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A Publication about Visual Impairments and Deafblindness for Families and Professionals

TX SenseAbilities - Fall 2017

Excerpts from TSBVI website

Abstract:  This article provides information about TSBVI Summer Programs

Key Words:  Blind, Visually Impaired, TSBVI, summer programs.

TSBVI Summer Programs (June - July) include a variety of enrichment classes for VI students of all ability levels. Classes vary in length from 4 days to 5 weeks. The Summer Programs schedule changes each year. The deadline for Summer Program applications is February 14 and should be submitted by the local TVI as early as possible.

For additional information regarding TSBVI Summer Programs please refer to the TSBVI website or contact the Summer Programs Administration Team Phoebe Williams at 512-206-9241, or Wendy Erickson at 512-206-9332.

Elementary Summer Enrichment

Students in this program practice and apply skills they have learned at home and at school, within the context of fun activities. In past summers, students have enjoyed activities such as touring a farm, doing a scavenger hunt in a Chinese market, visiting museums, and exploring a steam engine. Each class is built around a high-interest theme for this age level such as “Project STEM”, “Lost in Space!”, “Time Travellers”, “Cook & Create”, “Transition to Middle School” and “Nature Detectives".

Students have opportunities to practice Expanded Core Curriculum skills as they make and follow schedules, create shopping lists, manage a simple budget, keep up with belongings, organize materials, measure ingredients, write thank-you letters, and Interact with others. An invaluable part of the program is the opportunity to interact with other students with visual impairments. Sharing experiences about challenges they face at home and school can alleviate feelings of isolation and increase confidence. Students begin early friendships that may continue for years.

Secondary Enrichment (SE)

Secondary Enrichment (SE) offers countless opportunities for fun and learning for middle or high school students with visual impairments. The topics offered vary, but classes may include beginning food preparation, running a catering business, general physical fitness to PE for SBOE credit, art, theater arts, career education, technology, and travel in the community. Classes give students opportunities to develop their academic and technology skills, practice orientation and mobility, and enhance their social, independent living, and self-determination skills, both on and off campus.

SE classes are for middle- or high-school students with visual impairments who meet these criteria:

  • 12 years of age or older, up through the summer after their high school graduation.
  • Able to participate well in group activities, with limited one-on-one assistance.
  • Moderately to largely independent in areas such as eating, dressing, personal hygiene, communication, and mobility.
  • Have no challenging behaviors that interfere with the instruction of self or others.
  • Can complete the full length of the class to which they are admitted.
  • Secondary students who function four or more grade levels below their age expectation should apply for the Practical Experiences in Expanded Core (PEEC).

Practical Experiences in Expanded Core (PEEC)

Practical Experiences in Expanded Core (PEEC) offers a fun, dynamic, learning experience for your student who:

  • Is age 6-22
  • Currently receives some or all instruction in an alternative academic setting (e.g., resource, life skills classroom)
  • May benefit from supports with communication, social, and independent living skills
  • Is able to be away from home for 1 to 2 weeks
  • Can participate safely in small group activities with moderate support

In the PEEC Program, students are grouped into self-contained classes of about 5 students of similar age and ability. Students will participate in a variety of activities and projects, both on and off campus, that address such skills as:

  • Shopping
  • Working in the kitchen
  • Personal care
  • Vocational skills
  • Community transportation
  • Practical academics (math, literacy, etc.)
  • Concept development
  • Physical fitness
  • Peer and adult interactions
  • Problem solving
  • Choice making and self-advocacy
  • Recreation and leisure

Summer Work Experience in Austin, Texas (SWEAT) Ages 17-22

June 11 - July 13

The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired is excited to collaborate with the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) to host Summer Work Experience in Austin, Texas (SWEAT). SWEAT is a five-week experiential learning program designed to prepare students for independence and success after high school. This program will provide:

  • Intensive training in Expanded Core Curricular skills with a particular focus on independent living skills, orientation and mobility skills, and social skills
  • Lessons on relevant employability skills
  • An individual, paid job opportunity in the Austin community supported by a job coach

Requirements to Apply

  • Students should function within approximately 3 years of grade level
  • Students should be able to work alone at a job placement
  • Students must be on the VR services caseload of TWC. It is not sufficient to be on their children’s caseload. If you are uncertain about your status, contact your TWC Transition Counselor as soon as possible.
  • In order to determine learning goals for SWEAT, students are required to participate in Pre-SWEAT. 

Student Expectations

  • Students are expected to complete in-class assignments and homework assignments related to employability and independent living skills.
  • Students are expected to use a cane for mobility at all appropriate times.
  • Students are expected to spend weekends on campus during SWEAT. Students will be given permission for one off-campus weekend during the program.
  • Students will earn a training fee approximately equivalent to the minimum wage after deductions. From this fee, students will be expected to pay a minimal amount for living expenses. The purpose of this activity is to help students learn to budget and pay bills. Beyond these expenses, students may use their earnings as they wish.

Pre-SWEAT April 21-23

Pre-SWEAT is designed to help students develop an awareness of their strengths and needs in key areas of the Expanded Core Curriculum prior to beginning SWEAT. It also provides the opportunity for SWEAT staff to begin developing relationships with students. Students will collaborate with a job coach and and O&M instructor to complete assessment activities in the following areas: 

  • Assistive Technology
  • Independent Living Skills
  • Social Skills
  • Orientation and Mobility

Afterward, students will meet with their job coaches to develop goals to guide their learning for the duration of the five week SWEAT program.

Working and Living in the Community (WALIC) Ages 16-22

June 18 - July 13

The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired is excited to provide students with vocational and independent living experiences this summer through WALIC. In WALIC, emphasis is placed on developing independent living and community access skills, as well as promoting personal responsibility and initiative, during work and throughout all other activities.

Objectives

WALIC will provide opportunities for students to:

  • Learn a variety of work routines with the support of a job coach
  • Practice social skills necessary to interact with a supervisor and co-workers
  • Manage a $30 weekly stipend received for their work by budgeting, shopping, and choosing recreational activities
  • Learn about typical household bills, writing and cashing checks, and the cost of apartments
  • Live in dorms with 24-hour supervision and practice independent living skills such as cooking, cleaning, dressing, and personal hygiene

Requirements to Apply

  • Students must be 16-22 years of age.
  • Students must be able to work for 5 hours in a given day with moderate support from a job coach. Students work a total of approximately 16 hours per week.
  • Students should be fairly independent in their dressing, eating, toileting, hygiene, and communication abilities.
  • Students should not have challenging behaviors that interfere with the instruction of self or others. If you are unsure about your student’s behavior support needs regarding the WALIC program, please contact us to discuss appropriate placement.

