Adventures in Advocacy / NE AER / Part 3

Be a life long learner about CVI.

Be a life long learner about the brain.

Ellen Mazel, the CVI Teacher (https://cviteacher.wordpress.com), offers this advice to parents of children with CVI and to the teachers who work with them.

In her presentation at the Northeast AER Conference, Ellen shared information on learning assessments and intervention strategies from her extensive experience as a Cortical Visual Impairment Advisor and a Certified Teacher of the Visually Impaired.

Her audience primarily consisted of TVI and COMS, however, everything about the presentation resonated for me as a parent.  Watching presentations from teachers who know CVI always help me broaden my perspective and recharge my batteries.  It gets discouraging being the only person at an IEP meeting who knows what Cortical Visual Impairment is and how it negatively impacts my daughter’s learning.

Sometimes, after a particularly frustrating day, I think, maybe, I am just kidding myself.  Trying too hard.  My girl is a complex kid.  She is non-verbal and has an additional diagnosis of autism.  We are struggling to find a consistent method of communication.  We do not get a lot of eye contact.  Interaction takes time and effort.  It is hard to read her.  It is hard to know what she understands.  

It is all too easy to develop low expectations for a complicated kid like her.  I have fought against low expectations in IEP meetings and in teacher-parent meetings, yet I have struggled to learn how to reach her myself.  

Ellen’s presentation reminded me that this is an ongoing journey.

Regarding the perspective of the parent/teacher:

  • The importance of presumed competence and eye contact.
    • CVI masks cognitive abilityOur children are often not able to maintain eye contact.  (Children with visual impairments cannot be accurately assessed by traditional cognitive tests.  IQ tests are not going to work on this population of children.) 
    • Research has shown that children who do not maintain eye contact get far less social interaction and attention from caregivers and teachers.  Be aware of this tendency to interact less with a child who does not maintain eye contact.
    • Since we cannot tell what a child who is not maintaining eye contact understands, we have to presume that the child understands and continue to teach the child in an accessible way.  
  • If we expect improvements, we will get improvements. The minute we do not have expectations, we are guaranteed not to get improvement.
  • Read articles and attend presentations.  – Research about CVI and the experience offered by CVI Range endorsed teachers will be found at conferences and in journals before you will be able to find it in a book.  

Regarding IEPs and Assessments:

  • The CVI range endorsement is the beginning of your journey NOT the end.  
    • Yes, we need to demand a teacher who has completed the Perkins-Roman CVI Range endorsement, however, it is only the starting point.
  • IEPs need to say “brain based visual impairment,” when diagnosed, by whom, the score, and the result of the Functional Visual Assessment (as it relates to CVI).  
  • When assessing a child, Ellen uses the CVI Range (Roman), Dr. Gordon Dutton’s survey, and Matt Tietjen’s “What’s the complexity” framework.
  • Remember that the parents’ interview gives all important visual history – if vision has improved – consider CVI
  • Best practice accommodations and modifications should be based on the CVI Range score 
  • Strategies need to be embedded throughout the day
  • Ellen puts together a salient features presentation so everyone on the child’s educational team uses the same language.
  • As a consultant, she advises that the IEP includes a 1 hour in-service about CVI and a 1 hour in-service about how CVI affects this particular child
  • Embed the theory that there is something visual in front of that child all the time.
  • Use more CVI supports in place when developing weaker visual fields.
  • Introduce yourself and use the child’s name so she knows you are talking to her
  • Limit touching and moving children while they are trying to look.

I’ll end with Ellen’s explanation of “infused advocacy,” or teaching the children how to problem solve for themselves.

Parents and teachers can start teaching a child to become a self-advocate by teaching her about the characteristics of CVI and by including her in the process of making her own accommodations and modifications. When a child understands that how she perceives the world is different from other people, she can learn to articulate her unique needs. She could ask other children to say their names when they approach her to help her identify them.   She could explain to her mom that cluttered rooms make her feel anxious or scared. She could tell her teacher that new places are confusing and ask for extra time to get to know a novel environment.

This part of a child’s education, learning how to articulate her needs, is so important.  We spend so much time talking about the kids.  Listening to them (or, in the case of a non-verbal children, quietly observing them) is even more important.

This is a fascinating and busy time in the history of Cortical Visual Impairment.  There is a solid foundation of knowledge and a growing current of educational strategies and research.  There is an active and vocal community of families around the world.  There are teachers who can guide us!

