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

Abstract: this article discusses the Interagency Task Force for Children with Special Needs and encourages parents and stakeholders to share input with Task Force members

Key Words: blind, visually impaired, children with special needs, DARS, DARS-Division for Blind Services, DBS, Early Childhood Intervention, ECI, Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr., SB 1824

The government works for you. It’s true. In the complexity and chaos of everyday life, and in the commotion and unruliness of modern politics, it may not seem like it. But it is true. You pay the bills. And now you have the chance to let the government hear your voice.

In the last legislative session, May of 2009 to be exact, with these words, “Be it enacted by the legislature of the State of Texas,” the legislature passed a bill that established the Interagency Task Force for Children with Special Needs. The bill, introduced by Senator Eddie Lucio, Jr., and unanimously approved by the Texas Senate, aims to bring the necessary statewide coordina­tion and leadership to services for children with special health care needs and their families.

Senate Bill 1824 established an 18-member task force comprised of the heads of nine state agen­cies that serve this population, four legislators, three parents or consumer advocates, and one representative of a local Mental Health and Men-tal Retardation Authority. The bill requires the agency decision-makers, in collaboration with families and service providers, to identify barriers to service and to make recommendations that will improve the coordination, quality and efficiency of services for children with special needs. As the Assistant Commissioner of DARS-DBS, I am privileged to be on this Task Force, along with Kim Wedel, Assistant Commissioner of DARS­ECI.

The bill established eight subcommittees, each chaired and vice-chaired by one of the agency leaders: Early Childhood Detection and Interven­tion; Education; Health Care; Transitioning Youth; Crisis Prevention and Intervention; Juvenile Jus­tice; Mental Health; and Long-Term Community-Based Services and Supports. Kim Wedel and I are co-chairs of the Early Childhood Detection and Intervention subcom­mittee; I am also the vice-chair of the Transitioning Youth subcommittee.

What does this have to do with giving parents and stakeholders a voice in government? The bill and the Task Force have cre­ated several ways for ordi­nary citizens to have input into Task Force activities. First of all, a public hearing was held on February 17 in order to gather information to perform a needs assess­ment. A number of people spoke at the hearing, including physicians, par­ents, providers, consumers and former consum­ers. Parents spoke movingly of the barriers they have encountered in accessing services for their children, and providers spoke knowledgeably about barriers resulting from policy and proce­dural issues. Others expressed the challenges of accessing services across multiple agencies.

Many also articulated the need to implement positive behavioral supports and, as a result of these testimonies, the committee agreed to dedi­cate a portion of the March 23 meeting to discuss this topic and identify further action needed. The public is welcome to attend future Task Force meetings; details are posted on <www.hhsc.state.tx.us/about_hhsc/AdvisoryCommittees/TaskForce/MeetingDatesandMinutes.doc>.

Secondly, each subcommittee has eight to twelve members from the community. A total of 114 in­dividuals were nominated by agency personnel or the community-at-large, and 95 were selected. The selection was extremely competitive, as subcommittee members were expected to be parents or consumers or to have experience on relevant committees or councils, significant expertise in the subject matter, or representatives of not-for-profit groups that advocate on behalf of the service population. We are confident that these members will bring significant knowledge and expertise to the sub­committees.

All subcommittees will dis­cuss two cross-cutting top­ics: coordination and in­tegration of services and system entry points. Other topics, 100 and counting, have been submitted by citizens across the state— parents, stakeholders, ad­vocates, former consum­ers, current consumers—in other words, anyone who has an interest in services for children with special needs. These topics are reviewed and assigned to subcommittees. The Task Force encourages the public to continue submitting issues for subcommittee and Task Force consideration by completing a Subcom­mittee Topic Selection Form located on .

Lest you think that people will just sit around talk­ing, for every issue addressed the subcommit­tees are expected report back to the Task Force with an analysis of the topic. The analysis will include:

  • other subcommittees or councils that are exploring the issue;
  • a description of the current federal, state and community policies that impact the is-sue;
  • the current barriers to addressing the issue,
  • specific steps necessary to implement the recommendations.

If you would like to keep up with the business conducted by this Task Force, information can be located at <www.hhsc.state.tx.us/about_hhsc/AdvisoryCommittees/TaskForce.shtml>. These are topics that impact the lives of your children and your families every day. You can have an impact on the policies that affect you. I encourage everyone to take advantage of this opportunity to have a voice in your government.

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.

By Janet George, Child and Family Resource Consultant, Dept. of Services for the Blind, Seattle, WA and Elizabeth Eagan Satter, TVI, Federal Way School District, Federal Way, WA

Abstract: The authors provide ideas to help provide structured activities for students during the summer by developing daily routines. The ideas would be good for teachers to share with students and families for any extended breaks from school.

