Up and Moved, Part 1 of ?

Hello Fellow Families of Ridiculously Attractive Children who happen to have been identified with Cortical Visual Impairment!

I have thought about writing a post for so long.  There’s so much to say and so little time to get it right.  I judge myself and it doesn’t get done.  We are in a time of transition.  I keep turning inwards into myself and asking the same questions without new answers.   There is a familiar feeling of despair nagging at me.

I woke up this morning with an idea in my head.  I am going to stop judging myself and get it out there.

I may need some serious help here.  I will get to that eventually.

I spoke to my aunt yesterday and I found myself repeating my mom’s favorite saying, “I always do things the hard way.”  I used to roll my eyes when she said that.

Now, I have come to understand that when you have a child who is one in a million (quite literally) the hard way is often the ONLY way because you are breaking new ground and learning as you go.

But, not always.  My mom could have asked for help more often.  The results may have pleasantly surprised her.

The most important lesson Eliza has taught me is that asking for help can bring you information and support you never thought possible.  And, if it doesn’t, no harm done.  I’m used to doing it the hard way.

—————————————————

Two months ago, we up and moved.  (“Up and moved” is a particularly Southern phrase that implies doing something quickly.  Which is true.)

Our family’s life circumstances had shifted significantly.  My older daughter was about to start high school.  There was nothing keeping us in the state of Virginia.  I had been taking Eliza out of school half days to do private ABA therapies for various reasons.

I could not sustain the schedule of creating and maintaining an educational and behavioral program for her.  It was more than one person could do.  I didn’t feel particularly successful at it.

I am used to this feeling – the need to find someone who understands her better than I do.  Who knows HOW to teach her to communicate and to engage more with the world.  I am used to fighting battles and asking for more than IEP teams think is necessary.

In this instance, I needed to choose my battles and look at the big picture.

Eliza turned 12 this summer.

We needed to think about what we want her life to look like at 22 when she ages out of the school system.

We started entertaining where we would go if we could go anywhere.  Eliza would need to be in a state with good educational opportunities, a strong support network and good transition services for when she becomes an adult.  My older daughter should be able to start and stay in the same high school.  My husband and I would figure out how to make this work.  That’s what parents do.

So, we jumped, er, moved.  From Virginia to a state that rhymes with Smassachusetts.

Two months ago.

My husband, my older daughter and I packed and carried our house out the front door and into two Pods.  We made the trip to Smassachusetts and back to Virginia several times in two weeks.   It is not an exaggeration to say there was a little blood, so much sweat, a few tears, and a recurrence of carpal tunnel syndrome.  We went through several bottles of Aleve.

It has been intense. Some days I HATE our stuff.  Who needs more than 2 towels?  Why do we have so many socks?  ONE pair of shoes should suffice, people!  One pan, one lid.  One fork, one spoon, one plate. Throw the rest away!  (I get that this is a 1st World Problem.  I do.  Forgive me.  Just had to vent a little.)

And, the files – the medical records and educational records from a decade plus.

A little light reading to relax me –

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH, wipes eyes and catches breath, AHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA, sniff. Sigh.

Sorry, I couldn’t write that with a straight face.

It’s necessary to decide where to keep them for quick reference.  There is so much information – maybe I should let some of it go,

but,

there are still many questions with respect to what makes Eliza  Eliza.  

Maybe the answer is in one of the reports and science just hasn’t caught up to her yet.

Maybe someday SOMEONE will be able to help me understand what we’ve lived from a medical perspective.

For that, I keep the records, in bags by the bed for now…like the master of domestic organization I am.

We continue to dig out from boxes and piles of laundry.

It has NOT been an ideal environment for a child with CVI.

moving
NOT a great environment for a child with Cortical Visual Impairment

The first few days she was most content sitting in the laundry room clinging to my legs.  It made sense.  The room is small.  Everything is off white – a clean visual palette.  The vibration of the dryer was comforting. I sat on the floor with her several times those first few days commiserating with her that we had found the only spot in this new place that didn’t look like a tornado had hit.

Looking at the  piles of boxes and clothes and furniture exhausted and irritated me.  I couldn’t exactly understand how frustrating it was for her, however, the way she clung to me like a drowning person, gave me a good idea.

We made her and her sister’s rooms the first priority to give them a place of respite from the craziness of a move.   She is laying in her room listening to music right now.  And, now she’s shuffling down the hall.

I will pick this thread up again soon.  I would like to tell you what is going on and to see if you have any insight.

From my spot on the distant periphery, I see CVI moms shaking up the status quo and creating real change in their local education and support systems.

It occurred to me this morning that I am not alone anymore.

Until I can share more, I (the master of domestic organization that I am) have a handy dandy tip for families who have just moved.

When you move to a house without a single curtain or window shade and you are in a pinch….

window treatment
Quick and easy window treatment for families who up and move!

….Halloween decorations make GREAT window treatments!  And, in August, they are ALMOST holiday appropriate!

window treatment 2
Hello SMASSACHUSETTS! We are YOUR new neighbors, you lucky ducks!

The AER Resolution, where’d it go?

CVI Momifesto is up to her eyeballs in a new move and hammering out a new placement for her daughter with a gorgeous smile, curious nature, and multiple diagnoses including CVI.

THIS has happened. THIS is happening.

Start Seeing CVI, Brenda Biernat, and CVI Moms are on it.

Please read. Please be aware that as we are blazing a new trail there are individuals who have different opinions about which way we need to go.

Start Seeing CVI

The AER Resolution, where'd it go? The AER Resolution, where’d it go?

You may remember last July, when we discussed a certain resolution that targeted students with cortical visual impairment (CVI), and the CVI Range (Roman-Lantzy). The Resolution was presented at the International AERBVI Conference in Reno, Nevada. Resolution (AER-2018-00) was presented on site  without prior notice, without warning, and hastily “passed” (absent members were denied the opportunity to vote). These are extreme tactics that are all too concerning in these political times.

View original post 757 more words

What a difference a year makes

 

 

Hello Fellow Families of Glorious Children who Happen to Have Cortical Visual Impairment!

One year ago today, I published the first post of CVI Momifesto as a way to vent and to gain perspective of my experience as the mother of funny, strong willed, curious girl who happens to have several diagnoses and who also happens to be cuteness personified.

It’s been quite a year.

I wanted to comment on the year in this post.

But, as happens with life and especially with life with a kid with special needs, a lot happened over the summer.  There hasn’t been much time to process or to have a coherent string of thoughts.

I started to write a post about the year and the summer.

This is what I wrote instead:

Over the past 3 months, my girl, Eliza, has turned 12 and graduated from elementary school.  She wore the same dress her sister wore when she was 12.  She enjoyed  being a part of the ceremony, grinning from ear to ear as she walked by all of the kids dressed up in their fancy graduation clothes.  She laughed with her teacher. She danced with her dad after the festivities.

This kid.

This kid came into the world defying odds given to us by doctors in starched white coats.
Baby E blk white

This kid turned 12.
my girl E at graduation

There was so much drama around her birth.

The Doctor.

In the whitest coat I’d ever seen,

with the beard trimmed so precisely

I sometimes wondered if it was fake.

The doctor observed us,

the anxious couple

husband and very pregnant wife

from behind the safety of the desk of polished dark wood.