At the center of all of this activity remains the children who have to be equal partners in putting together the puzzle that is their picture of the world. 

 

 

 

 

Adventures in Advocacy / NE AER / Part Two of Three

Hello Fellow Families of Delightful, Sometimes Exasperating Children Who Happen to Have CVI and Who Sometimes Knee You in the Neck,
Why yes, maybe E did wake up at 4:30 this morning and kneed me in the neck while climbing into my bed. Once settled comfortably (for her) on my chest, she leaned over to kiss my forehead about a dozen times. It was pitch black, so let’s just say she missed a few times. In my semi-consciousness, I dreamed I was being water boarded.

This is an accurate description of the power dynamic in our relationship.

Moving on.

I promised more information from NE AER.  This post turned into a doozy.  So, I am splitting it in two.
To recap: There were 6 presentations about CVI at this conference! This is a big deal. Bravo to the Co-Chairs of the 2017 NE/AER Program Committee, Sharon Marie and Martha Delaney for their development of this year’s CVI track.
(You may want to reach out to the folks planning your area’s next AER conference. You could ask how many presentations they will be having on Cortical Visual Impairment. Just a thought.)
I was present for Peg Palmer’s presentation “Assessing children with CVI using Dr. Roman-Lantzy’s CVI Range,” Dr. Christine Roman-Lantzy’s follow up discussion following her “Implications of CVI in the Development of Literacy, Language, and Social Skills” presentation, and Ellen Mazel‘s presentation, “Serving our students with CVI: Learning Assessments and Intervention Strategies.”

Here are some of my takeaways from this conference:

The Perkins-Roman CVI Range endorsement is a necessary starting point and here’s why.  (Good to know for future stare-downs with school administrators about the importance of proper training for the teachers who work with our children.)

Right off the bat, Dr. Roman-Lantzy asked the discussion group if any of them were unsure about the CVI Range endorsement.
As a parent, I was surprised by this question. I’m just glad an endorsement exists  to give teachers the skills they need to improve educational outcomes for our children. I was more surprised when a few of the teachers raised their hands.

Dr. Roman-Lantzy asked them why they had reservations.
One of the teachers explained that she knew several experienced TVI who did great work with children with CVI but did not have the endorsement. Some teachers did not see the point of the endorsement. Some thought the CVI Range endorsement was extra work – more hoops to jump through at their own expense- for teachers who already had substantial experience working with children with CVI.
Dr. Roman-Lantzy acknowledged their doubts and agreed that there are experienced TVI who are more than capable of working with children with CVI. She mentioned that she herself is not endorsed.  (My mind was blown.)
Her point – an important one – was that while CVI has been discussed over the years within the field of the education of children with vision loss, there has yet to be a rigorous, commonly accepted standard of training for teachers to work with children with CVI.

(This leads me to paraphrase Ellen Mazel. My apologies to Ellen Mazel. )

The 2 most dangerous teachers Ellen Mazel has ever met are
1. The TVI who has never heard of CVI
2. The TVI who has been to one workshop / conference on CVI.
Boy, did that resonate with me. I wonder how many of us have had a teacher tell us – “Oh, I know CVI. I took a workshop once.”
Surely, it’s not just me. I bet I’d recognize the slight indentation on your forehead where you banged your head on the table after hearing these words. It’s okay. I’ve got one too.

We have been affirmed by the CVI Teacher herself!

This was worth the whole trip to Vermont, including losing my driver’s license, and, the resulting extra security patdowns to get home.
Now some history on the development of the CVI Range endorsement.

(Use this when you begin advocating for your child by telling your school system that a CVI Range endorsed educator is a requirement for your child’s ACCESS to her education.)
The lack of a standard educational protocol for training TVI to work with children with CVI has been a concern for Dr. Roman-Lantzy for years. In recent years, she went to the associations that recommend topics of study for university TVI preparation programs.

She asked them to recommend that CVI be included, to no avail.

Then, she approached Perkins School for the Blind.

Perkins met the challenge of training teachers to educate children with the #1 pediatric visual impairment in America today (and tomorrow and 9 months from now and 2 years from now).  It’s not going away, folks.