Student Expectations

Students need to participate for the full four weeks of the summer program. If you have questions or concerns about a student’s ability to do this, please contact Sara Merritt, Summer Program Principal.

TX SenseAbilities - Fall 2017

Abstract:  This article provides information on grants available to assist children in obtaining health related services not covered or not fully covered by their family’s health insurance plan.

Key words:  Blind, visually impaired, medical grants, United Health Care Children’s Foundation

Families in need of financial assistance for child medical care costs are encouraged to apply today for a United Healthcare Children's Foundation (UHCCF) grant. Qualifying families can receive up to $5,000 per grant, with a lifetime maximum of $10,000 per child, to help pay for their child's health care treatments, services, or equipment not covered, or not fully covered, by their commercial health insurance plan.

Families frequently use UHCCF grants to help pay for treatments associated with medical conditions such as cancer, spina bifida, muscular dystrophy, diabetes, hearing loss, autism, cystic fibrosis, Down syndrome, ADHD and cerebral palsy. For example, families have used grants for physical, occupational and speech therapy, counseling services, surgeries, prescriptions, wheelchairs, orthotics, eyeglasses and hearing aids. To be eligible for a grant, a child must be 16 years of age or younger.

Families must meet economic guidelines, reside in the United States and have a commercial health insurance plan. Grants are available for medical expenses families have incurred 60 days prior to the date of application as well as for ongoing and future medical needs. Families do not need to have insurance through United Healthcare to be eligible. Parents or legal guardians are encouraged to apply today.

Reprinted from Parent to Parent Newsletter

TX SenseAbilities - Fall 2017

By Cheryl Fuller, Director Vocational Rehabilitation Division, Texas Workforce Commission

Abstract: The author describes a few recent changes in the Vocational Rehabilitation program and the new summer work experience program for students with disabilities.

Key words: disability, blind, visually impaired, Vocational Rehabilitation, Blind Children’s Vocational Discovery and Development Program, Summer Earn and Learn, Texas Workforce Commission, Health and Human Services Commission

It’s been an exciting year in the Texas Workforce Commission’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) programs. Just over one year ago, the VR program and staff were transferred to the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), as mandated in Senate Bill (SB) 208, 84th Texas Legislature. TWC welcomed VR staff and worked diligently to ensure a smooth transition for staff and customers. On October 1, 2017, TWC completed another SB 208 requirement: combining Blind Services and Rehabilitation Services divisions into one Vocational Rehabilitation Division. The new division features a streamlined structure that retains specialization in serving individuals who are blind or visually impaired at the state, regional and local level. VR counselors from the legacy Blind Services division will continue to serve customers with visual impairments. VR counselors will continue to specialize in serving students and those with needs in other areas of disability such as deaf and hard of hearing, and neurodevelopmental disorders. The newly combined VR Division will continue its high standards of service by providing qualified staff to serve all customers, while also seeking opportunities for efficiency, consistency and improved customer service.

TWC-VRS is also continuing to implement the many changes to the VR program that were enacted by Congress in the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) and by the Rehabilitation Services Administration in its final implementing regulations, released in the fall of 2016. One of the required changes is that each state must establish a single starting age for students with disabilities who are interested in applying for VR services. Previously, Blind Services and Rehabilitation Services divisions had different starting ages for students. Earlier this year, TWC held public meetings around the state to seek feedback on the proposed change to establish age 14 as the standard starting age to begin receiving VR services. This is an earlier starting age than the VR programs in most states, but it aligns the Texas VR program with the age by which students in special education programs in Texas schools must begin transition planning. This change became effective on October 1, 2017. TWC- VRS has been working with the Blind Children’s Vocational Discovery and Development Program (Blind Children’s Program) at the Health and Human Services Commission to ensure that this change was communicated to students and families participating in the Blind Children’s Program. We wamted to ensure that families with children aged 10-14 interested in VR Services were referred to TWC-VRS for a determination of eligibility before the change in starting age. In addition to coordinating referrals between Blind Children’s Program and TWC-VRS, both programs are working to discuss opportunities for joint activities, such as group skills trainings.

One of the most exciting programs launched by TWC this year is the Summer Earn and Learn (SEAL) program for students with disabilities who want the opportunity to gain work experience. In collaboration with the 28 local workforce development boards, over 1,500 Texas students with disabilities participated in a paid work experience with a local employer between June and August. Staff members have received numerous stories from students, parents and employers about the powerful impact of this program. Some students did such a great job that they were hired by their host employers and continue to have a part-time job during the school year. Here are their stories:

Through participation in Summer Earn and Learn, one young man completed a weeklong Job Readiness Boot Camp led by WIOA youth contractor, Goodwill Industries of Central Texas. He is quiet and shy, but demonstrated remarkable progress including leading group discussions. Over the summer, he received work experience through a job internship at an HEB grocery store in south Austin where he has continued to develop skills that compliment his strong work ethic and customer-focused mindset. His hard work and dedication impressed his supervisors so much that they want to hire him full time. “I wanted to do it to experience what a job is”, says this VR client, “so when I am ready to have a job, I will know what to do and am able to work. The other employees were so nice to me, it touched my heart.”

There is this note from a mother whose daughter participated in Summer Earn and Learn: “Thank you for telling us about the Summer Earn and Learn program! From the time she found out about it, my daughter was so excited about being in a supported job situation where she could learn job skills, gain work experience, and get paid. She was especially excited when she found she would be placed at CVS Pharmacy. It complemented her education of an Associate’s Degree of Science, as she is interested in a career as a pharmacy technician. Because of her participation in the program, her family and friends have seen her blossom with self-confidence and a sense of belonging. Thank you for helping her gain the skills that she needs to find a job that she loves.”

TWC plans to repeat this program in future years, so stay tuned for an upcoming issue of TX SenseAbilities when we will share more information about Summer Earn and Learn 2018! To find the VR office nearest you, please go to http://www.twc.state.tx.us/find-locations.