Key Words: Effective Practices, routines, summer, holidays

There are few words that children love more than “Summer Vacation”. Our parents always kept us busy with yard work, household chores, visiting grandparents, reading and more reading, exploring the neighborhood, and always a vacation to somewhere. There were the times when we were bored—when time seemed to drag on. We missed our friends from school, and those were the times we got into trouble. The same is true for kids today.

Summer can be fun or terribly boring to students with visual impairments. Finding activities to keep entertained and challenge the mind can be a difficult feat for both the students and their parents. Skills can be lost over the summer months when not practiced. But how to maintain those skills can be just as problematic as finding activities.

Where to Start?

To keep the routine of the school week going, think of the days of the week in these terms:

Make It Monday

Make snacks or meals. Braille grocery lists or a things to do list. Make a craft, making a mess only to clean it up later. “Make it tidy” by doing household chores (laundry, vacuum, sweep). Make a scrapbook of the past school year’s activities. Make the bed. Make labels to organize the pantry, drawers, etc.

Technology Tuesday

Practice keyboarding or computer software programs (i.e. JAWs, MAGic, Zoomtext, PowerPoint), Braille note-taking devices, write pen pals, magnifiers, and monoculars (even a trip to the zoo where you have to use the monocular to see the animals!). Go online to investigate careers, colleges, state/community agencies, recipes, etc.

Writing Wednesday

Email friends, relatives, teachers, or pen pals. Write poetry or stories to share with younger siblings or cousins. Keep a diary or daily journal. Create a travel log or reading log. Plan and write a menu for the week (which might include looking up the recipes on technology Tuesday).

Tasty Thursday

Today is all about the kitchen: exploring it; trying a new recipe, cooking something new and tasting something for the first time! Set or decorate the table. And let’s not forget the clean up that goes along with the food preparation: doing the dishes by hand or loading the dishwasher; cleaning the counters; and putting away the ingredients & dishes

Field Trip Friday

Plan a picnic in the park, or a trip to beach, mall, community agency, etc. This includes planning the route to the venue and arranging the transportation. Run errands with parents (grocery store, bank, post office). Participate in activities such as bowling, tennis, swimming, etc. Obtain a photo identification card. Sleep over with friends

Weekends

The weekends need to remain free of planned activities, a time to spend with the family doing typical family routines. Relax...and talk, hang out, or play games with each other! You might be surprised the things you learn from one another.

Additional Activities

Go to camp.

Many state agencies, schools for the blind, and other organizations host summer camps; for example, here in the great state of Washington we have the YES (Youth Employment Solutions) 6 week program for teens and SCILS (Summer Camp Independent Living Skills) for ages 9-13.

Volunteer in the community or obtain a job.

One way for students with visual impairments to learn about working and types of careers is to volunteer or obtain a summer job. These young men and women can learn vital social, communication, independence, and work skills that they can take with them into their adult lives, to help find success in their chosen careers and personal lives.

Take a Hadley course.

Hadley School for the Blind offers distance education programs to individuals with a visual impairment as well as to their families and service providers. Examples of courses include: Braille Literacy, Internet Basics, Finding Your Way, How to Be Your Child’s Advocate, Basic Nemeth Code, Finding Employment, and Independent Living. For more information, go to< www.hadley.edu>.

Create an address book.

You can create an address book either electronically or by using a commercial one. Gather phone numbers of local businesses that the family frequents. Business cards are great for future reference and can be taped inside the address book once they have either been enlarged or labeled in Braille.

Interview parents or other family members.

Find out how to do certain tasks (i.e. laundry, purchasing clothes); this is a great way to learn how to do tasks, while working on communication and note-taking skills.

Stay fit.

Keep in mind exercise for the body—for instance, hiking, rowing, tandem biking, going for long walks, etc. Students with visual impairments tend not to get enough exercise and may fatigue easily when playing with friends or during PE activities at school.

Anne McComiskey, BEGIN Program Director, Center for the Visually Impaired, Atlanta, Georgia

Abstract: The author describes a system to teach braille characters and phonetic awareness of letter sounds using a six compartment box.

Keywords: braille, teaching, early braille literacy, children with blindness

The AlphaBox game is designed to teach Braille letters to emergent readers. The activity uses a container with six compartments representing a braille cell and functional objects that are familiar to young children with limited or no vision. The game helps children learn the dot configuration of braille letters by arranging objects to match the pattern of each letter. The objects used for teaching each letter begin with that letter (not necessarily phonetically). The number of items used corresponds to the number of braille dots that form the letter. For example, one plastic apple could represent the letter “a” when placed in the upper left section of the AlphaBox. The game is easily expanded to meet individual learning needs.

