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.

 

Moms on Monday # 20 / Barbara from FL

Good morning fellow families of resilient and adorable children who have cortical visual impairment!

This morning we have the pleasure of hearing from Logan’s mom, Barbara.

logan and parents

Photo: Barbara, a woman with short dark hair, She holds the right arm of Logan, a little boy in a shirt and tie who is held by his father, Leo, a tall man with dark hair. They are all smiling.

When we first spoke, my intention was to ask Barbara the questions that other moms have been kind enough to answer for earlier Moms on Monday posts.   As any parent of a school-age child with CVI knows, it’s still IEP (Individualized Education Plan) season. That means CVI moms and dads across America are buying Tums in bulk and putting lawyers on speed dial in their never-ending search for a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) for their children. (It’s the law, by the way.) 

We didn’t get around to the questions during the first conversation because Barbara’s focus (like so many other parents of school-age children with CVI) is making sure his school team understands that cortical visual impairment requires accommodations throughout the day, extra training for staff, and modifications for school materials.

 


“Every obstacle that has been put in front of him, he has overcome.”

logan and glasses

Photo:  A little boy in a green t-shirt and sports glasses.  Smiling broadly, he is missing one of his front teeth.

Logan is 5 years old. His mom and dad recently attended the transition IEP meeting to prepare for his kindergarten placement.  The school team proposes placing him in a self-contained classroom for visually impaired children. Barbara would like Logan to be placed with his peers in an inclusive setting with appropriate support.  She would like to tell them to “stop putting my round peg in your square hole.”

According to Barbara, this year the focus is to make the school system understand how much they don’t know about CVI. They can try to contest the CVI Range, but they are required to give him ACCESS to his environment.

“We need him to be independent.  We don’t need them to feel sorry for him and think ‘Poor thing.’ We don’t want them to assume that he will never get a diploma. At the end of the day, he’s going to have to function in the real world.”

A teacher at the proposed placement told Barbara, “I’m not trained in CVI.  I’ve never had a kid with cortical visual impairment.”

At the IEP meeting, Barbara was told, “Our teachers aren’t required by law to become CVI endorsed.”

She replied, “But, you are required by law to teach my son.”

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And, this, fellow parents, is where we find ourselves in IEP meetings across America.  Our children exhibit some or all of the 10 characteristics of cortical visual impairment.  They require assessment so teachers will understand how our children use their vision and to plan accommodations to help them improve their functional vision.

The assessment is the CVI Range (Dr. Christine Roman).  The CVI Range was validated by the research of Dr. Sandra Newcomb (Journal of Visual Impairment and Blindness, 2010).  

Our children’s vision can improve.  This is an issue of accessibility not disability.  

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Logan is currently non-verbal.  Over the past 6 months he has learned how to communicate with an AAC  (Augmentative Alternative Communication) device.   During the meeting, Barbara requested that Logan’s teacher receive training in how to use AAC devices and how to communicate with children who are non-verbal, but this training was not added to the IEP.

In response, the school system requested that Logan be assessed through an educational evaluation by a psychologist.  Barbara, his mom, is also a developmental psychologist.  She explained to the school team that psychoeducational assessments are not appropriate for children with visual impairments.  (See post:  Death by IEP / Why Formal Assessments Do Not Work for Children with CVI or other Sensory Loss) 

Barbara would like a teacher who understands cortical visual impairment and how Logan communicates with his AAC device.

What I want educators to know about Logan.

“Logan enjoys a challenge.  He never gives up.  I want educators to know that teaching Logan is about giving him ACCESS to his education.
I recently saw a video of a mother whose daughter has cerebral palsy. The mother explained how hard it was for her daughter to get her body to do what she wants it to do. She said that people often misinterpret difficulty – the physical difficulty of getting your body to move the way you want it to – for an intellectual disability.
Logan has overcome every challenge placed in front of him. One time, when he was a baby and still not sitting up yet, I heard him laughing in another room. I went in to see what he was doing. He was laughing because he had gotten himself into a sitting position all by himself. From then on, I knew that laugh meant he was up to something.  He doesn’t give up.
School is supposed to offer him the least restrictive environment, not the most restrictive environment. At the end of the day, he is going to be in the real world. I want him to have experiences in the real world and, for me, this means being educated along side typically developing peers.”

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Introduction:  Logan lives in Florida with his mom, Barbara, dad, Leo, and 3 siblings, Lauren, Liam, and Landon.  Landon and Logan are twins.

What does Logan like to do?  What makes him laugh?  What are his favorite activities?  What do you like to do as a family? 

Logan is a very social kid.  He loves to interact with other people  both adults and children.  He loves it when people play games with him and sing to him, especially interactive songs like Wheels on the Bus.  He loves to play Peek-a-Boo.  He enjoys when I go outside and surprise him by looking in the window.  He is a very active kid.  He loves to dance and to jump around.

We do all the stuff other families do.  He goes where we go.  We go to the pool, play in the yard, go to museums and Disneyworld.

logan and siblings

Photo:  Four children posing for a picture with big smiles.  Three boys, Landon, Logan, and Liam  in colorful checked shirts and dark pants.  Their older sister, Lauren, in a red dress with a matching red bow in her long curly hair, stands in the middle behind Logan.

When did you learn about CVI?  How were you given the diagnosis?

“Stumbling over diagnoses” has been a recurrent theme with Logan.