TX SenseAbilities - 2017

By Keisha Rowe, Director, Office of Independence Services, Health and Human Services Commission\

Abstract: This article gives a summary of services offered by the Blind Children's Program

Keywords: blind, visually impaired, children

The Blind Children’s Program (GCP) gives families the chance to plan for their child’s growth and skills development with trained specialists. Since the program moved from the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitation Services to HHSC in September 2016, BCP staff have been able to work closely with other HHS programs to ensure Texans have access to the services they need in order to reach their fullest potential.

While our office locations and phone numbers have changed, our services remain the same.

BCP is part of the Office of Independence Services, along with the Blindness Education, Screening and Treatment program, the Comprehensive Rehabilitation Services program and the Independent Living Services program.

The Parent’s Role

Parent and BCP staff work in partnership, using a team approach to build the best plan for the child. When families take an active role in designing services for their children, children succeed. Blind children’s specialists and rehabilitation assistants rely on families to share any concerns and barriers that may be preventing their children from obtaining the skills needed to master their goals. By providing current medical and education information, discussing their children’s challenges and needs, and sharing joys and successes, parents help tailor services to fit their child’s unique needs, growth and development.

Our Specialists

Blind children’s specialists:

  • Help children develop confidence and skills.
  • Provide training to increase independence and participation in vocational activities.
  • Provide support and training to parents and caretakers.
  • Help families in the vocational discovery and development process.
  • Provide information about additional resources.

BCP also has a DeafBlind specialist who:

  • Develops strategies to support children with combined vision and hearing loss.
  • Helps families find and access local, state and national resources.
  • Provides training and webinars for families, service providers and education interveners.
  • Works with community and resource agencies to provide services.

The BCP team is eager to work with you to ensure your child has the tools and training they need to reach their fullest potential and be successful.    

BCP is committed to providing high-quality services. To learn more, call 512-438-2404, or e-mail hhs.texas.gov/blind-childrens-program

TX SenseAbilities - Fall 2017

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

Abstract: In this article Superintendent Daugherty shares a number of changes that have occurred at TSBvI in the past 100 years.

Key Words: TSBVI, DeafBlind, blind, visually impaired

Founded by the Texas Legislature in 1856 as the Blind Asylum, The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI) has had several names and several locations over the past 161 years. The current 45th Street location in Austin was constructed in 1916, and the first classes were held in November of 1917. In conjunction with the school’s annual Parent Weekend event, TSBVI will have a small celebration in honor of this milestone on Saturday, November 11 at 2:00 PM in the school’s auditorium. The public is invited.

Records and reports from the TSBVI’s early years on 45th Street tell us that the school grew much of its own food on the campus’s 73 acres (now 40 acres). The curriculum focused heavily on music, domestic skills, and trades such as broom making and chair caning. Over time the curriculum grew to be more academic in nature. In the 1950’s many students began coming to TSBVI as a result of being administered too much oxygen as newborns in incubators. Later, an epidemic of rubella caused a large spike in the number of children with DeafBlindness. The epidemic led the school to develop curriculum and instruction related to communication skills, behavior intervention, and multiple disabilities. In the mid 1970’s the passage of federal special education law led to more and more students being educated in their local schools. During the next two decades or so, TSBVI began to develop new areas of service such as curricular publications, statewide outreach service, and short term programs, in order to support the majority of students who were in the independent school districts across the state.

The school changed its name from the Texas School for the Blind to the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired in the 1980’s in recognition that many of TSBVI’s students had low vision. Soon after, the separate program for students with DeafBlindness and multiple disabilities combined with the regular elementary, middle and high school to form what we refer to today as Comprehensive Programs. Comprehensive Programs, Short Term Programs (ISD students only), and Statewide Outreach now compose the three main service delivery arms of TSBVI, and each are among the highest quality programs of their type in the nation. The school’s curricular publications and website have grown to be highly valued resources at the state, national, and international levels.

Over the past ten years, the 1917 campus has been totally rebuilt into the modern and beautiful school we have today. An attractive campus and an outstanding mission align well at TSBVI. In practice, our mission is to look for opportunities to serve every student with a visual impairment in the state, regardless of where they attend school. This diversified service delivery model that extends well beyond the TSBVI campus has led to ever higher levels of collaboration with parents, schools, education service centers, universities and other organizations concerned with blindness and visual impairment. The continued support of the school and its mission by the Texas Legislature over the past 100 years has been an essential ingredient in TSBVI’s success, and not all schools for the blind in the U.S. have had such support from the state level. It is this support that has allowed TSBVI to develop into a center of expertise worthy of a celebration on November 11, 2017. You are welcome to join us.

tsbvi
Photo of the main entrance of TSBVI

TX SenseAbilities - Fall 2017

By Scott Baltisberger, TSBVI Outreach Education Consultant

Abstract: Some common concerns and misconceptions when addressing braille issues of  Spanish-speaking students.

Key Words: Braille, Spanish braille code, Unified English Braille

In a nation with a large immigrant population, issues regarding bilingual education for learners with visual impairment arise on a regular basis. As children from Latin American backgrounds continue to comprise the majority of students with limited English proficiency in this country, Spanish is the language that is most commonly involved in these situations.

Language can have a significant impact on any area of the Expanded Core Curriculum, of course, but it is addressing early literacy for functionally blind, Spanish-speaking students, that often appears to be particularly daunting for school staff and families alike. Bilingual education teachers have concerns that they do not know braille. Teachers of students with visual impairment worry about their lack of knowledge and experience in bilingual education. Families may wonder if learning braille should take precedence over their child’s need for native language instruction.

I’ve found these concerns are often based on limited familiarity with the Spanish braille code and how it compares to Unified English Braille. For the purposes of early braille acquisition, it is helpful to remember that the uncontracted versions of the two codes are virtually identical. Both employ the same dot configurations for all letters of the alphabet as well as most function symbols. Spanish does have an additional set of seven symbols for accented letters (á, é, í, ó, ú, ü and ñ) and there are some differences in formatting that reflect differences in the two written languages (such as Spanish having question marks and exclamation marks both before and after text). Due to the close similarity in the two codes, literacy skills gained in Spanish braille will transfer to use in English braille with relative ease.

The contracted forms do have significant differences but at this time these have little relevance for primary education programs since contracted Spanish braille materials are not widely available in this country.