To address the growing need, Dr. Roman-Lantzy and Perkins collaborated to create the endorsement and other classes surrounding specific aspects of CVI.
For their willingness to address the issue of CVI, this CVI mom applauds Perkins and its President and CEO, Dave Power. Dave Power is also the father of a son with dual sensory impairments. It does not surprise me that a parent of a special needs child made the decision to move the CVI Range endorsement forward.
During the discussion session, Dr. Roman-Lantzy explained that “no one is getting rich off of the CVI Range endorsement.” There are administrative costs to running the classes which are offset by the fees.
She further explained that the creation of the CVI Range endorsement was a way to acknowledge that every endorsee has the same foundation of knowledge about CVI and has the ability to use the CVI Range accurately and effectively.  The endorsement means you know how to use the CVI range, however, knowing how to address the unique learning needs of every child identified with CVI is an ongoing learning process. CVI is a complex diagnosis. It covers a wide spectrum of children with varied abilities. Research is still unfolding.

Learning all things CVI is happening for all of us in real time.
Hearing this discussion, I can understand why an overworked Teacher of the Visually Impaired with too many children on her caseload and fewer available resources would be dubious about extra training for a “new” visual impairment.

She does not have extra time. She is being pulled in too many directions. Depending on the state and depending on the day, she may be expected to provide early intervention in the morning for an infant with albinism in a neighboring county; at lunchtime, she may be pulled into an IEP meeting for a 4th grader with nystagmus; in the afternoon, she may be transcribing civics homework into braille for a high school senior who is blind.
Changes in our educational system to give TVI fewer caseloads, more resources, more extensive professional development, and the time it requires to do their job well need to happen yesterday.
It is simply too much to ask these teachers to do more.

BUT,

nothing about having a child with Cortical Visual Impairment is simple. 
Until we can get universities to add CVI to their teacher preparation programs

AND,
until we can make sweeping changes in the system of educating children with vision loss

We have to ask.

Our children can’t wait. (Ellen Mazel again, everyone!)

Yet, they are waiting.

Every day a child with CVI sits in a classroom without appropriate accommodations – without ACCESS – to her education, she is losing learning time.

The awareness of time lost is the motor that drives CVI parents to ask overworked teachers to learn more about CVI.  It is why we ask them to help us give our children access.

To wrap up this post, I will repeat what I said to the TVI and COMS in my presentation.

We need you to believe that our children can learn.  

We don’t expect you to have all the answers.  

Help us find the answers.  

We have to start somewhere.  

Thanks to these formidable ladies, we have a starting point.  

 

CVI ladies

Adventures in Advocacy / NE AER / Ellen Mazel / Standing Room Only, Part 1

standing room onlyThe Northeast AER Conference in Burlington, Vermont wrapped up Friday, November 17th.

Thursday, it was standing room only for Ellen Cadigan Mazel, M. Ed. CTVI. Ellen is the CVI Program Manager for the Perkins School for the Blind. (Her blog, CVI Teacher at wordpress.com is required reading for CVI parents, TVI and anyone who cares about a child with CVI.)

The information and discussions that arose from the presentations at NE AER should be another post topic.  I will do that one next.

For now, I will share briefly what I experienced and what I learned from discussions in and around the presentations.

First, it made my mom’s heart glad to see so much interest in CVI.  The fact that Ellen’s presentation was standing room only and Peg Palmer’s would have been if it had been in a smaller room was encouraging.

Many TVI, COMS, and administrators showed up to learn more about the condition that affects our children’s access to the world.

There were 6 presentations on Cortical Visual Impairment during the 3 day event.  Dr. Christine Roman-Lantzy was there!  I was present for an eye-opening discussion session. (Saved for Part 2) 

(I couldn’t stay for Matt Tietjen’s presentation on What’s the Complexity, but I really wanted to.  I highly recommend parents and teachers familiarize themselves with his work around complexity and literacy.  It is a perspective we all need to understand to help our children make progress visually and to understand what they are seeing. Check out the Perkins CVI Hub for the next class or webinar.)

This amount of information and discussion about CVI at an AER (the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired) conference was unprecedented.

It would be great to see this kind of interest at every 2018 AER conference in every state or region of the United States and Canada.

Wouldn’t it? 

To share this opinion, you can find your state’s AER at http://www.aerbvi.org.

Find the president of your state’s AER and send her/him an email about your child, about CVI, and about the need for more teachers trained in understanding CVI.

You could ask them how we as parents can support our TVI in this training.  You could ask them what we need to do help make progress in getting CVI recognized as the #1 pediatric visual impairment in the Western World.  

I mean, since it is.