When he was 8 months old, he began sleeping a lot. When he woke up, his high-pitched cry was different than his usual cry. I remember taking videos of spasms that happened when he slept.

We had lots of doctor appointments back then since the twins were preterm.   I asked about the spasms and the high-pitched crying.  It wasn’t until we went to a new neurologist that we were taken seriously.  The neurologist took one look at him and told me to go to the hospital immediately. He was hospitalized with Infantile Spasms.

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I tried to get him enrolled in a special needs daycare through the state because he needed every therapy there was and my insurance wouldn’t cover it. It was a struggle to get him into the program even though he fit their criteria.

The head therapist suggested that I apply for Medicaid waiver funding for Logan. I told her we couldn’t because my husband works.  She told me Logan had one of those diagnoses where he would be eligible.
“What diagnosis is that?” I asked.
She printed out a list of eligible diagnoses.  One of them was cerebral palsy.

“He has this?”

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I have gotten used to going against the grain.
When Logan was smaller, we decided that Logan should have a selective dorsal rhizotomy in the hopes that he would become more mobile. His physical therapists advised against it. After the procedure, he began standing and even learned to use a walker.  He now walks without assistive devices.

The physical therapists are now recommending the procedure to other families.

logan the explorerPhote:  Logan in a t-shirt that says “Little Explorer”  walking with a reverse walker

 

A couple of years ago, I attended a conference on cerebral palsy and developmental medicine.  It was then that I first heard about CVI.  I thought, “Oh, this looks complicated.  I don’t know if this applies to him but I have to learn.”

Logan had been followed by a pediatric ophthalmologist because he also has strabismus and we were patching.  Yet, I had never heard about even the possibility of CVI from our ophthalmologist.

When Logan was 3 years old, I told our neurologist that I noticed things that didn’t “make sense.”  I found it odd that TV didn’t interest him at all.  His sister and brothers watched cartoons, but cartoons didn’t interest him.  I wasn’t thinking about vision.  I’m a developmental psychologist.  I was thinking maybe the cartoons were abstract and his thinking was too concrete for them.

The neurologist couldn’t answer my questions.  She said there were no studies on kids who don’t watch TV.

I took my newfound information about CVI to our pediatric ophthalmologist and asked him if it was possible that Logan had CVI.  He said, “Yeah, he has that.  I guess I’ll refer you to the Lighthouse for the Blind.”

I was floored.  It was like receiving a cancer diagnosis.  I didn’t know anything about CVI.  And now, you’re telling me my child is blind and you’ve never told me this before?

I asked my pediatrician how long the diagnosis had been in his file.  Apparently when Logan was 2 1/2 years old, the diagnosis was added to his file without informing me.

Anger wasn’t going to get me anywhere.  I knew I had to learn.  I found Dr. Roman’s videos on the West Virginia website  (http://wvde.state.wv.us/osp/vi/cvi/cvi-special-topics.html).

How was Logan’s early intervention experience with regard to CVI?

We didn’t know he had CVI for 4 years.  When I finally made contact with the Lighthouse for the Blind they sent someone to come work on a few things through the Blind Babies program.  However, once he entered the Visually Impaired program within our local school district, the Blind Babies program closed out the case.  In the school district, we were only give consultation services from the TVI.
Now that Logan is 5, the Lighthouse for the Blind is supposed to offer services for children with blindness and visual impairment. They offer blind children support with braille or technology 2 Saturdays/month. When I ask for services for CVI, I was only offered once a month.

What would you tell a mom whose child has just been identified with CVI?

First, I would say it’s not the end of the world.  CVI is treatable.  Their vision can improve.

You are not alone.  I haven’t found any other moms here of children with kids with CVI.  One of the things I have found is that Facebook can help you find a community and can help you find answers.  For example, I found out that the Texas School for the Blind was holding a conference on Phase III with Dr. Christine Roman-Lantzy.  There were grants for families to attend, but the families had to be from Texas.  I asked our Lighthouse for the Blind and Division of Blind Services if there was grant money for this conference.  They said no.  I paid to go to the conference.  I was grateful that TSBVI waived my registration fee.

At this conference, I got a lot of information.  I got to meet Dr. Roman.  I learned about the weekly CVI conference call sponsored by the Lighthouse Guild.  I learned that there are TVI who are willing to learn about CVI and work with families to help them learn more about giving their child access to their environment.

What would you like people who have never heard of CVI to know?  

CVI is a lot more common than you think.  It is not a problem with his eyes.  It is his brain.  His brain has a hard time taking in visual information.

He is a very social kid.  Still, I have to explain to people at school that when you see him smiling and waving at you, he sees you, but he doesn’t know who you are.

What are your hopes and dreams for Logan?  

My hopes and dreams for him are the same ones I have for my other kids.  To be successful in school, to have friends, to be the typical kid he is.

I have learned to quiet that part of me that says “He can’t do it.  I have learned to quiet the skeptic in me.  No one knows his potential.  Including me.

I have to try.

It’s what moms do.

It is what moms do.  Every day.  Thank you Barbara for sharing your experiences.  You have a beautiful family.  

 

Death by IEP / Why formal assessments do NOT work for CVI children or other children with sensory loss

I posted recently on my frustration with the “formal” assessments therapists and educators have tried to use on my daughter over the years.  (The long winded post, Death by IEP / