After decades of teaching students with visual impairments, I have seen many patterns emerge, including factors that make a student successful. As expected, having a passionate TVI teamed with dedicated general education teachers paves the way for strong academic success. While critically important, academics will only take a student so far; students with visual impairments also need to be self-motivated, independent, and have strong social skills in order to be successful in life. The one common denominator between every successful, independent and happy student is a parent or family member who firmly stands behind the student.
Many years ago, I participated in an transition IEP meeting for an adorable three-year student who was moving from the VI preschool program to his local school system. Sitting around the large conference room table were an overwhelming amount of staff including preschool staff and the school staff, so two sets of TVIs, COMS, PTs, OTs, Speech, gen ed teachers, LEAs, etc. At the end of the table sat the mom - a tiny but powerful little lady - and her interpreter. Instead of being intimidated, this mama bear slowly looked each staff member in the eye and then stated through her interpreter, "My son is going to be lawyer. What do we need to do now, to make that happen." By the time her son entered kindergarten, this mom learned to speak, read and write in English and was plowing through the braille code right beside her son. Throughout elementary school, this mom had the TVI on speed dial and did not hesitate to ask questions about homework - as mom was learning right along with her son - or to handle any school-related issues. That little student learned quickly that playing the "blind" card to get out of things did not work; there was no excuse to get out of doing homework! This hard working family - both parents work multiple jobs - prioritized the student's needs first. Understanding that tech skills are important, they provided a current computer, tablet and later a smart phone at home to support their son's strong interest in the computer science field. This young man quickly surpassed his TVIs in tech skills, both mainstream and assistive technology. He also successfully earned multiple Microsoft certifications has attended STEM camps and is now a successful senior in high school who has been accepted to several coveted universities.
Another mom, who is an elementary education teacher, saw firsthand how important it is for her daughter, Kristi, to develop strong friendships. This mom made sure to set up play dates and to enroll Kristi in age-appropriate classes for preschoolers such as tumbling and swimming. As a little girl, these social activities provided structured opportunities to play with others and provided opportunities for other mothers to get to know Kristi as a child first - and not as "the blind girl". Kristi's mom modeled expectations along with any assistance that Kristi might need, making the other moms comfortable around Kristi. When Kristi was in early elementary school, the mom continued to invite kids over for play dates and sleep overs; and, began carpooling for joint activities. The other moms began inviting Kristi over for birthday parties and sleep overs. Kristi developed strong friendships and was very social at home and at school. When entering high school, Kristi decided to run for student council; Kristi, with her mom's support, came up with an idea to host an ice cream social at school as a way to meet other incoming freshman and to "campaign". (Yes, Kristi was became student council president!) By high school, Kristi's mom was intentionally jumped to offer to carpool Kristi and her friends to the movies, to games, and activities. When friends in Kristi's "group" began to drive, they automatically included Kristi in their outings.
Parents, there are many wonderful parent role models. There are FaceBook pages, Pinterest, and listservs for parents of students with visual impairments. One of my favorite bloggers is Kristin Smedley, a mom of two children who are visually impaired. Kristin has numerous blogs about her experiences, including Hopeless Kindergartener Transforms to Extraordinary Graduate: Expectations Matter post. She also blogs about how she handled specific heartfelt issues, such as "Mom, I Sit Alone At Lunch".
From a Teacher's Perspective
As a parent, YOU know your child and YOU have the most influence over your child's success - both in school and in life. Have high expectations for your child and encourage others to share those high expectations. Consider what your child's peers are doing and expect your child to do the same activities and to behave in the same manner as his/her peers. Be creative and think about alternative ways of doing things - while keeping safety in mind. (Example: Your child should learn how to cook independently. That might mean purchasing oven mitts that come up to the elbow or a guide for cutting.) Immerse yourself in all things VI. Find mentors. Be an advocate. Teach your young child to make his/her bed and use silverware appropriately. Set up play dates and enroll your child in activities. Find summer camps and outreach programs - and let your child go! Provide opportunities for your child to travel with fearless independence in your neighborhood, mall or local stores. Expect your child to complete his homework and school assignments; be available to help your child review for tests. Learn braille. Learn about your child's technology - turn on your phone's screen reader for two weeks and learn how to use it! Teach your child how to live life!
It truly takes a village to raise a child - especially a child with visual impairments. Parents are the glue that holds everything together. Parents are the child's first teachers who install self-confidence, pride in accomplishments, provide opportunities to apply book learning, and who nurture independence. Parents set up social interactions with peers and other families. Parents model advocacy while balancing entitlement. Parents teach how to live life! Parents are amazing!