On the wall,

framed diplomas and plaques attested to the

depth and breadth

of his

infinite

knowledge.

On a shelf to my right,  a book caught my eye.

How to Give Bad News.”

(It’s interesting the things you remember at a time like that.)

It was a very serious moment from a very solemn doctor in a very white coat.  The moment demanded a lot of “verys”.

Everything was “VERY” in screaming capital letters.

The Doctor told us she would never

walktalkbreatheswallowseehearspeak

It all became one long horrible word to my grasping, uncomprehending brain.

Basically, you name it.

She wouldn’t do it.

As a matter of fact, she would probably never leave the NICU.  She would have no quality of life…..medicallyobligatedtoadvisetermination….

He really needs to reread that book.  He sucks at this.  VERY.

It’s interesting the things you think at a time like that. 

Then,

I kid you not,

Eliza – who had not been much of a mover or a shaker in utero – did a full on somersault as if to remind me just who we were talking about here.

The sudden shift in my body

the VERYEST

literal

punch

in the gut.

—————————————

The Doctor,

VERY knowledgeable about many things

the rectangles on walls behind him told me so,

had many other things to say after that.

But, I couldn’t hear them.

Because Eliza had reminded me that she had not  been given her say in the matter.

———————————————-

We didn’t listen to The Doctor much after that.

———————————————

She arrived VERY quickly,

about a month later,

on her own terms,

without the horror story he had predicted.

 

The doctor called me in the recovery room later that morning.

 

“What gives?” he said curtly.

None of the customary pleasantries you might expect to give someone who has just given birth.

I explained that she hadn’t needed all of the medical interventions he had predicted.  No NICU.

A pause.

Then, he said, not a little smugly,

“Well, let’s see her when she’s 5.”

See that?  See what he did there?  

“Let’s see her when she’s 5.”

What The Doctor could not know – what I could not know – was that that phrase launched my journey with this kid.

That smugness

that assumption

that five years would prove what a mistake we had made.

The cold clinical certainty that her life would not have value.

And that it was

his

decision to make

Sparked a fire in me that exists today.

When she did turn 5, I thought a lot about taking Eliza to see The Doctor again.

I thought a lot about it.

I entertained many a revenge fantasy about it, to be honest.

Some vandalism may have been very entertaining in a couple of the fantasies, but I’ll just leave that there.

She was keeping me pretty busy at the time.

I ultimately realized

If I did take her to see him,

because she is built a bit differently than your average kid

(whatever THAT means)

He could look at her

and feel completely vindicated.

I,

looking at the same girl,

knowing her the way I do,

would happily introduce him to her in all of her unique Elizaness,

(Maybe I’d even hire a mariachi band to accompany us to his office for an introduction?  Fireworks and a pony for everyone?  Too much?) 

and feel completely vindicated.

And, there you have it.

Our impasse.

Proving him wrong was not the way to go about this.

There was nothing to prove.  

We have a life to live.

I live with a beautiful, challenging mystery of a kid who has screwed up my sleep for the past 12 years.  I’m still trying to figure her out.  Sometimes I lose my patience.  Sometimes she loses hers.  She pats my arm and pulls me close for kisses.  She loves her people.  She is intensely curious about the world.  Nothing thrills her more than holding hands and running with one of us in an open field.

I am embarrassed to say that I have only recently – too recently – figured out that she understands more than I gave her credit for.

She loves me in spite of my imperfections.  She accepts me for who I am.

We remain a work in progress.

 


 

So, a year ago today, I started a blog to get some of these stories off of my heart and out of my head.

There is work to be done, yes.  But, we have nothing to prove.


 

Holy cheese!  I just wrote about Eliza’s birth on Labor Day!  I just got that!  And, it’s 3 a.m. so I’m keeping this ridiculous exclamation right here!  Huzzah and so forth!

Good night! Or Good Morning! Or Whatever!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing is Written in Stone: Looking at the AER 2018 Resolution with Dr. Sandra Newcomb

Hello fellow families of magnificent children who have been identified with Cortical Visual Impairment!

Long time, no blog post!

So, after the success of the American Conference on Pediatric Cortical Visual Impairment, I decided to dial it down a bit and spend some time with my family.  And, learn to play the ukelele, and run 3 miles every other day, and binge watch Fargo.

In July, a CVI mom friend of mine reminded me that Eliza’s older sister, AC, needs as much time and attention as I devote to E and her special needs.

AC’s life looks a lot like this a fair amount of the time.
IMG_0861

 

Or this….
sister squish
Upper:  Two girls in a rope door swing.  One girl is asleep on top of the other.  The girl on the bottom is smiling and holding a book.  Lower:  Two girls smiling and wrestling.  The younger girl is laying on top of the older girl who is grinning good naturedly at being squished.

 

AC is as kind as she is clever and funny.  Sometimes I need to be reminded that this kid needs her time too and I have to extract her from Eliza’s bear hug.

And, she starts high school in a couple of weeks.

WHEN DID SHE

AC baby

 

 

GET OLD ENOUGH TO GO HIGH SCHOOL?

Who is responsible for this?  I want to lodge a complaint.

Excuse me, I have to go hug the stuffing out of her….

Okay, I’m back.

So, I adjusted my to-do list.  I spent as much time with the teenager for as she would allow and I watched Fargo.  Success!

I hope you had some fun this summer.  I hope you had the chance to spend time with your favorite people.

Did anything interesting happen while I was gone or rather lurking in the background reading stuff and taking mental notes for the future?

Well, yes, yes it did.

Something interesting and rather unusual DID happen this summer as an attempt to affect the education of children with vision loss, and specifically Cortical Visual Impairment.

This summer, during the International Conference for the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER) in Reno, Nevada, a resolution which included very specific language about the CVI Range was put forth, voted on, and passed by the attending members.

You need to be aware of this resolution.

AER and the authors of this resolution are making a statement about the work of Dr. Christine Roman-Lantzy, the CVI Range, and the recent attempts of parents to advocate for the appropriate education of children with Cortical Visual Impairment.

I have a few comments on this resolution, however, I thought it best to first ask for comment from Dr. Sandra Newcomb, from Connections Beyond Sight and Sound at the University of Maryland.  Dr. Newcomb’s research, published in the Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness in 2010, validated the CVI Range.

Dr. Sandy read the resolution and added comments.  She very graciously allowed me to post her comments with the resolutions.  Most of her comments are in blue.  Emphasis is mine. When I got really emphatic I posted her comments in BOLD RED.


 

Proposed Resolution of the Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired: July 2018
Assessment, Services, and Personnel Preparation to Support Students with CVI and their Families
Resolution Number 2018-001
Authors: Yvette Blitzer, Kathryn Botsford, Olaya Landa-Vialard, Sandra Lewis, Mark Richert, and Ye-Ting Siu
Whereas to receive a truly free and appropriate public education under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), all children and youth with visual impairment, including those who may have additional disabilities, should be properly evaluated by teachers of students with visual impairments (TVIs) who are equipped with and use multiple assessment tools to determine such students’ individual sensory channels, functional vision, and learning media needs;
Whereas these types of evaluations are especially critical for the large and growing population of students who experience neurological visual impairment (frequently otherwise known as cortical or cerebral visual impairment; hereinafter, children with CVI);
Whereas TVIs must also have access to resources and participate in professional development opportunities in order to keep up with the changes in the diagnosis and assessment of CVI and appropriate interventions to minimize its effect;
Whereas whenever possible, assessments conducted by TVIs should include (as called for in IDEA) a variety of research-based, data-driven, and validated tools and strategies to gather relevant functional, developmental, and academic information;

 
Whereas there are currently no assessments available to TVIs that adequately address all the possible effects of CVI and/or meet the exacting scientific standards for research-base, and validated evidence; No assessments of what? Functional vision? Academic achievement? There is an assessment that meets scientific standards for reliability and validity for assessment of functional vision. Newcomb 2010, JVIB

 
Whereas frameworks for functional vision and learning media assessments commonly used by TVIs today are nevertheless based upon recommended practices in the field; But “practices in field” is not defined here.  There is evidence that current practices are from TVIs who have been trained using an ocular model of VI and of functional vision. There is valid research that describes the differences in ocular and cortical visual impairment.  This research reveals the frameworks for ocular are not appropriate for cortical.

 
Whereas there are multiple assessment tools, frameworks and strategies available for use by TVIs when conducting a comprehensive assessment of the visual functioning and sensory channels of children with CVI, the use of which serve to support of IDEA’s mandate for the use of multiple assessment tools; IDEA mandates assessment of functional vision, or how the vision impairment has an educational impact. Multiple tools are used for assessment of multiple constructs (medical tools for diagnosis, curriculum specific tools for achievement, speech/language tools for communication, etc.) These are the multiple tools for getting a comprehensive picture of a child with multiple challenges.

 
Whereas the CVI Range by Christine Roman-Lantzy is but one assessment designed to provide information on the visual and sensory functioning of children with CVI; It is only one assessment, however, in my review of the literature (both for dissertation and ongoing review) there is no other assessment developed for assessment of functional vision for children with CVI.

 
Whereas a package of continuing education opportunities bundled under the Perkins-Roman CVI Range Endorsement brand, and any other continuing education opportunity, are valuable resources to teachers and others who wish to hone and test their skills in the administration of the CVI Range; To date, Perkins has the most continuing education opportunities relative to CVI and to children with multiple disabilities.

 
Whereas some proponents of the CVI Range and the related endorsement are seeking to have policymakers and state and local education agencies require the use of the CVI Range and to require TVIs to obtain the endorsement as a condition on such TVIs’ provision of special education to children with CVI; Who are the proponents? And why should a local system NOT require the use of the only tool that is appropriate to assess the functional vision of children with CVI?

 
Whereas a TVI’s failure to obtain specifically branded continuing education opportunities, even if such opportunities are marketed as an endorsement, and completion of professional training in an assessment tool alone is no indicator of a provider’s preparedness to conduct appropriate comprehensive assessment or provide appropriate special education programming to children with CVI or any other students with visual impairment; Branded? Marketed? Why is it not appropriate for a professional to demonstrate proficiency in an assessment tool that they need to use? There are no other assessments (in any domain) that teachers do not need to be trained on to administer. This is especially critical when the tool relies on the teacher’s observation skills as the primary means of gathering information. When an assessment tool relies on teacher observation, it is critical that the teacher demonstrate he/she is reliable in their observations, otherwise the scores on the assessment are not meaningful.

No assessment in any domain can guarantee that a teacher is able to adequately provide meaningful interventions; however, lack of appropriate assessment data on which to base intervention strategies will guarantee inappropriate or inconsistent interventions.

Only when you start with an appropriate assessment can you hope to design appropriate, individualized, and targeted interventions.

 
Whereas university teacher preparation programs are addressing the needs of children with CVI and their graduates have beginning-level competencies and skills, which can be honed through experience, mentoring, and additional professional development; I have not seen any data, no published data nor anecdotal data, that indicates that university programs are addressing the needs of children with CVI, even at a beginning level. My experience on the MD/DC deaf-blind project, my private work in VA, NJ, WV, KS, and PA, and CVI mentoring in MS and GA have shown just the opposite. Parents and teachers are not prepared to meet the needs of children with CVI. They lack information and training, even some recent graduates of vision programs.

 
Whereas some states allow for individuals to circumvent university preparation teacher training and permit licensure of TVIs via (a) minimal coursework or a (b) test-only credential and functionally allowing individuals without adequate training in assessment of children with ocular and/or neurological-based visual impairment, or program development to assess, plan, and deliver services to children with visual impairments including those with CVI; This should never happen, no matter what state, for any TVI. States should not allow individuals to circumvent proper training.

 
Whereas individuals gaining TVI licensure via a test-only modality are not prepared to assess, plan, and deliver services to students with visual impairment, including those youngsters with complex disorders, such as CVI; Agreed!

 
Whereas it is imperative that parents and guardians of such students with CVI have accurate, complete, and unbiased information about the professional training and qualifications possessed by TVIs today who are evaluating and developing individualized education programs (IEPs) to meet such students’ unique needs; Agreed!

 
Whereas knowledge about neurological visual impairment and children with CVI is evolving rapidly, and a rich body of research and related developments from around the world promises to further enlighten and change educational practice over time;

and
Whereas requiring the use of a single specific assessment today, such as the CVI Range, or the express or implied imposition of brand-specific endorsement requirements on TVIs beyond state licensure and adherence to nationally recognized TVI standards puts students at risk of being denied the most up-to-date assessments and services and needlessly locks state and local educational agencies into practices and purported credentials with a limited shelf life that do not align with federal and state law and policy; For children with CVI, who must have (IDEA) a functional vision assessment, we must insure that the assessment is appropriate for children with CVI.

The CVI Range is, at this time, the only assessment developed to accomplish this task. While it is clear AER objects to “brand-specific” endorsement, there is nothing else that can insure that our children with CVI have an appropriate functional vision assessment.

This is the only the first step in appropriate intervention, but it is a step that cannot be missed or mishandled.

What are the “nationally recognized TVI standards” that include adequate information on CVI? What is more up-to-date? The phrase “purported credentials with limited shelf life” is very inappropriate and inflammatory, and a direct attack on the extensive work done at and through Perkins. The CVI Range endorsement aligns directly with the federal and state law and policy in that a child with CVI needs an appropriate functional vision assessment.
Now therefore be it resolved, that the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER):
1. encourages personnel preparation programs training new and pre-service TVIs and O&M specialists to include coursework in assessment tools, learning needs, and instructional methodologies to support the diverse needs inherent in the heterogeneous population of students with visual impairment, including those students with neurological-based vision impairment and those with additional disabilities;
2. encourages parents and teachers in all states to educate lawmakers and call for the abolition of “test-only” pathways to TVI licensure and require rigorous university preparation as the only option to gain licensure as a TVI;
3. encourages current and new TVIs to pursue continuing education and/or professional development opportunities and training to keep abreast of the ever-changing practices related to students with neurological visual impairment in order to effectively meet the unique needs of children with CVI;

 
4. encourages state chapters and divisions of AER to advocate for and promote the appropriate use of multiple comprehensive assessments, as mandated by IDEA, thereby honoring all students’ unique needs for appropriate and reasonable accommodations that recognize the diversity of functional vision, learning media, and literacy characteristics inherent in the heterogeneous population of students with visual impairment, including those students with neurological-based vision impairment and those with additional disabilities; while “multiple comprehensive assessments” are indeed necessary to address needs in a comprehensive way (communication, mobility, achievement, etc.), there are not, at this time multiple assessments to measure the functional vision of children with CVI.

 
5. urges the U.S. Congress, state legislatures, and state and local educational agencies to protect the integrity of comprehensive assessments conducted by TVIs both by rejecting calls that expressly or implicitly require the use of any single specific assessment tool or technique with specific populations of students with visual impairment and by refusing to impose specifically-branded in-service training requirements on state-licensed TVIs (prepared in accordance with nationally recognized TVI standards; Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) and Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AERBVI) as a precondition for providing special education to children with CVI or any other students with visual impairment; See comments above. The “integrity of comprehensive assessments” means that a TVI can use whatever measure or observation they decide.

 

This insures a continuation of TVIs providing inappropriate assessments for children with CVI and then basing interventions and accommodations on those inappropriate assessments. The cycle of inappropriate interventions and frustrated parents continues!

 
6. calls upon the U.S. Congress to promptly enact the Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act, which, among other critical policy objectives, would significantly increase investment in quantitative and qualitative research, allowing our field to identify evidence-based practices in assessment and instruction for children with CVI and all other students who are blind, have low vision, are deafblind, or may have these conditions and additional disabilities;

and
7. shall disseminate this resolution online and using any other appropriate means to make it widely available to parents, TVIs, and all other stakeholders to ensure national, state and local communication of these matters.

NOTE: It is my experience that parents are pushing for The CVI Range endorsement because of the lack of professionals who understand their child and who can provide the interventions they need.

Parents are advocating for professionals that demonstrate some level of knowledge, training, and competence in CVI.

At this time, the Perkins-Roman endorsement is the only avenue they have to be sure the teacher knows something about CVI. Too many families are offered services that are inappropriate or worse, no services at all. They are given TVIs that do not understand the characteristics of CVI.

The parents are looking for some way to insure that the people who design programs for their child have some working knowledge of CVI. At this time, they cannot count on pre-service programs to adequately prepare vision teachers to address the needs of their child. They are demanding, or strongly suggesting the endorsement because, for now, that is all they have.

When university programs and national standards catch up to the current population of children with CVI, parents will have done their job of advocating and systems change, not only for their child, but for all children who have CVI.


 

So, how’s that for a little morning reading?

Take your time with this.  Think about it.  Ask questions.   There is more to come.

And, remember…

nothing

 

American Conference of the Pediatric Cortical Visual Impairment Society 2018

They came!  They saw!  They chatted over mojitos and exchanged contact information. 

The Pediatric CVI Society hosted their 6th annual conference at the Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska.

This, fellow CVI parents, is the conference where you can hear the most recent research on the science surrounding Cortical Visual Impairment and the art of the education of children with this brain based vision loss.  The PCVI Conference is the place where you can meet fellow families, share your stories, ask your questions, and broaden your support network.

The goal of the American Conference on Pediatric Cortical Visual Impairment
(PVCI) is to bring together occupational therapists, ophthalmologists,
optometrists, teachers of the visually impaired, neurologists, pediatric
intensivists, physiatrists and parents to increase interdisciplinary
understanding of cortical visual impairment in children.

 

Introducing the PCVI Society!  

PcVI logo

 

From http://www.pediatriccvisociety.org

pcvi business

Image:  Three people standing at a podium at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center.  Sara Olsen, COO of the PCVI Society,  Lindsey Hiller, the new PCVI Society president and Dr. Skip Legge, outgoing PCVIS president.  These folks have championed our children for years. The conference has grown under their watch and under the watch of the PCVI Society Board.  Trailblazers they are!  Pith helmets for all!

We care about kids with CVI.

The mission of the Pediatric Cortical Visual Impairment Society (“the Society”) is to advocate for improvement in the quality of life of children with vision loss due to brain disorder, disease or injury. The mission is restricted to matters concerning the sense of vision.

Goals

The mission of the Society will be fulfilled through the pursuit of the following goals:

1. Advance interdisciplinary education and research.

2. Enhance dissemination of information and its communication among and between professionals, parents, government and educational institutions, and other groups whom impact children with cortical visual impairment.

3. Advocate for the appropriate allocation of resources to allow for improved vision services for children with cortical visual impairment.

4. Improve public and professional awareness of cortical visual impairment in children.

5. Advocate for governmental policy that improves quality and quantity of vision services available to children with cortical visual impairment.

6. Engage in fundraising activities that will allow for advancement of the Mission and the Goals of the Society.

On this note, I am happy to tell you that there is a lot of momentum around raising awareness about Cortical Visual Impairment and improving medical and educational outcomes for our children.  Top priorities for the next year are to create a new website with resources for doctors, providers, educators and families and to fund research.  

To continue building the PCVI Society and to strengthen the Society’s ability to be a champion for children with Cortical Visual Impairment and their families, we need members. 

The PCVI Society needs members to help us blaze a trail for our children.

———————————————–

BECAUSE

Children with CVI need to be identified as early as possible.

They need providers who understand the unique needs of children with CVI.

Families of children with CVI need support and education to help their children see the world.

———————————————-

So, I will make you the offer I made the folks at this year’s conference.

For the people who become members of the PCVI Society and who encourage two other people to become members of the Society, I – one random mom – will offer you your very own PITH HELMET OF GRATITUDE.

Just email me at Info@cvimomifesto.com with your name and the 2 (or more) other members you have recruited and I will have a pith helmet with your name on it at the 2019 PCVI Conference!

The pith helmet is for trail blazers!  Get it?  I forgot to say that at the conference.  Also, it’s easier to bring pith helmets to a conference than homemade pie.  Speaking of pie… 

IMG_0711

pith helmet
Images: Above:  Gunjan Rastogi-Wilson, CVI mom, advocate, and fundraiser with pie.
Below:  Random mother in blue jacket at the PCVI conference sporting a “pith helmet” from Oriental Trading Compnay.  Nothing but the best for our trail blazers!  This could be you!

 

.

http://www.pediatriccvisociety.org/membership/

 

alice

The future for our children and our families is currently under construction. The Pediatric Cortical Visual Impairment Society is leading the way

“Who put salt in the water?” Incidental Learning!

Yesterday was Helen Keller’s birthday.  In honor of her extraordinary heart and intellect.  In honor of the brilliant teacher who opened up the world for her.  

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In Helen Keller A Life, author Dorothy Herrmann describes the moment when Helen experiences the ocean for the first time.  Anne Sullivan Macy, Helen’s teacher, explained later that she had anticipated Helen would be overjoyed by the full sensory experience of the pull of the tide and the wetness of the water.

What she did not expect was that Helen would emerge from the waves grimacing and coughing.

When she found her teacher’s hand, she demanded to know who put salt in the water? 

Clearly Helen had not expected that either.

Reading this passage made me laugh out loud.  It also reminded me that even when I try to teach E about the world, I will always have a lot to learn.  I have typical vision.  I experience the world visually, first and foremost.  I will leave out key details.

I keep learning and trying because I am her mom.  It’s challenging.  I forget to describe salient features.  I don’t always notice when she becomes still to listen to a fire truck that is passing because I’m rushing to get to the store.  I sometimes forget to give her a verbal cue before I give her a new object. We have lost so much time in her education.  There are still so many delays.  There is so much to teach.  I feel as though I am just now learning how to reach her. It can be very discouraging.

I find myself wondering how can I expect anyone else to try so hard when she is not even their kid?  Curling up in a fetal position in the closet seems like the only choice.  Then, I remind myself (clearly it’s quite busy in my head) that this is America.  There are laws and systems in place because parents like me – like you –  said “Enough already,” and demanded education for their children with special needs.

We are walking a path that has been paved by the parents before us. It’s a bumpy path with potholes the size of Texas, but, it’s a path nonetheless.  As parents of children with CVI, we have to create our own lane.

What we do for our children, and together for all of our children, will begin a movement to create a system of services for children with CVI when we say “Enough already.”

A key part of “Enough already,” is understanding and explaining the effects of sensory loss because CVI makes it challenging for children to receive visual and auditory information.  Even if your child is making great progress moving from Stage I to II to III in short order, your ability to advocate for access and why it is important remains the same. 

Here is some information you can use when you are discussing how your child with CVI learns.

The website for the National Center on Deaf-Blindness (https://nationaldb.org) contains a wealth of information about the effects of sensory loss and the importance of knowing how to teach children who lack incidental learning(Snuck that one in there on you.  If you are reading this post for the first time, please go back and read the earlier posts about incidental learning. It’s my favorite two word phrase! There’s a quiz later. Not really.)

The following is from the page, Developing Concepts with Children Who Are Deaf-Blind, written by Barbara Miles, M. Ed, and Barbara McLetchie, PhD. (https://nationaldb.org/library/page/1939)

Concepts are the ideas that give meaning to our world.

Here are some ideas that make sense from the perspective of the deaf-blind people who had them, but that might seem “odd” to someone with sight and hearing:

  • a boy thought “going home” meant the feel of a bumpy road and a series of turns in the car
  • a boy experiencing snow for the first time thought it was ice cream and asked for chocolate
  • a girl touched a wet leaf and signed “cry” (it felt like tears)
  • a girl thought food came from a mysterious place up high (it was always set down on the table from above)
  • a young man didn’t know, even after many years, that his family’s pet cat ate (he had never seen it or touched it as it ate, and no one had ever told him)

What each of these examples teaches us is how important it is to always be sensitive to and curious about a child’s perceptions of the world.

We need to continually ask, “What idea might she have or be developing about this experience, object, person, or place?”

If we want to help a child develop meaningful concepts, we must be willing to enter into a relationship and seek to understand the child’s concepts.

Children who lack sight and hearing or who have significant impairments in these senses, need to be consciously given continual access to the world and the society around them.

Most importantly, we must take the responsibility of providing experiences that will maximize the child’s opportunities to develop useful and meaningful concepts of the world. 

(“We” meaning the parents, yes, but also, the teachers, therapists, aides, and administrators who plan learning experiences for our children.)

It can be done.  Would there be a National Center on Deaf-Blindness if there had not been an extraordinary girl who became deaf-blind and an extraordinary teacher who made it her life’s mission to teach her?

I look to history to show us how to get where we need to go.

If even Anne Sullivan Macy forgot about the salt once in awhile, I can continue describing the world to my girl, making her experience books, and teaching her how to communicate through signs and technology

and

reaching out to you on the path we are making together.

 

 

Lego Trees and Last Straws / Incidental Learning, Part Two

This post was one of the original posts after CVI Momifesto began in September 2017. 

We are running it again as a lead up to the American Conference on Pediatric Cortical Visual Impairment beginning on Friday, June 29, 2018 at the Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha.  

Learn all you can about incidental learning.  You may have to teach the folks who work with your children.  Encourage them to learn more.  Your child with CVI does not have visual access to the world.  But, this visual access can improve.  

 

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The following story is the final straw, the very last straw, the one that broke me and the camel’s back.

This is the story that led to my current life of crime, um, advocacy.

lego tree again

When my daughter, E, turned 3, she aged out of early intervention. This was after a thoroughly disheartening couple of years in search of an early interventionist who knew anything about CVI.

I realized it was going to be up to me to find the educational services she needed.

It was quite a learning curve and a huge responsibility. I was already sweating organizing doctor appointments and therapies (sometimes even successfully!), hunting down specialists, researching seizures and reflux, and occasionally, if absent-mindedly, patting my older daughter on the head.

I did not feel successful in anything I was trying to do.  Launching my complicated daughter’s educational career was not something I felt equipped to do.

I was told that our state’s School for the Blind was too far:  I would need to enroll her in our local special needs preschool.  This was a developmental preschool classroom.  The children had a variety of diagnoses. She was the only one with a diagnosis of vision loss. I was informed that the classroom teacher would have consult time with a Teacher of the Visually Impaired.

“Okay,” I thought, “I’ll just take them information about CVI. I can hand this over to the TVI.” Right?  Right.

The classroom was as colorful and welcoming as any preschool classroom should be.  This also means it was way too busy for a child in Phase I or Phase II of CVI. At the time, E was in early Phase II.   I asked for a meeting with the teacher and TVI to get a jump on the accommodations and modifications we would need to develop together.

At the meeting,  I gave the teacher resources I had printed out online.  I began explaining the diagnosis and how we would need to simplify some places in the room if we were going to expect her to develop the use of her vision.

Then the TVI told me about the “one kid like that” she had 20 years ago.

A now familiar feeling of dread was born.

With little to no suggestions coming from our TVI, I suggested putting cloth on some of the toy shelves to create less complexity and clutter.  I asked them to find a space for her with a tri-fold and an uncluttered table so that she could  spend time learning new objects or pictures, without the visual and sound distraction from the classroom and other students.

My requests for modifications simply meant that, like any mother, I wanted her to have visual access to learning materials.  I wanted her to have as much access as she could.  This is more complicated for children with CVI. But, it is possible. Do-able even.

For E to be successful in this classroom, the staff would need to make the effort to understand her vision loss and to help her understand what she was seeing throughout  the school environment.  They needed to know that she could learn to see better and that they had a responsibility to support her in that.

I encouraged the teacher to make the requested modifications, and for the staff to read about CVI.  I watched the TVI drop off a box from the American Printing House for the Blind.

Despite my feeling of dread, I thought, “I’ve got to give this time to play out.”

For a few weeks, when I dropped her off,  I would linger awhile before leaving. Pretty soon I was  getting the “let me do my job” stink-eye from the teacher and had to shuffle back to my car.

One day, near the end of class time, I dropped in a few minutes early to see how she was doing.  Was she interacting with other kids? Were they explaining things to her? Giving her time to process? Encouraging her to touch things?

It was free play time.   All of the kids, E included, were sitting on a brightly colored carpet. Behind them were low, wide bookshelves filled with toys and puzzles.   Kids were reaching for toys, pulling them down, and putting them back.  They rolled cars on the carpet, built block towers, or talked about which action figure was cooler.