It is extremely important that the AlphaBox game be fun. Love of reading can be killed by rigorous drill without fun and rewards. The game is intended to be enjoyable for the student and the only absolute rule is that it be shared in fun ways.

Alphabox for A: plastic tray with an apple, braille cell plastic tray with a  toy apple in cell 1

Supplies

  • A 6-section muffin tin or and 8-inch-square box that is divided into six sections that are arranged in three vertical rows of two compartments each to represent a braille cell.
  • 26 large zip-lock bags or envelopes labeled in large print and braille, one for each letter of the alphabet; for functional braille readers, add a tactile cue to each envelope the child is working on.
  • A method of organizing the 26 containers, such as a large metal clip ring for the bags or a large file box to hold the envelopes
  • One work tray

Alphabet items:

A. 1 apple

B. 2 balls

C. 2 cups

D. 3 dishes

E. 2 eggs

F. 3 flowers

G. 4 gum sticks

H. 3 horns

I. 2 insects

J. 3 jelly beans

K. 2 Keys

L. 3 locks

M. 3 marbles

N. 4 nuts

O. 3 Oreos (mini0

Alphabox B: plastic braille cell tray with string of beads in cell 1 and cell 2

P. 4 peanuts

Q. 5 quarters

R. 4 rings

S. 3 soaps

T. 4 trucks

U. 3 umbrellas-drink size

V. 4 Velcro pieces

W. 4 whistles

X. 4 xylophones sticks

Y. 5 yo-yos

Z. 5 zippers

You can certainly use different items. I suggest these because they are familiar and are easy to find in stores. Larger items might be represented by a piece, such as suggested for the xylophone. It is helpful if the item already has meaning for the child, and is something the child can play with or eat.

Teaching Suggestions

• Establish the concept that the braille cell has six little “rooms” or spaces. Demonstrate this with a page that illustrates a large braille cell. Relate the cell to the box with the 6 sections. Name and label each section with its appropriate dot numbers.

1 4
2 5
3 6

  • Build units of learning and experience around the introduction of each letter.
  • Have the child find the proper bag. An adult may need to help the child examine the braille letter on the bag and, if appropriate, read the large print label. Talk about the letter, say the letter’s sound, and identify other objects that begin with the letter.
  • Open the bag and remove the items. Place them on the tray. If the items are representative of a real object, have the real object available to compare and discuss with the student (e.g. how is this small plastic apple like this real apple?).
  • Help the child put the items in the sections that correspond to the dot configuration of the letter.
  • Remove the items and repeat putting them in the sections, saying the dot number in sequence as you do. Make this step interesting and creative.
  • Work with the child to identify other items that could represent that letter. Help collect these additional items and make another bag or envelope for each new set.
  • After the child is totally familiar with the placement of a letter’s dot configuration and its sound, replace the items in the AlphaBox with balls, chips, or even round cereal. Have the child identify the letter by the dot numbers that are formed.
  • Gradually expand the game by having the child start making a booklet with pages that have several repetitions of the braille letters being learned through the AlphaBoxes.
  • The child can make this book using a brailler or slate and stylus.
  • AlphaBox items can also be glued on braille paper to represent their placement in a braille cell.
  • Work in short sessions and have fun!
  • Be a little silly.
  • Be active whenever possible.
  • Make up songs and rhymes about the letter.
  • Tell a silly story about the letter.
  • Let the child tell you a poem or story about the item and the letter.
  • Braille the story and put it into a book for the child. Print the words above the braille so parents can enjoy the child’s story too.
  • Remember: there is no failure in this game.

By Jenny Lace, Education Specialist, Texas Deafblind Project

Abstract: Several southeastern states annually collaborate to host an event for youth with deafblindness and their families. Teens participate in workshops, learning self-determination, leadership, career, and adult life planning skills, all while developing community with other young people who are deafblind.

Keywords: deafblind, teens, young adult, self-determination, leadership

I recently had the opportunity to take an inspiring trip as an education specialist in the Texas Deaf-blind Project. It was my second Annual Southeast Regional Teen/Young Adult Deaf-Blind Retreat and Parent Event. In 2009 the Georgia Sensory Assistance Project hosted the retreat, and this year the Florida Outreach Project was the host. Presenters and mentors with deafblindness addressed topics related to transition, self-determination, leadership skills, social skills and self-advocacy. Separate sessions featuring transition planning issues were offered to the parents, with opportunities to share experiences. Many stayed an additional day for a group trip to Busch Gardens, where the roller coasters and water rides were the favorite activities.

Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Deafblind Outreach (TSBVI), Texas Deafblind Project, and the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, Division of Blind Services (DARS-DBS) sponsored one teen from Tyler, Texas and her parent to attend this retreat. Attending the event were 20 deafblind youth, six of whom were mentors and presenters; nine parents; 19 staff; and 47 interpreters and support service providers. There was sponsorship from Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. Representation also included the National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness (NCDB), Helen Keller National Center (HKNC), and The American Association for the Deaf-Blind (AADB). The retreat was held at a Rotary Club camp in Brandon, Florida on Martin Luther King weekend, January 15-17, 2010. Perfect timing for deafblind teens and young adults to articulate: “I have a dream…”

Photo of the group

Florida and Georgia participated in annual retreats alternating hosting the event in the prior deafblind projects grant cycle (2003-2008). In the current grant cycle (2008-2013) additional state projects in the southeast area are participating and exploring hosting the annual retreat in their respective states. In the event that AADB has a conference during the current grant cycle, projects will sponsor deafblind youth to the American Association for the Deaf-Blind national conference pending funding.

Many of the presenters/mentors with deafblindness taking the lead at the retreat in Florida have attended this annual event in the past as younger participants. Several have expanded their leadership skills by becoming involved in other projects and programs, including:

  • Deaf-Blind Young Adults in Action (DBYAA), participating in the Policy Process in Washington, DC., meeting congressmen and senators culminating in an invitation to the oval office to meet with President Obama, June 2009. For more information about future DBYAA opportunities, contact Amy Parker at Texas Tech University.
  • Participation at the 9th Annual Helen Keller Deaf-Blind Conference in Uganda, Africa in Oct. 2009, including visiting schools for the deafblind in Africa.
  • Participation in Global Explorers.
  • People to People Student Ambassadors.
  • Enrolling in institutes of higher education, graduating from college, and securing employment (Visit Jason’s Journal Blog).

It was amazing to see students change in confidence and self-awareness in just a couple of days! Feedback from participants included the following comments:

  • Keep going and never give up. Try harder.
  • …not letting anything big or small get in my way to achieve my goals.
  • I can easily help other people.
  • I will advocate for myself and be my own person.
  • I learned more about Braille, cane use and tactile sign.
  • I need to take responsibility for myself to become successful.
  • …cool, convenient, helpful technology…
  • What a wonderful world it really is! And that there are wonderful people in this world who really care.
Photo: on a bus, student with hand over another signers hand. Photo: group on a roller coaster

This annual retreat is a wonderful opportunity for deafblind youth to develop friendships and deafblind community, plan for their future, and practice self-advocacy and leadership skills. It is great to see lasting connections develop through emails, Facebook, and repeat attendance at the annual retreat. I also have made lasting connections in the deafblind community and appreciate this experience.

Youth 15 years of age through 22 years of age with both vision and hearing loss and who have a formal communication system, who are on a career path to work, technical school, or college are invited to apply to attend future retreats. If you are interested in applying, nominating and/or sponsoring a student for this opportunity in the future, please contact me.

Web And Contact Information

American Association for the Deaf-Blind – www.aadb.org

Deaf-Blind Young Adults in Action – www.educ.ttu.edu/africablogor www.aadb.org/advocacy/2009/db_young_adult_in_action.html

Amy Parker – www.educ.ttu.edu/edsp/Faculty/amy_parker.php

Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services, Division of Blind Services – www.dars.state.tx.us/dbs/deafblind.shtml

Global Explorers – www.globalexplorers.org/

Helen Keller National Center – www.hknc.org/index.html

Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Deafblind Outreach (Texas Deafblind Project) – www.tsbvi.edu/outreach/deafblind/index.htm

Jenny Lace, Texas Deafblind Project – 512-206-9389 or

National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness – www.nationaldb.org/index.php

People to People Student Ambassadors – www.peopletopeople.com/OurPrograms/SAP/Pages/default.aspx

Jason’s Journal blog – http://jacorning.blogspot.com

Photo: girl and boy wearing event t-shirts

Edwina Wilkes, CTVI. COMS, New Caney Independent School District

Abstract: The author describes many activities available in the community involving learning or practicing Expanded Core Curriculum skills, with a particular emphasis on Orientation and Mobility

Keywords: Expanded Core Curriculum, orientation and mobility, community based instruction, recreation and leisure.

There are so many important things for our students with visual impairments to learn, but not all of them are academic. I’d like to share some ideas of how we teach skills in the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) in our district, a small community north of Houston. Some of these things we do with the students at school and some we work with parents at home. We have great kids that are willing to try just about anything. We encourage them to try everything, and choose what really turns them on. Teaching the kids and their families about the ECC is so important, and we do our best to educate. One of my early lessons as a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS) and Certified Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (CTVI) was this: a parent is going to continue to do things for their child until the child tells them, “I can do it myself.” In my early years, I kept telling the parents “…let Tommy do it for himself.” Then one day Tommy turned to his mother who was dutifully buttoning his coat, and said to her rather sharply, “Stop it! I can do it!” Mom looked at her son and said, “Well OK, then show me.” Tommy took forever to get those four buttons just right, but he did it independently and right in front of his mother. It was then she began to believe that maybe her son would not have to have someone at his side every moment. Now that is potential independence!

O & M Activities Away From School

  • Listen to a train go by. Get out of the car and stand as close as you dare. Talk about the sounds, vibrations, safety, etc.
  • Visit a nearby park with friends. Break into pairs or small groups. Group A is responsible for drawing a map as you walk. Group B is responsible for searching for leaves. Group C is responsible for writing down sounds we hear. Group D is responsible for safety. Group E… We always have each kid make a lunch while we are at the park. We always do tree rubbings and the kids love it! When possible we take a “boy leader” and a “girl leader” that are a couple of years older than the group.
  • Each year we take about ten kids who are 10 years old and above to a climbing wall with a great zip line. The benefits are really beyond words. Parents are invited and this year our bus driver climbed as well!
  • Tandem bike rides are fun but we only have one bike. This has been great for balance, coordination, and good cardiovascular exercise.
  • Firefighters are great at talking with the kids about the gear they use, what they sound like with the helmet and oxygen (very Darth Vader), and even demonstrating how they would carry or pull them. They will work with very small groups and allow the kids to handle their gear.
  • Emergency medical technicians (EMT’s) are also good with our students and will show them equipment and techniques.
  • Simple scavenger hunts requiring following written, recorded, or verbal directions or instructions to specific destinations.
  • We have several braille students that write to each other, and the VI teachers “deliver” the mail. The rule is you have to ask two things and tell two things. The letter can be as long as the student likes. They cover everything from grades, teacher’s names, favorite foods, movies, and of course, television and music likes and dislikes.
  • Go to Hermann Park and roll down the big hill < www.hermannpark.org>.
  • Talk to your kids about turns and landmarks as you drive.
  • Go to the library at story time.
  • Take the tour of Minute Maid Park .
  • Practice O&M skills in the mall early in the morning with the “walkers” .
  • City bus ride or train ride.

Other Expanded Core Activities

  • Learn to tie shoes (we use a board that is laced with two thick and different color and textures of laces).
  • Play in a lawn sprinkler.
  • Learn to swim.
  • Art projects. I like pasta art.
  • Make homemade ice cream.
  • Go on a picnic.
  • Anything to do with money.
  • Plant a garden.
  • Learn to play cards, dice, and board games.

By Marjie Wood, M.Ed., Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist, Certified Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments, Austin Independent School District, Austin, TX

Abstract: the author describes motor routines, an instructional approach designed to teach motor and movement, orientation and mobility, and other skills.

Keywords: blind, orientation and mobility, early childhood, motor skills.

“Movement is life. It is in all we do on a daily basis…for children, movement is also the natural learning medium. It is the means by which they explore the environment, learn how it functions, and interact with it.” (Rosen, 1997).

“Learning occurs best when the child is a participant and in a manner that initially involves the child’s body.” (Pogrund and Fazzi, 2002).

Movement is essential to every living being. For our infants and toddlers who are visually impaired, I believe that movement should also be fun. Too often our little ones have experienced being touched and moved for procedures which are negative and painful. As an Orientation and Mobility (O&M) Specialist working with parents and children, conveying the idea that movement can be fun has truly yielded many unforeseen benefits. I would like to share with you some routines I have been using in O&M lessons with babies and toddlers for the past 12 years. Each routine is tailored to each student’s needs and abilities, so I’ve had the opportunity to introduce families to the excitement and fun of moving, and ultimately purposeful movement through the use of routines. Two of the favorite routines are a motor-music routine and a swinging routine. Before trying either one of these, it is always best to talk with the child’s parents, therapists, and other service providers as well as observing them in various situations before planning specific routines. Initially, it is best to have another adult or therapist help you with the transitional movements and static positions.

Motor-movement Routine

Materials needed

Musical Tape or CD Switch-adapted cassette, CD, or MP3 player Big Mac with battery interrupter Ball Wooden textured musical stick Blanket A voice to sing along with the songs

For music, I particularly like Disney Babies: Playtime. I have used it since it first came out in 1998, and it still can usually be found on CD. Each song starts with an instrumental introduction and follows with singing. The instrumental portion at the beginning of each song allows enough time to transition the child in preparation for the song, and can build anticipatory skills. I prefer to use six songs, with the first song dedicated entirely to preparing and transitioning the child for the routine.

