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Cyral Miller, Director, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Outreach Program

Abstract: The author discusses local, regional and statewide resources which can provide information and support to families with blind school aged and transition aged students with visual impairment

Keywords: visually impaired, education, Texas

Do you know where to turn when you have questions about your child's development or academic progress?  There are hundreds of online sites to explore visual impairment or deafblindness in general and some about more common eye conditions.  An earlier article in TXSenseAbilities described some of the components that parents can look for to see whether their child's program meets quality standards related specifically to their unique sensory functioning. (See the resources section.)

Still, it can be difficult to apply all that information to your own child's situation.  Perhaps you have a very young child or a child who just recently was identified as having a visual impairment - all the new jargon can be daunting.  Even if you have been parenting a child with sensory impairment for many years, new milestones and new challenges often prompt new questions.  Where do you go for the more personalized answers you need? Luckily, in the state of Texas there is a strong network for supporting families who have questions about their child's development and educational program.   Here is how to access the help you need:

1. Start local!

Find out who your child's teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) is.  By Texas state law, every student with a visual impairment that qualifies them for special education must have a TVI as part of their IEP team (Texas Administrative Code). This is the person most likely to understand the impact of your child's visual and/or other sensory impairments on overall learning.  Your local TVI (and/and COMS, if your child receives orientation and mobility services) will likely be your primary school-based resource.

Spread across the state, as well, are representatives from the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services' Division of Blind Services. You can find their website at http://www.dars.state.tx.us/dbs. The Blind Children's Vocational Discovery and Development Program and the Transition Program, which is part of Vocational Rehabilitation, provide support for children in schools, and life planning guidance for adolescents and young adults.  Their representatives will help families prepare for IEP meetings and will attend with you. They can help you access training and meet other families in your area. To find the nearest office, check on their website or call DARS/DBS at 1-800-628-5115.

2. Look for regional resources

The state of Texas is well known for its size; we're gigantic!  To ensure that information flows to all, there is a network of 20 Education Service Centers (ESCs), linked directly with the Texas Education Agency.  At each region, there is a VI Specialist and in some regions a Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist as well.  You can find the name and contact information for each ESC at the TEA website, http://tea.texas.gov.  These experienced VI professionals are there to support local districts and typically are available to visit with parents and local teams.  Many regions sponsor regular extra-curricular activities to develop the specialized expanded core skills your child may need.

If your child is deaf or hard of hearing as well as having a visual impairment, you may want to connect with an ESC DB Specialist.  Each ESC has designated a Deafblind Specialist, and a list of these individuals is posted on the ESC III site.  ESC III coordinates statewide services for students with low incidence disabilities.  Go to: http://sww.esc3.net/Page/198

Texas is so fortunate to have these resource people at ESCs across the state.  If your questions aren't or can't be addressed at the local level, contact your ESC VI or DB specialist for support.

3.  Statewide supports

Many parents faced with a diagnosis of visual impairment and/or blindness or deafblindness will search the web and quickly find the Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI).  The newly revamped website at http://www.tsbvi.edu is a treasure trove of information that is available to all Internet searchers.  That is one way in which TSBVI serves the state. What family members are not always aware of is the broad mission that TSBVI has to support ALL students with visual impairments in Texas, including those who are served in their local communities.  TSBVI offers three major programs:

There are two on-campus programs for students.  These are based at the TSBVI campus in Austin:  Comprehensive Programs for year-long campus programming, and Short Term Programs, for 3-5 day programs that address specific goals during the academic year and an extensive array of summer programs.  Sometimes, the very best way to address your child's needs may be to attend one or more programs on campus.

Most students spend the majority of their school days in their home communities. TSBVI has one of the largest Outreach Programs in the country, and it serves as a statewide resource for families and professionals on blindness and/or deafblindness. The Outreach Programs offer many kinds of assistance and training.  This includes school consultations: TSBVI staff is available to travel to your community to collaborate on student programming.  This is a team model, with time for observation, team brainstorming and collective problem solving.  The local district must request a consultation visit for students served in local district programs, and we work in conjunction with the ESCs to ensure local and regional follow up on any suggestions.  Requests can be made for home visits, visits for infants served through the Early Childhood Intervention program, and for students who may be served in related agencies or community settings.  All requests for Outreach assistance can be made from the Outreach homepage on the TSBVI website.

Another important statewide support network are statewide family organizations.  There are times when only a parent who has traveled the same path can truly understand your situation.  Texas has several dynamic family organizations specifically centered on visual impairment and/or deafblindness.  You can find information on these groups on the TSBVI website's Parent Portal.

If you have questions, there are many ways to find answers!  Start local, but don't stop there.  Look regionally and then statewide.  We are a large but close-knit community in this state and look forward to supporting your child to reach his or her potential!

References

Is My Child Getting A Quality VI Program? Available: http://www.tsbvi.edu/resource-pages/4248-is-my-child-getting-a-quality-vi-program

Family organizations are listed at http://www.tsbvi.edu/parent-networking-connections#FamilySupportOrg

Texas Education Service Centers: a map can be found on the TSBVI website. Or you can contact TEA by phone at: 1-800-252-9668

Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, Programs. Available: www.tsbvi.edu/school