Also, you can send the email to these folks too:

AER’s Executive Director, Lou Tutt, lou@aerbvi.org 

AER’s Chair of the Personnel Preparation Committee, Olga Overbury at olga.overbury@umontreal.ca

AER’s Chair of the (provisional?) Neurological Visual Impairment Committee, Susan Sullivan at ssullivan@aph.org 

Since I had given my presentation to essentially the same audience at Peg Palmer’s presentation the day before, I shared other parent stories from the previous post where I asked you what you would say to a room filled with TVI.

This is what I shared:

From Kathryne in LA:  “My theory on the lack of interest in addressing outcomes for CVI is that our kids have all been lumped as multiple disabilities.  Incompetence is assumed. That is not to say that blind children can’t have multiple disabilities, but CVI is more prevalent in the multiple disabilities class.  Since it’s more work other therapists and teachers ignore it. 

Addressing my son’s vision has given him more improvement in all areas.  More than any other therapy.  We are now starting to see improvements in other areas now that vision has improved.  

She asked me to point out that many of the other skills will follow if vision is improved.” 

 

From Anna in OH: Show care, compassion and patience.  If someone is asking for a CVI Endorsed provider, there is a reason.  

The good news about CVI is that we can do something about it.  Please accept the challenge to learn more about our children.  It will be worth it!

Please listen to the parents’ concerns and ideas.  Their children are their life, their whole world. Parents do know what they are talking about.

A passionate/trained/knowledgeable/driven CVI Endorsed provider is worth their weight in gold.” 

Then, I shared a couple of stories about the frustrations parents face when looking for appropriate educational services for our children.

One mom called her local university teacher preparation program for teachers of the visually impaired and asked if CVI was covered in the curriculum.  The head of the program told her no.  When she asked why, he said, We can’t be all things to all people.” 

One mom called her state’s School for the Blind when her son was identified as having Cortical Visual Impairment.  When she told them her child’s diagnosis, she was told, We don’t serve those kids here.  It’s too expensive to train our teachers in CVI.”  

If these 2 stories frustrate you, they should.  We have a lot of work to do to raise awareness and to raise our expectations of how our children are taught in their educational placements.

There will be more to come on this.

And, I wore this shirt. t-shirt

 

Brenda, the kickass mom from Seattle and the brains behind the blog and FB page, Start Seeing CVI,  made them and some proceeds of sales go the growing Pediatric Cortical Visual Impairment Society.

What a lovely holiday gift, if I do say so myself!   https://startseeingcvi.com/?s=T-shirt

More to come to wrap up NE AER.

Until then, Happy Thanksgiving!  I continue to be grateful for other parents who remind me that we in this together.

Because we are.

 

 

Northeast AER 2017 / Adventures in Advocacy / Peg Palmer knows CVI

Good morning fellow families of well loved children who happen to have Cortical Visual Impairment,

I am writing from the Burlington Hilton where the 2017 Northeast AER conference is well under way.  I have heard that the attendance is roughly 300 TVI, COMS (Certified Orientation & Mobility Specialists), Low Vision Therapists, Occupational Therapists, Physical Therapists, with some program directors thrown in for good measure.

This is a great turnout.

Thanks to the efforts of Dr. Roman-Lantzy and people who lead the DeafBlind Projects in the Northeastern United States, this part of the country is well ahead of the curve on awareness of Cortical Visual Impairment.  There are TVI here who received training from Dr. Roman-Lantzy over 10 years ago and have been honing their skills and gaining knowledge ever since.

This conference has a CVI track – meaning there are presentations on various aspects of CVI in almost every time slot.   This may be almost unheard of at a conference like this.  It certainly is from my personal experience in which I show up at conferences and ask questions about CVI just to see what the response will be.  The response is usually a cold, hard stare from the presenter who is probably wondering who let a parent in.

It is refreshing and maddening at the same time.

Yesterday, Peg Palmer, a Perkins-Roman CVI Range Endorsed TVI with decades of experience, allowed me to hijack 15 minutes of her presentation about the CVI Range.

A shout out to Peg Palmer whose professionalism and compassion knows no bounds.  Connecticut is lucky to have her.  Her presentation on working through the CVI Range was very informative.  The videos of students she showed elicited a lively conversation and a lot of questions.

Exactly what we need.

I was able to talk to a room of 50 TVI and COMS (with a few therapists and a couple of program directors thrown in) to give them a parent’s perspective.  I shared some of my story as E’s mom and how challenging it has been to get CVI recognized, let alone understood in classrooms.