Goals and Benefits

The child will gain skills in the following areas:

  • Cognitive: cause and effect; anticipation; body part awareness and positional concepts; communication.
  • Motor: kinesthetic and proprioceptive, body awareness; transitional movements; grasping; balance; coordination; trunk and head control.
  • Sensory: use of visual skills, tactile skills, and listening skills.

The Routine

  1. The first song is played while the adult prepares the child for the routine. I initially start the music from a distance, and bring the child closer or vice versa. For an object to associate with the activity, I use Winnie the Pooh, which is easy enough for little fingers to grasp. I present the bear saying, “(child’s name), it’s teddy bear time.” We arrange our position and I place the portable recorder in front of the child. We are ready to start our routine before the first song ends. If the child has difficulty in being on his tummy, I often will wait for the second song to begin before attempting that position.
  2. “Hickory Dickory Dock” is great for encouraging tummy time. Sometimes we have to try different positions at first. I introduce the Big Mac switch, encouraging the child help press the switch. This can be used as a way to distract the child’s focus from being on her tummy. Concepts of up and down are involved. As you sing along, having your voice go up when singing the word “up”, and down when singing the word “down”. This song is great for body part awareness, especially by giving gentle pressure to the joints.
  3. During the “Dancing Arms” instrumental the child makes the transition from on the tummy to sitting in my lap. Singing this song can be great for awareness of arms, shoulders and some stretching, as well as concepts such as up/down, high/low, and circles.
  4. The “Ball for Baby” instrumental transition may be auditory, bringing a bell ball toward the child. The child may stay in your lap; transition to the floor either on his side, back, or tummy; over your legs; or even getting onto his knees to work over the ball if it’s large enough to do so. This song is great because you’re not limited in what you can do with a ball. Some of our babies equate balls with therapy. So, I have used them to give input into certain joints or body parts, all the while carefully watching the child’s comfort level.
  5. “Little Cowpoke”, one of the children’s and parents’ favorites, has probably elicited the most smiles! We transition our position to having the child straddle my leg. If the child doesn’t have trunk or head control, you will need to support him with your upper body. Sometimes you may need to recline a bit. This is a great bouncing song. While supporting the child’s head and neck if necessary, also try to support his arms. Yes, you’ll look and feel like an octopus, or wish you had that many legs. However, once you’re able to support the child you can not only provide the bouncing, but when it’s time to “whoa” you can also give some feedback to their shoulders. This takes some practice, so do the best you can.
  6. During “Itsy Bitsy Spider” we begin by transitioning from a sitting position to prone on the tummy. In this position, the child is again able to be supported over your leg, and can access the Big Mac. I emphasize the concepts of up and down. I like to have this last song be very calming.

Adaptations

This routine can be overstimulating for some children. Knowing your child and what he or she can tolerate is of utmost importance. It’s important that the child learns about the world of movement and fun, rather than trying to get through a routine that will eventually be “fun”. The number of songs can be shortened, and the music can even be stopped when necessary. This routine can be adapted to a variety of children, including both those who are non-ambulatory and those who are walking!

Swinging Routine

Materials needed

Strong blanket that’s large enough for 2 adults to hold while swinging child. Two strong backs Voices for singing

Goals and Benefits

The child will gain skills in the following areas:

  • Cognitive: cause and effect; anticipation; movement; communication.
  • Motor: movement; sequencing of purposeful movement to indicate “more”; transitional movements.
  • Sensory: kinesthetic and proprioceptive awareness; use of visual skills.
  • Social/Emotional: bonding with parents/ family.

The Routine

When swinging, two people will hold the blanket. The parent should be in front of the child, so if the child has any vision he or she may have the opportunity to look at the parent. Additionally, the parent can benefit from observing the sheer joy on their child’s face.

When singing I prefer to have two different tunes, one for swinging forward and back, and the second for swinging side-to-side. I usually sing the tune of the direction the child likes to be swung; for example, if Tommy likes to be swung from side to side better, I’ll sing “Side to side, side to side, Tommy’s swinging side to side, side to side, side to side, Tommy’s swinging side to side.” As I sing this, I present him with the blanket we’ll be using. Depending on his ability to move, we’ll either place him or roll him into the center of the blanket. For swinging side-to-side, the adults need to place themselves at the child’s head and feet. Also depending on what the child can tolerate, this is a great time to help the child “transition” from lying to a sitting position before being raised in the blanket. The song is then sung two times, and at the completion of the second round, is gently placed on the floor. I then follow the recommendations for eliciting a response from Every Move Counts.