Eliza sat with her back to a toy shelf. Smiling. She’s a happy kid. She was sitting next to an aide and listening to the kids playing.   Seeing her smile made me happy too.  She loves to be near other children.  It was great to see her included with them.  It was great that they were giving her a chance to get comfortable there with them.

The aide spied me in the doorway. I could tell she wanted to show me that they were keeping Eliza involved. So, she reached up on one of the shelves, grabbed a large plastic bin of legos and brought it down – crash – into Eliza’s lap.

Then, she reached into the bin and pulled out a small square stack of legos. She grabbed Eliza’s hand and put the legos in it.

“Here Eliza. This is a tree! Feel it? This is a tree.”

Eliza was startled both by the noise and weight of the bin dropped on her lap. To her it was just a loud noise and a physical intrusion. She was startled again by the suddenness of her hand being grabbed. The words made no sense to her.

She pulled her hand away, leaned over and curled up on the floor, overwhelmed by all of this confusing sensory input.  The aide just looked back at me and shrugged.

That sound you just heard was the last straw breaking.

This moment gave me a chilling glimpse of the next 12 or so years in classrooms without teachers and staff who understand CVI.

If there was ever a kid who needed to learn about trees by touching them, E is the kid. If there was ever a kid who needed to go outside and feel the bark and the leaves and have it all explained to her (frequently) to make a lasting cognitive connection, E is the kid.

I suspect she is not the only one.

I wondered how many learning moments would pass right by her because a teacher or an aide didn’t understand that the way they were presenting the material was all wrong – and, quite likely, was pushing her further away, further into herself ?

Their ignorance would create behaviors that made her seem agitated or vacant.

(And, let’s consider this for a moment.

How much could you take if you were surrounded by flashes of light, color, and sounds that had no reference point? 

What if people were always talking to you in words you found hard to understand or too quick to grasp?

What if, every day, you were told to move, yet before you could get your body organized enough to move, someone else’s hands grabbed your hands or your shoulders to steer you?

What if you didn’t have the ability to speak your joys, your frustration, your pain, or your fears? 

What behavioral problems would you have on your report?  How much would you learn?  

My behavior report would be the size of your average copy of War and Peace, highlighted with lots of red exclamation marks, frowny faces, and the occasional cuss word.)

In this moment, I saw a situation that would begin in the ignorance, and, the apathy, of a teacher, an aide, and a TVI.   Their inability to reach her would be documented as E’s lack of cognitive ability and her behavior problems.

It would start there, in preschool, but their ignorance and apathy would follow her every year as a downward spiral of low expectations about my girl’s abilities.

To learn, she needs to have experiences with the real objects.  THE REAL OBJECTS.  THE REAL PLACES.  THE REAL ANIMALS.  THE REAL SENSATIONS. (Within reason, I get that.  We’re not going to run into the polar bear exhibit at the zoo to get the authentic Antarctic experience, or anything.)

THE REAL THING.

This is NOT a tree.

AND, this is NOT rocket science.  lego tree again

It is a problem, my fellow parents.  A real problem for our kids.    This is NOT how our children learn.

And, they can learn.

What can we do about it?  I started telling this story to whomever would listen.  Tell your stories.  Ask for more real experiences in your child’s classroom.  Ask your child’s teacher how she can bring real objects and real experiences into her classroom. (Because your child is not an incidental learner, right?) Ask them if they understand incidental learning.  If they don’t, teach them.  I know a great Blue Bowl story you can tell.

There are some advocacy action items in the works.  CVI Momifesto will fill you in when we have more information.

Thank you for your comments and suggestions.  We are a work in progress and will continue learning as we go.

It is good to know there are other parents out there on a similar path.  And, as we travel this path together, may there be many beautful trees to touch, flowers to smell, apples to taste, and well behaved animals to pet, even the occasional even tempered polar bear. (Because how cool would that be?)

 

 

“Vision Time” is not a thing. Incidental learning is. Part One

The Pediatric Cortical Visual Impairment Society will convene for its annual conference at the end of this week at the Children’s Hospital and Medical Center in Omaha, Nebraska.  As we prepare for an educational and lively meeting, we are revisiting some earlier posts.  (http://www.pediatriccvisociety.org/conference/)

Every family with a child with a visual impairment (CVI or ocular) needs to understand incidental learning to be an effective advocate for their child.

This post was published on September 14, 2017.

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Okay, my fellow parents of gorgeous children who happen to have CVI.

Here’s the deal.

We have to speak a common language for advocacy.  We have to know some fundamental things about the effect vision loss has on learning to affect change in our early intervention programs and our school systems.  We have to talk the talk.

In most cases, we have to teach the talk.

Will it be easy?  No, but what else do you have to do?

AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

(Sorry, I’ll wait while we all catch our breaths from hysterical laughter or choke on a spit-take.  I’ll wait while you get a towel.  Bonus:  Now the floor is clean!)

Knowing how to parent a child with severe vision loss did not come naturally to me.  I have typical vision.  My daughter was the first blind person I had ever met.  At 6 months, when we got the diagnosis of CVI, we were told she was legally blind.  We did not know anything about CVI.

What I remember about the first couple of years:

  • She never looked at me or anything I tried to show her.
  • Her head hung down all the time.  (I thought this was because of the diagnosis of Cerebral Palsy which we also got on around the time she got her diagnosis of CVI.  At Christmas time.  Ho. Ho. Ho.)
  • She never slept for more than 3 consecutive hours.  (So when people at the grocery store commented on how serene she looked  while asleep in the baby carrier on my chest, it was all I could do NOT to scream – “She is not asleep!  She never sleeps!  Her head just hangs down!  All the time! Why won’t she sleep?  I’m dying inside! Argh!”   To be fair, I was severely sleep deprived.  This is against the Geneva Convention, by the way.  People have been charged for war crimes for less.     Just sayin’.)
  • I was never more than an arm’s length away, yet I felt as though I was a million miles away from her. (Nothing made me feel more useless than sitting on a blanket next to my infant daughter, trying to get her attention, while she stared blankly at the light coming through the window behind me.  I asked her therapists over and over again, “Is she in there?” Typing this reminds of how low and sad I felt in those days.  Did I mention that the child NEVER let me sleep?)

There was so much I did not understand.  There was so much to learn.  Over the years, I sought out some fantastic teachers of the visually impaired (Annie Hughes, TVI and Director of VIPS-Indiana is my personal hero.) and Dr. Roman-Lantzy in an attempt to educate myself about vision loss and CVI.

What I learned from them made perfect sense, but had not occurred to me before.  I was struggling.  I wasn’t sleeping.  My older daughter was a toddler.  Nothing made sense at that time.  Basic hygiene was a luxury.  Forget living day-to-day, we were living minute-to-minute.  The transition into the “new normal” of being a family with a child with multiple disabilities was (and is) chaotic and messy.

Maybe sharing some of the fundamentals will help another mother of another child with CVI get a handle on the situation a little earlier, a little easier.

Maybe developing a common language will help us all go into our IFSP meetings and our IEP meetings with an action plan and the information to back it up.

Here’s where we need to start.

INCIDENTAL LEARNING

Incidental learning is the learning that just happens for a typically sighted person.  From the time you open your eyes in the morning to the time you close your eyes at night, you are constantly taking in information about your environment without even trying.

Incidental learning is the information you receive with your eyes without realizing it.