I asked them three things:

1.To believe in our children’s ability to learn

The presence of CVI is not an indicator of cognitive ability.  (Source:  The CVI page on the American Printing House for the Blind website)

I told them the Lego Tree story (see post on Lego Trees) and explained how easy it is for teachers, aides, and therapists to develop low expectations for our children if they do not understand the characteristics of CVI.  How many learning opportunities get lost if a teacher does not understand latency and lack of visual reach?  Too many.

2. To reach out to AER and to ask them make CVI a priority in professional development and in university teacher preparation programs

A few weeks ago, I had a meeting with the Executive Director of AER, Louis Tutt, and the Deputy Executive Director, Ginger Croce.  They very kindly answered my questions about AER’s slow recognition of Cortical Visual Impairment.  Only last year, did AER put together a provisional committee on Neurological Visual Impairment.  

Mr. Tutt told me AER responds to the concerns of its members.  So, if AER members contacted the president of their state chapter with the message that more professional development needs to happen for TVI and that future TVI needed to get more training on CVI, progress would be made.

Now we know.

Did you know that parents can join AER as a Associate Member for $98/year?  This is a non-voting membership category for anyone who is not employed in the field such as a parent or caregiver.

FYI:  Here are some email addresses you may find useful.

Executive Director, Louis Tutt – lou@aerbvi.org

Chair of the Neurological Visual Impairment Committee, Susan Sullivan, ssullivan@aph.org

Chair of the Personnel Preparation Committee, Olga Overbury, olga.overbury@umontreal.ca

You can find the president of your state AER chapter at aerbvi.org.

You could tell the powers-that-be at AER that you are the parent of a child with CVI and that you value their dedication to children with vision loss.

You could tell them that children with Cortical Visual Impairment, just like children with ocular vision loss, are not incidental learners (See how that came in handy?).

You could tell them that children with CVI require a different educational approach than children with ocular vision loss.

You could ask them to make educating children with CVI (the #1 Pediatric Visual Impairment in the United States and the Western world) a priority.  That means university teacher preparation programs need to add CVI to their curricula.  That means school systems need to provide extensive, ongoing professional development.

Understand this.  No one has all the answers.  This condition is complicated.  Each child is unique.

What we need to ask is that they join us in asking the right questions and seeking the answers.

3. To seek out more training

I told them about the Perkins-Roman CVI Range Endorsement.  I told them it wasn’t fair to ask them to do more training when that are understaffed and overworked.  I also said the training they got for children with ocular vision loss does not work with our kids.

So, to sweeten the deal, I offered pie.

Really, it’s all I’ve got. me-and-peg-e1510842788984.png

 

Northeast AER 2017/ A CVI Mom meets Vermont

Hello Fellow CVI Families,

Today, at 6:30 a.m., I boarded a plane from Dulles airport in D.C. to JFK, and then, boarded another plane to Burlington, Vermont to attend the Northeast AER conference.

AER is the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired, the professional membership organization of administrators, teachers of the visually impaired, orientation and mobility specialists, and other vision professionals.

AER chapters around the country have annual conferences.

We CVI parents are often talking about how we need more teachers with expertise in the unique learning needs of children with CVI.

How will this be achieved if we don’t start making our voices and our children’s stories heard?

The kids are already in the classrooms.

Time is passing.

This urgency put me on a plane to where I knew I could reach out to some of the educators who will work with our kids.

Now, I’m staring at my computer screen wondering just what to say to TVI who are already overworked and understaffed.

I will keep you posted.

I can report so far that Vermont has

1. So. Much. Flannel. (a big selling point for me)

2. A restaurant called The Skinny Pancake.  I didn’t eat there, but, I may move in if my return trip doesn’t pan out..

because

I lost my driver’s license somewhere between D.C. and Vermont. (Expletive deleted times 10.)

If I don’t make it back, please forward all future correspondence to The Skinny Pancake at the Burlington Airport.  I will be the woman in the corner passed out in a blissful sugar coma behind a pile of syrupy dishes and covered in crumbs.  Wearing flannel.

I can think of worse ways to go.

 

 

 

Adventures in Advocacy: What would you say to a room filled with TVI?

Hello Fellow Parents of Adorable Children who happen to have a diagnosis of CVI,

If you found yourself standing up in front of 50 Teachers of the Visually Impaired, what would you want to tell them?

This week, I am going to Burlington, Vermont to the North Eastern AER conference.

AER (the Association for the Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired) is the professional membership organization for TVI and Orientation and Mobility Specialists.  AER offers approval to teacher preparation programs that meet AER standards.  There are AER chapters  in many states or regions across the U.S. and Canada.  AER conferences are where education professionals in the field of vision loss can get together to learn, to share and to network.