When the child’s method of communicating is recognized and becomes more consistent, we begin to roll the child off the blanket until he is lying on his back on the floor. We ask if he wants “more”. With the blanket touching his body, any body movement will be recognized as a signal for “more”. With assistance, we slowly and carefully roll him to the center of the blanket and repeat the swinging routine. We usually find that if the child has some vision, he may start to look in the direction of the blanket, or may start to move his body in the direction of the blanket. We make sure to roll the child in and out of the blanket in both directions. Also, we allow the child the opportunity to swing from front to back and side to side. The front-to-back song is also sung with the child’s name being mentioned: “Lila’s swinging forward and back, forward and back, forward and back, Lila’s swinging forward and back.”

As with any activity, whenever we notice discomfort, fatigue, pain, or any adverse reaction, the activity is immediately stopped. But we always try to avoid problems in the first place by initially checking with the parents, therapists, and anyone else who’s involved with the child. Caution also must be taken with children who have g-tubes, shunts, or any medical issues.

Routines can provide predictability, consistency, safety and comfort. Once the child is secure in knowing what’s going to happen, we can also say that routines can be enjoyable, providing children and their families an opportunity to have fun together!

References:

Korsten, J. (1995). Every move counts: A sensory based approach to education. The Psychological Corporation, USA.

Rosen, S. (1997). In Blasch, Weiner & Welch (Eds.) Foundations of orientation and mobility, second edition (p. 170). American Foundation for the Blind Press, New York.

Pogrund, R.L. & Fazzi, D.L. (2002) Early focus: Working with young blind and visually impaired children and their families, second edition. (p. 343). American Foundation for the Blind Press, New York.

Fall 2008 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By KC Dignan, TSBVI Outreach

Texas Fellows is a program that recognizes and applauds those who have been instrumental in helping someone to become a VI professional: either certified as an O&M specialist or to teach students with visual impairments.  A TEXAS FELLOW can be a parent, teacher, rehabilitation specialist or another VI professional.

People are eligible to become recognized as a TEXAS FELLOW if their candidate started their first VI-related training program after May 15, 2008.

It is easy to join the TEXAS FELLOWS.  Just complete the application form you receive by calling KC Dignan at 512-206-9156, emailing <>, or by downloading an application from our website .

TEXAS FELLOW and their candidate each receive the following benefits:

  • special recognition at all statewide functions sponsored by TSBVI;
  • recognition for 1 year in TX SenseAbilities; and
  • a $50 Gift Certificate redeemable at the TSBVI Curriculum/Publications site. 
Fall 2008 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By Beth Dennis, Children’s Consultant, DBS

 

With everything you wanted to know about your health, this website is pretty cool!  It has sections on the brain, heart, skin, muscles, bones, feet, waist, joints, back, ears, eyes, and more!  The section on the eyes includes vision loss simulators. There are interactive games and quizzes!  Really, it’s pretty cool (did I already say that?).  Check it out:

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Fall 2008 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

KC Dignan, Ph.D., Professional Preparation Coordinator,

Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired

Abstract: There is a significant need for new teachers of students with visual impairments and orientation and mobility specialists to work with students in public schools.  This article encourages current professionals working in the field of visual impairment to consider the need and recruit others, especially current teachers, into the field.

Keywords: Visual impairment, blindness, personnel preparation, teacher training.

 

Who Are VI Professionals in Texas?

TSBVI has conducted a statewide annual needs assessment since 1996.  This assessment surveys each education service center (ESC) about the VI professionals in the region and anticipated need.  This descriptive data is used for numerous purposes when data about VI professionals is needed.  These include grant applications, planning for the future, and responding to inquiries from various sources.

In October 2007, Texas had 857 full- and part-time VI professionals to serve the 7,967 students identified in the 2007 Annual Registration of Students with Visual Impairments

Texas employs 72 people who function as dually certified VI professionals, providing both O&M and VI teacher services.  Many more people hold both certificates, but only those who provide both services are counted in this survey.  Dually certified professionals can provide a district with greater flexibility, although additional administrative and service delivery challenges also exist.

Direct Service Providers

*FTE = Full-Time Equivalent.  FTE totals represent part-time x .5 + full-time.

(Numbers include 72 dually certified VI professionals)

 

New Positions, Attrition, And Projected Attrition

Each year the number of students with visual impairments increases by 3% (on average).  Sometimes a student may be added to an existing caseload without much of a change in services for the rest of the students.  However there comes a point when any additional students affect the quality of services for all students. As a result, we are in constant need for new VI professionals.

In 2007, Texas added 43 new positions, a significant increase from 2005 when only 25 new positions were added.   The chart above shows the trend for new VI professionals since the data has been collected.  During that same time, the number of students with visual impairments jumped from 6,002 to 7,967, or about 33%.  The number of VI professionals increased by 4.8% during that same time period.

A possible factor for the lack of advocacy for and filling of new positions is the administrators’ confidence that the position can be filled.  In 3 separate surveys over a 9 year period, administrators have told us that their willingness to advocate for a new or additional VI position is directly related to their confidence they can fill the position.