Below are some common concerns and misconceptions that I’ve encountered when addressing braille issues regarding Spanish-speaking students. By sharing this document with teachers and administrators, I hope it will clarify the relationship between Spanish braille and UEB and assuage some of the worries they may feel. I am currently working on a Spanish version of the document that can be shared with parents as well.

FAQs: Spanish Braille

How does braille work? 

Braille is used throughout the world as a literacy medium for people who are blind. The system consists of a system of “cells” of six possible dots. Different configurations of dots have different meanings, either as letters, words, parts of words, punctuation or “functions”, such as capitalization or accents. Braille systems used to represent languages with different print orthographical systems, such as Japanese and English, are quite different. Systems representing languages that use similar orthographical systems, such as Spanish and English (both of which use the Latin alphabet) are quite similar.

How are Spanish braille and English braille the same?

Within both English and Spanish, there are two braille “codes”. There is an “uncontracted” code in which each braille cell represents a letter, number or punctuation mark. These codes are almost identical in English and Spanish since both languages use essentially the same orthographical system. The only real variations are that Spanish has additional braille cells to represent seven commonly occurring accented letters - á, é, í, ó, ú, ü and ñ – and also some punctuation symbols are different. In either language, a young blind student typically learns this basic, uncontracted code first.

How are Spanish braille and English braille different?

There are also “contracted” codes for both languages in which one or two braille cells represent entire words or parts of words. For this reason, there are significant differences between contracted English and Spanish braille, as the words and parts of words that are common in one language may not be common in the other. The purpose of contracted codes is to enable individuals to read with greater speed and fluency. Typically, a student learns the contracted code after they have developed some degree of literacy proficiency with the uncontracted code.

Does it cause difficulty for a student if he or she begins to learn braille in Spanish and then switches to the English braille code?

No! Just as a sighted learner is able to transfer skills and concepts of print literacy from Spanish to English, a blind student will transfer skills and concepts in uncontracted Spanish braille to uncontracted English braille. A student will not have to learn an entirely new code when moving from one language to the other. Once the student has gained proficiency with uncontracted English braille, he or she can progress to the contracted form.

In the United States, Spanish braille materials are available almost exclusively in the uncontracted code. Similarly, state-adopted materials for use in bilingual education and ESL are provided for the most part in uncontracted Spanish braille. Materials for use in Spanish language classes at the secondary level are also in uncontracted braille. For these reasons, there is little need at this time for a student to learn the contracted form of Spanish in order to benefit from educational activities in public schools.

Can a TVI who does not speak Spanish teach braille to a student with limited English proficiency who is being taught in bilingual education classes?

Yes! Every student for whom braille has been identified as his or her primary learning media must receive services from a certified teacher for students with visual impairment (TVI). The role of the TVI is to ensure that the student gains proficiency in the braille code. In situations in which a TVI does not have fluency in Spanish and is working with a student with limited English skills, the TVI should collaborate with a bilingual paraprofessional or volunteer who can address the language needs of the student during braille lessons. 

The TVI is not responsible for teaching academic subjects, such as language arts, science and math, to the braille student; this is the role of the classroom teacher. The classroom teacher is not responsible for teaching the student braille; this is the role of the TVI. With sufficient braille proficiency, the student is able to access all classroom materials provided by the classroom teacher, assuming these materials have been transcribed into braille. The classroom teacher is responsible for providing materials to the TVI prior to presenting them in her lessons with reasonable time so that they may be transcribed. Student responses will be done in braille and will also need to be transcribed to print, by the TVI, so that the classroom teacher can monitor the student’s work.

Because of the close similarities between English and Spanish braille, the TVI will be able to transcribe materials with minimal difficulty. There are a number of easy-to-read Spanish braille “cheat sheets” that provide a quick reference for a TVI working in this situation. Some example can be found at:

Hadley School

Word Press

Tech Vision

To ensure that a blind student with limited English proficiency acquires proficiency in braille and is fully integrated into general education classes, all members of the educational team should have a clear understanding of their respective roles and work together in a collaborative approach. The situation does present certain challenges, but these can be met and surmounted through ongoing communication and cooperation.

TX SenseAbilities - Fall 2017

By Kassandra Maloney, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired COMS, Certified Yoga teacher

Abstract: Yoga is a safe and effective exercise for children with visual impairment because of the gentle nature of this exercise and its tactile barrier of safety which is the yoga mat.

Key Words: yoga, exercise, motor planning, self-determination, spatial awareness, communication, literacy

There has been a lot of talk about yoga lately. Many people tout the benefits of yoga, including improved energy levels, cardiovascular health, and increased flexibility. While the general public has seen dramatic results from incorporating yoga into their lives, yoga has even more benefits for children with visual impairment.

Yoga
Photo of a young child attempting a headstand on a yoga mat.

Yoga is a safe and effective exercise for children with visual impairment. Because of the gentle nature of this exercise and its tactile barrier of safety (our yoga mats), the exercise practice of yoga boasts a plethora of benefits for children with visual impairment. 

When I first started teaching at Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI), (the ever-wonderful) Linda Hagood was teaching yoga to children with visual and multiple impairment. I was lucky enough to see firsthand the miracles that were happening with our students. These included increased skills in communication, self-determination, and literacy. Of course, as an Orientation and Mobility Specialist, I was most fascinated by the increased motor planning and spatial awareness skills. This simple form of exercise has helped to shape hundreds of lives of children with visual impairment. It can help your child improve their life as well. 

What is yoga?

Yoga is a form of exercise that focuses on both your body and your breath. The breathing component is what makes it so powerful as a tool to use after the yoga session is over. As a practice within our schools, yoga is not a form of religion or spirituality. It is simply a very accessible mode of exercise that is motivating, fun, challenging, and beneficial to people with visual impairment. 

You may have been to a yoga class or seen one depicted in the media. Just like those classes, children often use yoga mats or other soft, non-slippery surfaces to practice. People move their bodies in different poses within this space to get exercise and to focus on their breathing. As with any exercise, yoga helps make you happy, gives your heart more power, and helps release stress. Aside from the exercise benefits, our children with visual impairment benefit greatly from this practice.

Benefits of Yoga for Children with Visual Impairment

  1. Increases motor planning by having to learn new movements: Yoga poses are not typical walking, sitting, standing postures. Many of the poses are new movements for our children. As you teach your child how to move in a new way, their brain is learning new ways to plan their movements. The brain creates new pathways with this new information. Then, as they begin to plan movements off of the mat, their brains can readily pull out the information about the new movement pattern. For example, if your child has been experiencing difficulty getting their backpack off their shoulders and onto their school chair, they may start to use the twist that they learned in yoga to help them move their body and put their backpack on their chair. 
  2. Increases body and spatial awareness by having to move your body in new ways: When your child is asked to move one arm above their head, they may lift their arm out to the side. Yoga creates a safe space for the caregiver to gently help your child learn where “above” their body is. By helping the body move to the correct place around their body and the proprioceptive feedback given to the brain from the position, the child then has a better understanding of where “above” her head is. 
  3. Increases communication skills when the child is asked to communicate during the session.
  4. In typical yoga classes at a studio, a teacher often gives directions to the class and the class members move without talking. Yoga with children with visual impairment is wildly different than your “typical” class. In a yoga session with children with visual impairment, the children are often active participants in their literacy and communication. Not only are children often asked to engage with one another (if there is more than one student in the session), but they are also encouraged to engage with the teacher. They may be asked to make a choice between yoga poses, plan a story to be read within the yoga session, or engage in a conversation about the yoga session. 
  5. Increases self-determination skills by giving the students challenges that they can eventually overcome.
  6. The inherent challenges that we face when we are asked to do something new facilitate self-determination skills. Many children find yoga poses to be a fun challenge. Once they learn how to do the pose, their sense of self-determination increases immeasurably. Any exercise program that you complete once a week for at least 12 weeks has scientifically been proven to increase your self-determination skills as well. 
  7. Increases literacy when stories, lists, and other literacy is infused.
  8. When practicing yoga, many teachers use braille, large print, or tactile symbol lists to help their students practice literacy skills in a fun and engaging way.

Ready to try yoga with your child with visual impairment? 

Try incorporating these three poses into their day. You can have a separate yoga session, or incorporate these poses into a “yoga break”, where they can do a little movement between seated activities.

Sunshine Breath from seated:

Bring your hands together so that your palms touch. 

As you breathe in, keep your hands together and lift your arms up towards the ceiling. 

As you breathe out, separate your hands out to the side and bring your arms down to your sides. (Teacher’s note: Have the child place their hands on either the ground or the seat of the chair). 

Continue with this breathing pattern for 5 breaths.

Reaching Mountain Pose

Come to standing. (You can stand behind your chair, desk, or table if you were just sitting.)

Lift your arms up towards the ceiling, strong and straight. 

Feel your belly get bigger when you inhale. 

Blow out and feel your belly come down. 

Have the student breathe in and out for 3-5 breaths.

Moon Pose from standing with your arms above your head:

Hold your hands together. Interlace your fingers. (Use other words such as “glue your hands together” if those concepts work better). 

Lean over to the left. 

Breathe in, feel your belly get bigger. 

Breathe out, feel your belly come down. 

Breathe in and out for 3 breaths.

Keep your hands together, arms strong and straight, and lean over to the right. 

Breathe in, feel your belly get bigger. 

Breathe out, feel your belly come down. 

Breathe in and out for 3 breaths.

Get creative and use the words that are appropriate for your individual student. For example, if a student does not know what a ceiling is, you may want to either use the teachable moment to explore a ceiling, or use the word “sky” instead. 

Editor’s Note: We are pleased to announce that Kassandra Maloney will be a presenter at Texas Focus 2018 in Austin, Texas, March 1-3, 2018.

FAMILY WISDOM

  • The Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired: 100 Years on 45th Street

    • Abstract: In this article Superintendent Daugherty shares a number of changes that have occurred at TSBvI in the past 100 years.
    • Audio: 100 Years on 45th Street
  • 2017 TSBVI Commencement Speech: Living Life Expansively as a Blind Person in America

    • Abstract: The author highlights how it is the best of times and the worst of times to be a blind person living in America. He shares guiding principles for living a life that is not constricted by other people’s expectations and how to be a change agent.
    • Audio: Commencement Speech: Living Life Expansively as a Blind Person In America
  • Supports in Adult Life: One Family’s Solution

    • Abstract: This article discusses two types of supports that can be utilized in adult life: Customized Employment and Supported Decision Making. Supported Decision Making relates to independent living, whereas Customized Employment is an employment process.
    • Audio: One Family's Solution
  • Fast Friends

    • Abstract: The author shares her son’s experience in making a friend while attending the 13th Annual International Charge Syndrome Conference, held in Orlando July 2017.
    • Audio: Fast Friends
  • DeafBlind Camp of Texas Has a Successful Second Year

    • Abstract: The author shares about the 2017 DeafBlind Camp of Texas (DBCTX), a barrier free camp for DeafBlind adults, as well as plans for DBCTX Jr to be held in 2018.
    • Audio: DeafBlind Camp of Texas Has a Successful Second Year
  • What is ProTactile and What Are It's Benefits?

    • Abstract: ProTactile is a socio-cultural philosophy with its own sets of philosophy, attitude, culture, and language. This emerging concept has become a way of life for the DeafBlind community. ProTactile plays an significant role in DeafBlind world. Members explore the world through touch, and most importantly communicate through touch. ProTactile is a language that the DeafBlind community embraces and benefits from as a way of life.
    • Audio: What is ProTactile and What Are It's Benefits?
  • The Way Home

    • Abstract: A father describes his journey with his son, as he participated in treatment with Anat Baniel, who will be presenting at the Texas Focus Conference in March 2018.
    • Audio: The Way Home

EFFECTIVE PRACTICES

NEWS AND VIEWS

  • TSBVI Summer Programs

    • Abstract:This article provides information about TSBVI Summer Programs
    • Audio: TSBVI Summer Programs
  • Child Medical Grants Available From United Health Care Children’s Foundation

    • Abstract:This article provides information on grants available to assist children in obtaining health related services not covered or not fully covered by their family’s health insurance plan.
    • Audio: Child Medical Grants Available From United Health Care Children's Foundation
  • Vocational Rehabilitation Update

    • Abstract:The author describes a few recent changes in the Vocational Rehabilitation program and the new summer work experience program for students with disabilities.
    • Audio: Vocational Rehabilitation Update
  • Transformation and the Blind Children’s Program

    • Abstract:This article gives a summary of services offered by the Blind Children's Program
    • Audio: Transformation and the Blind Children's Program
  • Spanish Braille and English Language Learners

    • Abstract: Some common concerns and misconceptions when addressing braille issues of Spanish-speaking students.
    • Audio: Spanish Braille and English Language Learners

TX SenseAbilities - Fall 2017

By Anat Baniel

Abstract: The author describes an approach to learning and brain development involving changes In thinking.