Children with Cortical Visual Impairment are not incidental learners.

Here’s how it was explained to me.

Blue bowlMiss Annie’s Blue Bowl Story
Blindness or significant vision loss has a number of impacts upon a young child’s development.

One of these is the child’s lack of access to incidental learning.
Vision is the “great integrator” of sensory input. No one plans incidental learning, but it goes on every minute that a sighted child is awake. To illustrate this, I often tell parents the “Blue Bowl Story.”
Two babies are in high chairs at one end of the kitchen. One has normal vision, and one is blind. The dad comes into the kitchen and says to his wife, “Hey Honey, where is the blue bowl? I have rented a movie and want to make some popcorn.” The mom replies, “It’s on top of the refrigerator.” So, the dad walks to the refrigerator, he stretches his arm up and reaches on top, he grabs the bowl which is blue, and he walks to the microwave to make the popcorn.
In those few seconds, the child with vision has just had four “incidental” lessons;

1) The word/label “refrigerator” was connected with the object

2) The child is starting to get an idea about the concept of “on top”

3) The child is beginning to understand that even though this bowl is much bigger than his cereal bowl, it is still called a bowl.   It must be the “scooped out/can hold things” aspect that makes it a bowl.

4) The child has a blue ball, and this is a blue bowl, so identifying that color as blue has just been reinforced

What did the child without vision get?
He/she heard the same words, but they weren’t connected to any meaning. Sometimes this is called “empty language.” This story illustrates how important it is for children who are blind or have low vision to have real experiences with real objects, so the language they hear isn’t “empty language,” but is tied to meaning.

Thanks to Annie Hughes, TVI and Director of Visually Impaired Preschool Services-Indiana

Being able to say, with confidence, “My child in not an incidental learner,” can be the start of an effective conversation with your educational team.

Stay tuned for more information and resources about incidental learning.

A School District Tackles CVI – Fairfax County Public Schools

Hello fellow families of lovable children who happen to have cortical visual impairment,

In a previous post, I mentioned that, across the United States, more parents are educating themselves about their child’s diagnosis of CVI.  They are taking their research into their IFSP and IEP meetings. They are asking their school districts how a child with CVI will be accommodated in the classroom.

Parents receive a wide spectrum of responses to their questions.

(And, I hammered this home with a tortured analogy from West Side Story.   Sometimes I have to make sense of things through musical theater.  Everyone has their thing.  Don’t judge. 

west side story pairImage:  Tony and Maria from West Side Story singing Somewhere (technically she’s lip-synching) 

There’s a place for us….children with CVI to be educated in the manner in which they can learn because they can learn…..SOMEWHERE a place for ….children with CVI.  Aren’t you glad I didn’t dredge that up again?)

As a direct result of the advocacy of parents in their individual IEP meetings, some school districts in America are recognizing CVI as a common diagnosis (#1 pediatric visual impairment –  Can’t miss an opportunity to throw that in.)  and as an obstacle to a child’s access (our favorite word) to a Free and Appropriate Public Education.  In fighting for their own children, these parents are improving education for all of our children.  It does not happen overnight, but there has been significant progress since I began looking for like-minded parents a decade ago.

It’s important for families to know that there are school and district administrators who are open to listening and to learning.

(There is a troubling issue with special education administrators.  Did you know that special education administrators do not have to have a background in special education to hold their positions?  Special education is a term which covers a wide variety of diagnoses and educational approaches. One would think that an administrator in this field would need more expertise to represent the students in their district, definitely not less. When I learned this, I wondered if this isn’t one of the reasons so many families feel like they are hitting a brick wall when they ask for teachers and staff to be trained in educating children with CVI.  Something to consider.)

Kudos to the administrators who acknowledge the challenge of educating children with CVI and who take action to train their staff.  This is new territory. They are leading by example.

Speaking of examples, Fairfax County Public Schools, the largest public school system in Virginia, has made a significant commitment to training teachers about cortical visual impairment through the Perkins-Roman CVI Range Endorsement.  

Dr. Irene Meier is the Director of the Office of Special Education Instruction for FCPS.  Two years ago, when parents met with Dr. Meier to give her information about cortical visual impairment and its impact on student learning, she was curious to learn more.  She recognized the need for specialized training to work more effectively with children with CVI.  She and Dr. David Lojkovic, Educational Specialist for Adapted Curriculum, worked with Perkins to provide FCPS teachers training through the Endorsement program.

When recently asked about the training, Dr. Meier responded:

“Our collaboration with Perkins and the feedback from the teachers was a very positive experience. We plan to continue to offer access to these courses next school year.
Over the course of the past two years, FCPS has been fortunate to participate in training, provided by the Perkins School for the Blind, that has advanced the skills of our staff who are working with students with cortical visual impairment (CVI). 21 FCPS teachers have taken either graduate level or advanced level courses, with several in that cohort pursuing the specialized endorsement in cortical visual impairment.

The feedback from teachers has been extremely positive.
Participant quotes: “I like taking Perkins’ classes because they’re structured, but flexible.”
“The assignments are challenging, but not too challenging.”
“The work we do in the classes can be directly applied to practice.”
Survey results show that teachers appreciate the opportunity to learn more about assessment with the CVI range and have used skills learned from the coursework with students that they serve. Furthermore, teachers indicated via survey that they were engaged in the coursework and felt encouraged to try strategies learned.
85% of participants in the coursework indicated that they learned new information as a result of taking the course.”

french-pith-helmet-big-head-version

Image:  A pith helmet

For her willingness to address the challenges of educating children with cortical visual impairment, CVI Momifesto would like to offer Dr. Irene Meier our first honorary Pith Helmet of Gratitude for helping parents of children with CVI forge a new path, blaze a new trail, if you will, in special education.

So, fellow parents –

if your child has been identified with cortical visual impairment and you are getting a lot of pushback from your school district when you ask for accommodations, modifications, and educators trained in CVI,

if hours of IEP meetings have worn you down so that you start to doubt yourself,

if you start to wonder if your request for your child to have access to her education is even possible,

remember that there are school districts, there are administrators, there are teachers who get it.  They are working with parents.  They are learning how to work with our children.

A question you may ask your school district might be, if Fairfax County can do it, why can’t we?

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P.S. If you know of a school or a district that has risen to the challenge of working with children with CVI, let us know at Info@cvimomifesto.com so we can spread the word!

 

 

 

Somehow, Some day, SOMEWHERE!

IEP season is coming to a close in my neck of the woods.  It has been intense.  We hired an advocate for the first time in Eliza’s educational journey.  I am glad we did.  For the first time, I didn’t have to say much during the two meetings (4+ hours) we’ve had so far. It was a revelation.  And, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

Nothing has been finalized for us, but, the awareness that we have someone else on our team who speaks the school district’s language and understands how to articulate our goals for our girl is a gift.

We are going into overtime, people!  Summer sessions!  I still don’t really understand what that means, but I think our advocate does.

Aside from our personal experience, I have been curious about how other parents of childen with CVI fare during an IEP season.  I did some reading.

I found this timely quote from the book, Vision and the Brain:

“As professional understanding of CVI increases,

it will be incumbent upon medical and educational systems internationally to explore ways to best provide services to the full spectrum of affected children.