At the North Eastern AER conference, Ellen Mazel and Peggy Palmer are both presenting on different aspects of CVI.  They are very kindly allowing me to have 10 minutes to address their audience of educators.

I am going to Vermont because, as Ellen Mazel says, “Our kids can’t wait.”

But, we all know they are waiting.

I hope to ask the TVI about the number of children they see with CVI.  I am genuinely curious to hear what they have to say.

As experienced teachers, they know that kids with CVI are already in the classroom.
They have been for decades.
They can learn.
They need teachers who believe in their abilities.
They need teachers to have high expectations for them.

They need teachers who recognize the need to get more training to be able to bring the world to these children. The fact that these educators signed up for Ellen and Peggy’s presentations means that they are aware of the need for improvement.

And, the saying goes, “It never hurts to ask… TVI to take the classes to become CVI Endorsed.”

Okay, I added the last part.

At the risk of becoming the broken record all CVI parents become, CVI has been discussed and researched for decades.  CVI is the most common visual impairment in the Western world.

Yet, only last year did AER, the professional organization for educators for blind and low vision students, agree to form a provisional committee on Neurological Visual Impairment.

There is a disconnect here somewhere.  I think the disconnect is the lack of urgency for real progress in the education of children with CVI.

The national office of AER is in Washington D.C.  Since I live close to D.C., I recently made an appointment with the Executive Director, Lou Tutt.  I wanted to find out about AER’s stance on how to prepare their members to teach children with Cortical Visual Impairment. Mr. Tutt and Ginger Croce,  Deputy Executive Director, very kindly took the time to answer my questions.

What I took away from the meeting was the following:

  1. AER takes guidance from its members.  According to Mr. Tutt, if enough members demanded more information and training on CVI, then AER would comply.
  2. Reaching out to the head of the Neurological Visual Impairment committee would be a good way to continue the conversation.  I have not done this yet because I wanted to attend the conference first and get more information.

If there is a disconnect, maybe parents are the connection.  Maybe our urgency is what is needed to get CVI addressed by the organizations that create policy and teacher programs.

Let’s see what happens in Vermont.  I will get the chance to ask a group of members to strongly encourage AER to approve more training for teachers who will be teaching children with CVI.  I will suggest they get the Perkins-Roman CVI Range Endorsement.  I will offer them pie.

I will let you know how it goes.

And, remember, if you have something you would like to tell them, send it in to info@cvimomifesto.com.

 

 

 

 

Adventures in Advocacy: Never Underestimate the Power of Pie

Hello fellow parents of glorious children who happen to have CVI,

Let’s talk a little advocacy with a dash of history, shall we?

When CVI Momifesto began in September, Dr. Sandra Newcomb, a Perkins-Roman Endorsed Consultant and Technical Assistance and Education Specialist at Connections Beyond Sight and Sound at the University of Maryland, left the following comment:

Historically, it has always been parents that brought about change.  Parents were behind IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, a law that makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensures special education and related services to those children) behind all the change in service delivery for autism, and the list goes on….

Not that you as parents need one more responsibility, but that is where the power is in special education.

Think about it.

In the not too distant past, children with special needs were not educated in schools.  They were not educated, period.  Parents were encouraged to “put away” their children and to continue with their lives.  “Throw away” is more like it if you look at the soul crushing history of institutions in America.

Parents went against the advice of medical experts and brought their children home.  Parents came together and began programs to teach their children.  Parents approached their legislators demanding that their children had the same right to a free and appropriate education as any other child.

We are the power that made special education happen. 

The fact that we have an IDEA to refer to and resources to look for (even if they are hard to find) is because of the parents who came before us.

Here’s what we, as parents of children with vision loss, need to understand as we blaze our trail.

Children with vision loss are considered a “low incidence” population. 

If you have had any experience trying to get a teacher with expertise in CVI in a public school district, you have learned that it is a challenge to get attention (and resources, funding, staffing…) for your child with this “low incidence” diagnosis.  You may find yourself in an IEP meeting or sitting across from a school administrator and hear those words “low incidence.”  Then, you may find yourself walking out of the meeting without getting anything you requested because “low incidence.”

Can I just say how much I dislike the term “low incidence”?

Some school systems and state legislatures have a tendency to forget that these populations of children need resources and funding too.

Here are a couple of thoughts I have about this.