Key Words: Neuromovement, brain plasticity, Nine Essentials, attention, movement, neuroscience.

The Nine Essentials form the core of the Anat Baniel Method. Each of the Nine Essentials describes one of the brain’s requirements for waking up and doing its job well, that is creating new connections and avoiding rigidity and automaticity when needing to overcome pain and limitation to thus reach new levels of physical and cognitive performance. It has been validated by modern science’s latest discoveries in the area of brain plasticity, the brain’s ability to change and grow new neurological pathways and connections throughout life. The Nine Essentials offer you concrete, effective and immediate ways to easily tap into your brain’s enormous potential. With the Essentials the brain becomes a brilliant problem solver, leading to breakthroughs in movement abilities, pain relief and peak performance.

Essential 1: Movement with Attention

Movement is Life. Movement helps the brain grow and form. The brain is organized through movement. In turn, it is the brain that organizes all movement: the movement of our body, our thinking, our feelings and our emotions. But movement alone is not enough. Automatic movement, movement done without attention, only grooves in the already existing patterns. When we bring attention to what we feel as we move, the brain immediately starts building billions of new neurological connections that usher in changes, learning and transformation.

Essential 2: The Learning Switch

The brain is either in a learning mode (the learning switch on) or not. Healthy young children have their learning switch on and the dial turned on “high.” Their eyes are bright, their movement lithe, and they are full of energy.

Repetition, drill, and everyday stresses, as well as habitual patterns of thought, exercise and emotions, all tend to turn the learning switch off. The same happens when a child has special challenges, or a person has suffered trauma or injury. For the brain to properly do its job, the “learning switch” needs to be on. Once on, at any age, life becomes a wonderful new adventure, filled with movement, creativity and new possibilities.

Essential 3: Subtlety

We have all heard the expressions “no pain no gain” and “try harder.” However, in order to overcome pain and limitation and thrive, the brain needs the exact opposite: less force. For the brain to receive new information it needs to perceive differences. By reducing the force with which we move and think, we increase our sensitivity. With the resulting increased sensitivity, we greatly enhance our brain’s ability to perceive the finest of differences. These perceptions give the brain the new information it needs to organize successful action and become more alive and vital in both body and mind.

Essential 4: Variation

Variation is everywhere, and is more than just the spice of life. It’s a necessity for optimum health.  Variation provides your brain with the richness of information it needs to create new possibilities in your movements, feelings, thoughts and actions. It helps increase your awareness and lifts you out of rigidity and “stuckness.” By introducing variation and playfulness into everything you do, you awaken all your senses. New ideas occur and new possibilities emerge in your life.

Essential 5: Slow

Fast, we can only do what we already know. That is how the brain works. To learn and master new skills and overcome limitation, the first thing to do is slow way down. Slow actually gets the brain’s attention and stimulates the formation of rich new neural patterns. Slow gets us out of the automatic mode in our movements, speech, thoughts and social interactions. It lets us feel and experience life at a deeper, more profound level.

Essential 6: Enthusiasm

Enthusiasm is self-generated; it is a skill you can develop, choose to do and become good at. Enthusiasm tells your brain what is important to you, amplifying whatever that is, making it stand out, infusing it with energy to grow more. Enthusiasm is a powerful energy that lifts you and inspires you and others. It lights up your brain, helping to usher in changes, transforming the most mundane situation or task, adding meaning and generating delight. Enthusiasm helps make the impossible possible.

Essential 7: Flexible Goals

“Keeping your eyes on the prize” is a great way for most people to fail. Freeing yourself from the compulsion to achieve a goal in a certain way and at a certain time keeps you open‐minded. You are available to recognize opportunities you might never have noticed had you been fixed on a too rigidly set course. There is no way to know in advance the path that will lead you to achieving your goal. Know your goal and embrace all the unexpected steps, missteps and reroutes; they are a rich source of valuable information for your brain to lead you to your goal. Flexible goals will reduce your anxiety and increase your creativity, resulting in greater success, vitality and joy.

Essential 8: Imagination and Dreams

Einstein said: “Imagination is everything. It is the preview to life’s coming attractions.” Through imagination your brain figures out new possibilities before actually having to perform. When imagining, the brain grows new neural connections. Our dreams call upon us from our future. They give us our unique life path to follow and guide our brains to continue growing and developing. Your imagination and dreams give you the ability to create something that has never been there before, transcending your current limitations and leading you to develop your authentic life path.

Essential 9: Awareness

Aware-ing: the action of generating awareness, is to be knowledgeable about what you are doing, sensing, thinking and experiencing at any given moment. Aware-ing is the opposite of automaticity and compulsion. It is a unique human capacity that can catapult us to remarkable heights. When you are aware you are fully alive and present. Your brain is working at its highest level, noticing subtle nuances of what is going on around and within you, revealing options and potentials, greatly accelerating learning. You are enlivened and joyful, contributing to others, becoming more enlightened, and fulfilling more and more of your human destiny.

Editor's note: TSBVI Outreach is pleased to announce that Anat Baniel will be the keynote presenter speaking about The Nine Essentials at Texas Focus in Austin, TX, March 1-3, 2018.

TX SenseAbilities - Fall 2017

By Sara Kitchen and Lynne McAlister, TSBVI Outreach VI Specialists

Abstract: The authors discuss cortical visual impairment, phase III and educational approaches for remediation.

Key Words: Phase III, Christine Roman-Lantzy, Christine Roman, CVI, Vision Services, Social Skills, Comparative Language, Salient Features, Cortical Visual Impairment, Literacy.

