one side of the face.  He has no light perception in one eye and is 20/70 in the other; he has a malformed palate and is hard-of-hearing.  Because of his facial malformations, it was unclear if he would be able to speak, and the DBS Specialist has been very involved since his birth in assisting the family in identifying a communication system.  As a toddler, Andrew began to exhibit behaviors that reflected frustration at his inability to communicate, such as tantrums, head-banging, and general noncompliance.  The Specialist assisted the family in developing sign language skills, including sign language classes, print material, and computer software.  Within weeks of learning sign language, Andrew was able to sign in sentences—he had desperately wanted to communicate!—and his behavior problems diminished.  The Specialist also made a referral to the DBS Deafblind Specialist, and together they worked with the ECI team that included the ECI Service Coordinator, the speech therapist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, and nurses.  Now almost three-years-old, Andrew uses both sign and verbal communication.

In this article, I have covered three of the six skill areas that we consider primary steps toward independence and positive adjustment:  Adjustment to Blindness; Independent Living Skills; and Communication Skills.  In the next installment, I will talk about Travel, Support Systems, and Vocational Discovery and Development.  I also plan to discuss some of the other programs available at DBS.  In the meantime, the Division for Blind Services would like to work with you and your family.  If you are currently working with a Blind Children’s Specialist or Transition Counselor, but were not aware these services are available, please contact your provider to schedule a meeting.  If you would like to work with us and are not yet enrolled in services, please contact DARS Inquiries at 1-800-628-5115 (V/TTY).  Let them know you would like to apply for DBS services, and they will give you contact information for your local DBS office.

Building a Foundation of Confidence Part 1 | Building a Foundation of Confidence Part 3

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Last Revision: September 1, 2010