#1.  There is no comprehensive, national system of data collection keeping track of children with CVI.  Some states have “soft” systems like a registry of children with certain medical diagnoses, but, doctors and hospitals are not required to use it.  Also, many state registries do not list Cortical Visual Impairment (or other pediatric visual impairments).

How can you keep track of a diagnosis if it is not even a box you can check off?

To school systems and state and federal funding streams, CVI is a low incidence population within a low incidence population.  Read: lowest possible priority.

But, if no one is counting, no one really knows the true number of children with Cortical Visual Impairment.  Often, children with CVI get put in a category called “multiple disabilities” and the vision loss goes unrecorded.

So, “low incidence,” my Aunt Fanny.  If you aren’t counting, then I call foul.

Remember, it is common knowledge that CVI is the #1 pediatric visual impairment in developed countries.

#2.   If children with vision loss are a low incidence population, then, to be heard, we, the parents, have to be loud, focused, and repetitive.  (Jessica M. said in her Moms on Monday post that she had become “a broken record.”  That’s what I feel like too.)

We need to start talking, often and loudly to certain groups of professionals.

We need to talk to teacher training programs to tell them we need more teachers who have been trained to work with children with CVI.

We need to talk to ophthalmologists to get CVI identified early and accurately.

We need to talk to legislators to change existing laws to require more specialized training (The Cogswell Macy Act needs your support!.)

We live in a world of constant distractions.  It is hard to get people galvanized around a single issue.

As you read this sentence, you have received 10 new posts on Facebook, 3 tweets, 15 emails, a few texts, your dog is pacing by the door in need of a walk, your child needs a new diaper, and your boss wants that report yesterday.  Am I wrong?

Every waking minute it seems as though we are bombarded with a parade of worthy causes and the resulting impulse to respond to them.

How can we start highlighting our worthy cause in today’s frantic world of modern media?

Here is something old school I’m doing every chance I get because something has GOT to give.

Talk to future teachers

From my experience, folks do not become special educators and/or teachers of the visually impaired to get rich quick.  They have a genuine desire to improve the lives of very vulnerable children.  They work hard.  There are not enough of them.  They may not have access to enough resources to do what they want to do in their classroom.

They care.

Wherever I live, I reach out to the special education department of the local university. In Bloomington, Indiana, I spoke to special education students in Dr. Melissa Keller’s class at Indiana University.  In Maryland, I spoke to students in Dr. Sandra Newcomb’s class.

Most recently, in Virginia, I reached out to Dr. Kim Avila, the head of the Visual Impairment Consortium, at George Mason University.  She has been kind enough to allow me to speak to her class of future teachers of the visually impaired for 2 years in a row.

On Monday, I joined a conference call to speak to this year’s group of future TVI on the first day of their unit on Cortical Visual Impairment.  The course is offered as online learning.  One of the students lives in Alaska and was compelled to become a TVI because of the number of children she is seeing in Early Intervention with CVI.  (She is my new hero.)

I told them about E, where she began and where she is now.  I told them about how challenging it has been to find teachers who had heard about Cortical Visual Impairment or what to do to help children with CVI learn.  I told them that teacher preparation programs for TVI do not typically include Cortical Visual Impairment in their curricula.

Then, I mentioned the Perkins-Roman CVI Range Endorsement.   I asked them to consider becoming endorsed because they will have children with CVI on their caseload and they need to be prepared for them.

Because, why not?  How is anything going to change if we do not start asking for things to change?  We have to start a conversation to raise awareness.  If these future teachers do not know that they will experience children with CVI in their classrooms, then they will not know to look for specialized training.

To seal the deal, I offered a homemade pie to anyone in the class who becomes CVI endorsed.

Even to the lovely lady in Alaska.

I would gladly freeze dry and Fed Ex a pie to Alaska, to the North Pole even, if it would increase the number of teachers who can help children with CVI have access to their environment.  So far, no one has taken me up on it.

But, the offer stands.

I do not kid about pie.

Future educators need to hear your experiences.  And, their professors would love to have your input in their classes.  You could research special education classes or TVI preparation classes at a university near you.  You could write a professor and say, “Hey, I’m the parent of a child with Cortical Visual Impairment.  I would love the chance to share our experiences with your class.”

If you do, tell CVI Momifesto how it went!

There might be a pie in it for you.

 

 

pie

 

 

 

 

 

Trailblazing: How do I ask for/renegotiate a CVI Endorsed Teacher?Experts weigh in.

Hello fellow families of glorious children who happen to have CVI!