Introduction

On March 10 and 11, 2017, we attended a training sponsored by the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA, called “Assessing and Supporting the Student in Phase III CVI”. The speaker was Dr. Christine Roman-Lantzy, who has been researching Cortical Visual Impairment intensely for a number of years. In 2007, her landmark publication, Cortical Visual Impairment: An Approach to Assessment and Intervention was released by the American Foundation for the Blind (AFB) Press. It provided a comprehensive approach to assessment and intervention that focused on 10 unique characteristics associated with CVI. A revised edition is scheduled to be published in the fall of 2017. Also in the works is Dr. Roman’s new book Cortical Visual Impairment: Advanced Principles, which includes information on assessment and intervention for students with CVI, particularly those functioning in Phase III. This new book is expected to be published in the spring of 2018 by AFB Press.

Cortical Visual Impairment is the most common form of visual impairment in developed countries that primarily use western medical techniques, and is a result of neurological damage or structural differences in the brain. Dr. Roman explained that individuals with CVI develop their visual skills more slowly over time. Part of the rate of development depends on whether their environment is conducive to building neurological connections. Their vision becomes increasingly “normal” over time. In the early stages of visual development the child is learning to see and act upon what they see. Dr. Roman refers to these stages as CVI Phase I and Phase II). Theoretically a child spends a limited amount of time in Phase I, in which they learn that visual targets exist but are not yet able to use their vision when there is competing visual or other sensory input. Dr. Roman refers to Phase I as ‘building visual behavior’.  A child may spend a longer period of time in Phase II integrating visual information with other sensory information such as touch. Phase II is referred to as ‘integrating vision with function’. During Phase II, an individual must act upon and have an effect on their environment with opportunities to repeat actions. This cements neurological connections. The individual must also interact with enough environmental variance to maintain curiosity and support continued development. The brain’s dorsal stream, known as the “where” system, communicates between the eyes and brain about the locations of visual targets and is the first communication pathway to develop between the eyes and brain. This happens during Phase I and Phase II.  The ventral stream, or the “what” system, helps the eyes communicate with the brain about the classification of a visual target.  The ventral stream begins to develop in mid to high Phase II, and continues to develop throughout life.  Individuals with CVI remain in Phase III, in which the vision system approaches typical vision, for the rest of their lives.  The reason why the ten characteristics associated with CVI do not “resolve” completely is due to the fact that visual information is limited during early development, when a great deal of pruning happens in the brain.  In Phase III, the focus is on looking to learn, which can be very difficult if strategies for using and refining the ventral stream are not being targeted.  During her presentation, Dr. Roman enumerated skills that many individuals with Phase III CVI still need to develop.  She also explained how to teach those skills.

What does Phase III look like?

Cortical Visual Impairment is apparent when individuals present with ten unique visual characteristics, as defined by Dr. Roman.  These characteristics are expressed differently within each phase.  The following describes how each characteristic of CVI is manifested in Phase III:

  • Color: The individual may have been attracted to a particular color in the past, but is able to look at items that are of many colors.  The preferred color may continue to serve as a visual anchor, making visual information easier to find. The need for highlighting using color never goes away.  
  • Movement: The individual may be very easily distracted by moving items or may need to move their own body or head to see better.  
  • Latency: Students may have a first answer of “I don’t know” as a strategy to accommodate for this characteristic: they may need to spend a little longer time to attend to, discriminate, or identify a typical visual target.  If a child is having trouble responding to visual targets in Phase III it may be a sign that he or she is experiencing visual fatigue and needs a break. One good rule of thumb given by Dr. Roman is that the number of minutes on an intensely visual task should not exceed the child’s age in years.
  • Fields: The lower fields are frequently less functional for tasks. The individual may have difficulty with stairs and may be confused in an environment that has changed, such as a familiar room that has recently been reorganized. Even if an eye report states that all visual fields are intact, consider that this may only apply in the quiet, uncluttered, controlled setting of an eye doctor’s office.
  • Complexity:
    • If an object is too visually complex you may see task avoidance.
    • Salient features need to be identified to help the student build visual memory.  (See next section)
    • Complexity of Array: If too many objects are presented, the individual may not be able to pick out an object. In the classroom, preferential seating may help to decrease competing visual and auditory information. In certain settings it may help to dim lights or use spot lighting on visual targets. (Note to TVIs: When all of the APH complexity cards have been completed, this equals a score of 7 on the CVI Range.)
    • Complexity of the Sensory Environment: You may see light gazing, fatigue, rubbing eyes, changing the topic, a tantrum, or seizures if instruction is not modified by giving breaks or making the environment less stimulating.
    • Faces: Individuals will still have difficulty recognizing people by facial features alone and may rely on the face, body shape or voice to recognize a person. Eye contact does not equal facial discrimination.  
  • Light: A focus light may help the individual find or maintain focus on a visual target. Hazy days may affect vision as objects stand out less in diffused light. A backlit display like a tablet or computer screen may help to draw visual attention and make looking easier.
  • Reflexes: Protective visual blink reflexes could be typical at this phase, or slow or intermittent. A blink to threat response can be latent or intermittent if the individual is fatigued. This characteristic is the only one that may “resolve” completely and not interfere with visual performance.
  • Novelty: Visual curiosity is seen at Phase III, though just the ability to look at new materials does not mean that novelty is no longer interfering with vision. Individuals must learn to look for features of visual targets that are familiar. What is it similar to? What makes it different? What could it be? (See section below on Comparative Language.) Processing novelty requires an ability to access a visual library, which in individuals with CVI must be developed through strategies and intervention.
  • Visual Motor: Many times individuals with Phase III CVI are able to look at and act upon an object simultaneously. Characteristics such as novelty or complexity may affect this skill.  An individual builds sensory concepts based upon multiple experiences of physically interacting with objects.
  • Distance: An individual with Phase III CVI may continue to have trouble identifying objects and people in complex environments such as crowds or when distance results in increased visual clutter.  Distant visual targets may not be recognized due to this interference.

Building a Visual Library and Strengthening the Ventral Stream

Dr. Roman refers to two informational streams within the brain that require development through organized, mindful intervention for an individual with CVI. The first to develop is the dorsal stream, or the “where” system. Typically this is the dominant informational stream in Phases I and II.  The dorsal stream alerts a person to where an item is in space and does not discriminate details about the object.  Initially the individual may just become aware that something is there.  The sense of exactly where an object is in space develops next during Phase II.  Last to develop is the ventral stream, or the “what” system. This enables an individual to enlist visual memory to recognize, discriminate, and then eventually to identify visual targets. Guided practice is required to bring attention to elements that make an item recognizable, then discriminable, and finally, identifiable. Teachers and parents may help an individual with Phase III CVI view internal details using modifications, discussing internal details, and comparing them with familiar visual items.