You can help administrators, and your students by being an active recruiter.  Each year VI professionals leave this field, either for other jobs or retirement.  Much has been written about the increasing trend for educators to retire.  The annual needs assessment collects data about attrition within the last year and projected attrition over the next 3 years.  In 2007 the data showed a marked increase in both areas: attrition and projected attrition.

 

Actual and projected attrition

Of concern is reflecting on the actual versus the projected 3-year attrition.  This data has been gathered since 2000.  A review of the actual versus the projected shows that, on average, the VI consultants at the ESC under-project by 21%.  So in fact we may need closer to 137 VI professionals.

In addition, we will also need 80 full-time-equivalent (FTE) VI professionals to serve the anticipated annual increase of 3%.  If allowing for part-time professionals, we will need even more. Combined, we will need 193 VI professionals just to maintain current services.

In the meantime, we are consistently hearing anecdotal reports of increased caseloads and significant difficulties in meeting students’ needs.  We also hear services for many caseloads are far from ideal, and that administrators have difficulty hiring new or additional VI professionals.

By becoming a more effective and active recruiter, you can make a difference for students beyond your caseload—beyond your child.

 

Identified need for VI professionals

The VI consultants also identify a need for VI professionals in the shorter (12-24 months) and longer range (24-36 months).  When asked about projected need, they consider factors such as growth within the region and projected attrition.

Need for VI professionals within:

 

How can I use this information?

Each of us who are concerned about students with visual impairments are recruiters.  However, knowing who to talk to and what to say can be a challenge.

Research done in 2003 has given us hints on likely targets and effective messages to share with them.

 

Likely VI professionals

According to the research, the most likely future VI professionals include the following individuals who have had contact with a child or adult with a visual impairment:

  • Special education teachers
  • General education teachers
  • People involved in disability-related work, such as O.T.s, social workers and others
  • Parents and other caretakers, including paraprofessionals.

Think about those people who have asked you questions, who have challenged you to provide better services.  This may include the science teacher who asks about teaching the circulatory system or wonders how to translate images seen under a microscope.  Or the paraprofessional who provides exemplary services, acting as a bridge to independence, not a barrier or personal servant. It may also include the P.E. teacher who is concerned about teaching and using spatial or environmental concepts effectively.  These people may be future VI teachers or O&M specialists.

 

What to say to my candidates

Knowing what to say is just as important as knowing to whom to say it.  Research shows us that there are 4 areas that current VI professionals identify as important.  Each of these areas is followed by sample ways to incorporate the concept into everyday conversation.

Working in a non-traditional job and/or with non-traditional students

  • “When I was a reading teacher, I had to focus on the curriculum; now the needs of each of students are my focus.”
  • “Because I work with my students one at a time, during our O&M lessons I get to function as a life-coach for my students.”

Making a difference

  • “When I was teaching 135 students at the middle school, I began to feel like I was ‘renting’ the students for 50 minutes; now I get to focus on each of my 14 students, and really get to know them.”
  • “I know that I will be working with a child for years, and that what I do will really shape that child’s life.”

Stimulating, challenging

  • “When I was a science teacher, I knew exactly what I would be teaching during the 2nd week of each November. It was getting monotonous.  Now each week and each year is different. I love it.”
  • “A change of even two students can change my whole caseload.  It’s great!  I never get tired of what I do.”

Leadership

  • “When I was in the classroom I felt like I was one of many, that there was nothing special about me as a professional.  Now parents and administrators look to me for advice and leadership.”
  • “I wanted more.  I was considering getting my mid-management certification, but didn’t really want the headaches of managing a building. Now, I get to model my leadership skills to my students, and help them become the leaders of their own lives.”

These sample phrases can help you think about what to say when you next meet a future VI professional.

 

The next step…

Making a mid-career change is a big deal.  Don’t worry if it takes your candidate a year to make the change.  That is typical.  You can shorten the time, and make sure they don’t lose interest by volunteering to be an “application buddy.”  An “application buddy” helps the candidate to find his or her way through the application process, which can be complicated.  In education in general, 50 – 75% of interested applicants drop out at this stage.  Don’t let it happen to your candidate.  Just volunteer to meet with them at the coffee shop for a coffee and cookie while you complete the applications together.

 

More information and help is available

Contact KC Dignan, PhD. for more information about:

  • effective recruiting techniques;
  • tools to assist you as a recruiter;
  • training programs for VI professionals, including costs and timelines;
  • general information about being a VI professional; and
  • being recognized as a recruiter in Texas through our Texas Fellows program

 

You can reach KC at <>, or 512-206-9156.  Information is also available on our website: .