Remember this from the last blog post?

…At the meeting with the team you are putting together, you have every right to request a CVI Endorsed teacher.  
It will sound weird.
You may be the first person in your school, county, state to do so. 
There will be an awkward pause. 
They will look at you funny.  
When they do, you will wonder whether or not you are
1. crazy 
or
2. asking too much. 

You are neither.

All of this is true.  Challenging your schools and your school systems to recognize and accommodate for CVI is advocating for your child’s quality of life. We are trailblazers.  Pith helmets are optional.

There was a comment after the post, asking for help renegotiating at an IEP for a CVI Endorsed Teacher.  I read the comment a few times.  I was out of my league.  I couldn’t make a dumb joke and tell everyone to “keep on keeping on.”

I have been trying to find the “right” answers to questions like this for years.  I find that each state is different, their systems of government are different and their school systems are different; you get my drift.

Living in a state in which your child has access to

-a diagnosis of CVI

-teachers who are CVI endorsed

and

-schools that recognize the unique needs of children with CVI is RARE.   

Every time my family moves to a new state, the prospect of unraveling the knotty problem of educating a child with vision loss lands at the top of my to-do list.  Who to talk to?  How much experience does the classroom teacher/TVI/aides have?  Has anyone ever heard the letters C,V and I put together before?  How does this state accommodate students with vision loss?  Some states do it better than others.  The list goes on  and on.

I am a parent advocate, but, I am not an expert in the IEP process.  Not even for my own kid.  I hope to be someday.

I am a parent who thinks this CVI situation needs to improve on a national scale.  I am learning and asking a lot of questions.

With this understood, I asked the question “How can I renegotiate for a CVI Endorsed teacher after already having the annual meeting?” with some experts in the field of education.

It is an important question for many families.  Thank you, Christi, for asking it.

There isn’t one answer to this question at this point in our journey.  But, here are the responses I got.

Many thanks to Dr. Julie Durando, Ellen Mazel, Peggy Palmer, and Dr. Christine Roman-Lantzy for their time and willingness to help CVI families navigate this bumpy terrain.

Julie Durando, Ed.D., Project Director, Virginia Project for Children and Young Adults with Deaf-Blindness – “The challenge of asking for a CVI Endorsed teacher on an IEP is that Virginia doesn’t recognize the endorsement in any official capacity.

Schools don’t really have a way to require teachers to get something that isn’t recognized as a Virginia certification or endorsement.

Even in the field of VI and Blindness, there is disagreement about which strategies are most effective.  This can make it confusing for administrators when experts in the field don’t agree.

I like to hope that professionals take personal responsibility to learn the skills needed to effectively do their jobs and serve kids well.

The shortage of teachers with VI certification does not make anyone at the state level eager to add stipulations to who can serve in this role.

This is no way unique to Virginia.

It is a national problem.”

Ellen Mazel, CVI Program Manager, Perkins School for the Blind –  “I always say the CVI Range is the only assessment with reliability to look at functional vision for a child with CVI.  The creator of that assessment (Dr. Christine Roman-Lantzy) determined that people need to prove competence in its use.

The steps to prove that competence begin with the Endorsement she has created.

There is no one doing an assessment of the Wilson Reading Program who has not gone through extensive training in it’s use.

There is no one doing many kinds of educational testing assessments without going through training.

The CVI Range is no different.”

Peggy Palmer, TVI –  “It’s a bit dicey, of course, to ask for a CVI Endorsed teacher after (I assume) the child already has a TVI.  However, I would go with the argument that with this brain based eye condition, the correct kind of strategies can have a dramatic effect on a child’s brain development.

A person who is CVI endorsed is able to correctly assess the child’s vision, prescribe the best strategies for vision development and provide ongoing assessments as the child’s vision changes.

We are not advocating for our children to make new friends.”

Dr. Christine Roman-Lantzy – “My thought would be to reopen the IEP and/or use the content of the IEP to support whether or not the CVI Range was used properly and that present levels, objectives, and accommodations are all incorporated and match the CVI Range Scale.”

This is what I’ve got so far.  It is good to have the insight of experts.  They can provide us with language that can sway school administrators.  Also, this insight can help you with your own advocate, or, as you prepare your own case for advocacy.

We are setting precedents.  Creating change is – like any act of creation – messy, chaotic, and fraught with folks who liked it better before you stuck your nose in it.

But, for children with CVI, where is the fun – the Free and Appropriate Public Education in that?

 

 

 

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

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.