Identifying salient features and comparing them to familiar objects utilizes an individual’s ventral stream. This results in a faster and more efficient visual process.  When the ventral stream is faster, less work is required to access the visual library and identify objects. Visual processing becomes easier.

Salient Features

Salient features are the distinctive and recognizable visual elements that define an item such as internal details, shape, color, pattern, etc. What visual features do animals have? Four legs and a tail? Do all dogs have floppy ears?  Do all cats have pointy ears? Individuals with CVI may need help directing their attention to these types of details. When targeting an item, encourage the individual to use their own descriptors to identify salient features; for example, a picture of a coiled snake might look like a rolled up garden hose the individual has had direct experience with. Joint attention is required for discussing salient features. Both the adult and the child must be looking at the same feature. It is best to follow the child’s lead as this reflects their current understanding and visual perception of the salient feature. Salient features that somebody else perceives as important about the item may not even be seen by the child. As you follow the child’s lead, assist them in choosing two or three visual descriptors and consistently use those to help them remember what the important details are. Team members should be aware of which visual descriptors the child has chosen for a targeted item and be consistent in using them to provide the child with less confusion and more time to practice.

Comparative Language

Comparative language is the way to talk about salient features and establish joint attention. Using comparative language encourages the analysis of visual targets to discover how certain features make them the same as or different than items that are already in the individual’s visual library. Joint attention is required for understanding what items are foremost in an individual’s visual library and what may be missing. After new visual items are fully understood, they can be added to the visual library. As the visual library is grown and accessed more, the ventral stream is strengthened. We use comparative language to discuss, practice, and cement visual memories and tie new information to those visual memories.

Literacy

Visual literacy media could include objects, pictures, or letters and words. In order for an individual to be able to use letters and words, they must show that they are not only able to identify, discriminate and produce phonemes, but also to identify visual details. This signals that the ventral stream has begun to work. All the components of reading should be taught including phonemic awareness. Letter-sound production and recognition must be intact in order to make words and letters have meaning. Photographs of real objects and settings taken with complexity considerations can continue to serve to support memory, just as pictures in books support memory and understanding for a typical learner. The whole alphabet does not have to be known before literacy instruction with letters and words begin, in fact, letter drilling should be avoided. Teaching literacy should be child-guided and fun. Make use of all four approaches to literacy: phonics, personal experience, participation, and whole words. Each approach contains important components that support reading competency.

Most fluent readers look at the shape of a word while reading instead of looking at all of the letters. Even if a word is degraded, a fluent reader can fill in the blanks and determine the correct word fairly quickly. Individuals with CVI benefit from instruction in word shapes. Start by picking two words that are important to the child. These two words should differ greatly in shape and be able to be discriminated easily without any of the internal details, or letters. Words should be outlined in the student’s preferred color. The shape of the word can be discussed, comparing parts of the word to familiar items.  Encourage your student to come up with the language to describe the shape, such as “orange” starts with a ball shape. An orange is also ball-shaped.  As you begin, use lower case letters as they are easier to interpret.  

Often students in Phase III have many negative associations with reading due to lack of success.  High interest words that have been identified by the child and that are visually different will be easier for them to recognize and discriminate.  This will provide the student with a sense of accomplishment with reading that they may never have felt before.  Have them match the shape with the cut out shape on a piece of black paper, like a puzzle. As the child begins to more easily identify word shapes according to the student-identified salient features, begin to embed the words in short and simple connected text about the high-interest word. Ask the child to pick out the familiar word shape as you read the other words. Now you are reading together.

A black paper with the outlined shape of the word "swimming" cut out of it, next to the black cut out of the word and the word swimming, outlined in yellow, and cut out. All are glued to magnet paper and are presented on the white, magnetic side of the “All-In-One Board” from American Printing House for the Blind (APH).

The Impact of CVI on Social Skills

In Phase III, CVI characteristics such as difficulty with visual novelty, complexity, and detecting information at a distance can affect an individual’s perception of social behavior. Social behavior is communicated largely through subtle facial expression, body language, and group action. Social skills are learned through imitation of these behaviors.  Social Behaviors that are not perceived cannot be imitated. Factors that put children with CVI at risk in the area of social skills include:

  • Difficulty with discrimination of faces, facial expression, and mood
  • Learning from visual imitation may be challenging
  • Inability to deal with new, unfamiliar visual materials
  • Busy and unfamiliar environments can’t be understood or safely negotiated
  • Activities occurring at a distance are missed

Mediated playgroups or play buddies may help children develop social skills.  In these settings complexity may be reduced by having fewer participants.  The children should be encouraged to play together and work out their issues without the adult.  The adult may help by describing what other kids are doing and may be more of a facilitator, but not a play partner.  A social assessment and curriculum may be used to address specific social skills.  Goals and objectives in the area of social skills should be considered a necessary targeted area on the IEP.

Tasks that require the use of vision throughout the day to learn content, such as reading and writing, navigating environments using visual cues at a distance, and learning social skills will continue to be challenging for an individual with CVI functioning at Phase III.  Much guidance is required at this phase for students to have success.  A knowledgeable professional can provide this guidance for areas In which CVI characteristics continue to interfere with learning.  This person can also work with the team so that they can begin to understand the impact of CVI, which may be invisible to many, and provide necessary accommodations such as pre-teaching, sensory breaks, preferential seating, reduced noise in the environment, a study buddy, etc.

Conclusion

Interfering visual characteristics are the least obvious in Phase III CVI as compared with the other Phases. The student’s vision is used throughout the day and in many different environments. However, these characteristics continue to interfere with vision and visual fatigue is significant. Unfortunately, the services of a teacher of the visually impaired are often reduced for these students. Appropriate interventions for literacy and social skills require highly specialized knowledge and skills. It is suggested that services from a TVI should be maintained rather than decrease for a student in Phase III CVI.  

Editors Note:

TSBVI Outreach is pleased to announce that Dr. Roman-Lantzy will speak at the Texas Focus 2018 Pre-Conference on March 1 about Phase III Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI). She will present two sessions during Texas Focus Conference on March 2nd. One session will provide participants with a view into Dr. Roman’s new work. The second will be a question-answer session with Dr. Roman.