This collaboration may lead to

additional, mandatory training for specialists,

reconsideration of guidelines and regulations for entitlements to services related to visual impairment,

and

reconfiguration of educational environments to accommodate, as part of universal design, the learning needs of this population.”

Dutton and Lueck, Vision and the Brain – Understanding Cerebral Visual Impairment in Children, (Introduction xix)

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I wondered –

If professional understanding of CVI is increasing –

and we CVI savvy parents, therapists, educators, and ophthalmologists are doing everything we can to get professional understanding of CVI to increase-,

Then what is happening in terms of

additional mandatory training for specialists,”

reconsideration of guidelines and regulations for entitlements to services related to visual impairment,”

and

reconfiguration of educational environments to accommodate… the learning needs of this population“?

 

I asked a lot of questions to moms on FB pages. I called a few of them. Several of the moms were kind enough to write me back or take my calls. And, these are busy ladies. I emailed a couple of organizations to ask about how they are addressing the increase in referrals of children with CVI.

This is just one random mom’s curiosity about how other people and places address the challenges our family faces.

There was a wide variety of experiences.

Worse case scenario:  I was able to sit in on a due process hearing (about which I can say very little).  Due process hearings are where you end up if you come to an impasse with your school district.

Best case scenario:  There are some districts and areas of the country that are acknowledging CVI and, better yet, acknowledging the need to learn how to teach children with CVI.

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Worse case scenario:  This IEP season, I sat in on a due process hearing for a family who has fought for years  to have their daughter included in a classroom with proper accommodations for her diagnoses of CVI and hearing loss.

Four hours later, I had developed a tic under my right eye and drawn a binder full of unflattering renderings of the school district’s opposing council – a school district which has put this family through 7 levels of Hades over several years.  The hearing went on for three more days.

I was frustrated for my friend and her daughter.  I have spent time with this bright eyed girl and seen how she has learned to communicate.  As a matter of fact, it was meeting her that renewed my hope that Eliza could learn to communicate.  Because – in spite of odds that would curl your hair (my Appalachian grandma’s saying) her mother would NOT give up hope.  She educated herself about cortical visual impairment.  She sought out experts.  She created a learning environment and trained providers to serve her daughter at home while she fought the school system for appropriate placement.

In the conference room, I sat and listened to words.

 

Complicated children.  Medically fragile children.  Children with sensory processing disorder/sensory needs/sensory loss.

Words that sound frightening and complex.   Words that sound impossible to overcome.

Then, I started counting ceiling tiles because the words were too close to my own experience …. 1,2, 3…).

What about the common word in these phrases – children?

Children.

They are children first and foremost.

The word – the child – can get lost in the diagnoses, in the assessments and evaluations,  in the IEPs and the litigation.

(…68,69,70….It was easier to count tiles than to follow the legalese.)

This is a child.

This is a child who can learn.

This is a child who is motivated to learn.

The sparkle in her eyes, the way she claps her hands to say “yes” in response to a questions, the way she laughs when she chooses her favorite toy, the fact that after years of physical therapy, she is becoming strong enough to stand on her own, these are details which should be celebrated.  These are strengths we can build on.

Personal details get lost in testimony.  “Sparkle” doesn’t translate very well to the courtroom.  Nor do the hours of trial and error to teach a communication system, or to systematically teach a child to use her vision.

How can you get stern faces to understand the joy you felt when she answered a question for the first time?  When she learned to say “yes?”  What that means for her cognitive ability and her potential to learn?

And, if I felt that way in one afternoon, I cannot even imagine what her mother felt in 4 days of testimony.

She was so polished and poised.  She explained in measured tones about her daughter’s challenging medical history.  About her family’s tireless efforts to teach their daughter when school placements beginning with preschool failed over and over again.

(1001, 1002, 1003….)

This mother is looking for a place where her daughter can learn, where she can belong.

It’s just that simple.

Maybe not easy, I’ll grant you that.  I live it.  I get it.

But simple.  And, do-able.

And, the attorneys argue about dates and emails and who did this or didn’t do that.

I cannot talk about what they discussed or what was decided.

It is all so painful and absurd that I had to go to my happy musical theater place.

Boy, if there was ever a place that needed a musical number, it was that conference room.

Listening to the debates and the arguments, I began hearing the song “Somewhere” from the movie West Side Story.   The song is performed by the star-crossed lovers, Tony and Maria.  Maria’s part was sung  by someone who was not Natalie Wood but lip-synched by Natalie Wood (because, in 1961, actresses of actual Hispanic origin were cast only as chorus dancers or Rita Moreno – who nailed it!  Bear with me here. There is a point.)

 

Cue the orchestra: Sing – um-, lip synch it, Natalie!

west side story pair

“Theeeeeere’s aaaaaaaaa   plaaaaaace for us.  There’s a place for us. Somewhere a place for us.” 

That’s what we are looking for humorless suit people who wield too much power over a little girl’s education.  If you truly understood what this girl, what her family has been through -if you truly understood ACCESS–argh.  I can’t say anything… but no one said anything about SINGING….

SOMEWHERE

A PLACE FOR US
PEACE and QUIET (and no bickering attorneys and stern faced judges) and OPEN AIR
WAIT FOR US 

SOMEWHERE

Somewhere a place our children can be taught in the manner they can learn by educators who believe they can learn.

A place for us.

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This IEP season, I spoke to other mothers who took the time to comment on the challenges or successes they were facing in their attempts to get their children ACCESS to a Free and Appropriate Public Education.  Several of them wrote posts for CVI Momifesto.  They are teaching the rest of us as they fight for their children.

The following conversations are happening in conference rooms in schools all over the country as

more and more children are identified with cortical visual impairment

and as more and more parents ask school districts how they will accommodate their children:

 

“We aren’t mandated by law to learn about CVI.” – Educator in Florida
“But, you are required by law to teach my son” – CVI Mom in Florida

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“You want us to fix your child.” – Educator in Indiana

“She doesn’t need to be fixed. I want you to believe you can teach her. I want you to teach the way she can learn. ” – CVI Mom in Indiana

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“We are past tears here.” – CVI Mom in New York discussing the extensive list of accommodations she insists are in every draft of her son’s IEP

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What I see in the examples from a due process hearing and from conversations from IEP meetings is that

school by school, meeting by meeting, family by family, mom by mom –

momentum is building.

(Oh my gosh, it’s MOM-entum!   I just blew my own mind.)

Parents are educating themselves about CVI and demanding to know how the education system will accommodate their children.  

west side story

Image:  A dance scene from West Side Story.  Women and men in colorful dresses and suits with one arm raised.

I will post more on the places where school districts and organizations supporting the blind and visually impaired are taking the necessary steps to improve how they identify and how they accommodate children with CVI.

THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING IN SOME PLACES IN THE U.S.!  SOME PLACES IN THE U.S.  CVI PARENTS DON’T HAVE INDENTATIONS ON THEIR FOREHEADS FROM BANGING THEIR HEADS INTO A BRICK WALL OF IGNORANCE AND LOW EXPECTATIONS.

“SOME HOW, SOMEDAY, SOMEWHERE!”

Let’s dance!

For now though, I have to be at a 6th and 8th grade graduation in – oh dear – 4 hours.