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Spring 2019

By William Daugherty, Superintendent, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Abstract: Superintendent Daugherty discusses how summer may be a good time to help a young person gain independence, learn to value active participation, and develop pride in accomplishment.

Key Words: News & Views, TSBVI, independence, self-esteem,

It seems like it’s been a long time since summer was “lazy”, as the old saying goes. At TSBVI it’s one of the busiest times of the year. Many families are also busier than ever, trying to pack in trips to see relatives and maybe see some sites that are proximate to air conditioning at the end of the day. They also look for opportunities for their children to take advantage of the many summer programs that have sprung up across the state. There was a time a few decades ago when summer programs and events for students with visual impairments were very rare. Today, in every region of the state, there will be one or more absolutely outstanding offerings for educational, recreational or vocational engagement. Not aware of what’s happening in your area? Contact your TVI, your Regional Education Service Center, or DARS/ DSB. Nothing in your area that meets the specific needs of your child? Start your advocacy by contacting groups like the Texas Association of Parents of the Visually Impaired <www.spedex.com/napvi/chapters.html>.

After 10 years of leading teenagers on summer camping trips from Kansas to Oregon retracing the trails of the pioneers as they settled the West, I have made some observations about how the teenage mind works. First, complaining takes on the attributes of an art form in the hands of a teen, particularly when it comes to physical effort. Second, the louder they complain the more likely they are to have a transformational experience when they finally figure out that hard work has its moments of joy. Like when it’s over. But, have them stick with it day after day working along side other like-minded complainers, and pretty soon they’ll rebel by doing the work fast in the style of Paul Newman and the miles-of-asphalt laying inmate work crew in the movie Cool Hand Luke. Then you have them right where you want them, so long as you let them think you slightly disapprove.

It is often said that we may do too much for our students with visual impairments and that this attending to every need is detrimental to independence. When the “we” in this equation are those of us adults with typical vision, I suspect we do it as much for our own convenience as any other factor. That is, we have a pace that moves us through our day, and all other things being equal, that pace can move faster when you can take in the hundreds of details in any environment with a glance or two. What I have come to believe is very important as we work with children with significant visual impairments in new environments and with new tasks, is that we slow down that pace to let the child be at maximum independence at every step. If that means gathering the wood to build the fire that cooks the dinner and heats the water for cleanup takes half a day, then that’s half a day well spent if the food is delicious and the kid cooks gets their props. Tomorrow they’ll shave an hour off that time trying to out smart the way we ridiculous adults run the world. And so on it goes, and it’s all good.

Summer needs to be a break from the bell schedule. It is also a time for students to step outside the usual and their comfort zone to do something new but also useful even if that’s just around the house and yard. Some might say that for students with multiple disabilities that this is a very complicated and intense proposition, but my experience has been that all kids, including (especially?) my own, can be tricky to work with on this. You just have to meet them where they are with a simple plan you are willing to outlast them on. Even a seemingly capable and independent child may have attitudinal barriers to success on the work and effort front that far out weigh any restrictions a disability might pose. Work and effort and growth are important to all of our kids, and summer is a time to experiment with something outside the ordinary.

There were a few moments in my upbringing where I did work that pleased my parents to no end. Like lining my mother’s flowerbeds with big rocks I had gathered. The praise and recognition were instrumental in forming my attitudes toward work and effort that have served me all through my adult life to the point of where a job well done is satisfying enough even when, to a point, it goes unnoticed by others. Real praise for real work is something that is formative for our kids, and a child’s hesitancy to jump in and put out effort may be as related to fear and feelings of inadequacy as it is to not wanting to be bothered with a “job”. It’s here where we can help, not by making quick work of the work, but by stepping back and coaching and guiding and like Tom Sawyer, making that fence painting seem like the best possible way to spend a summer day.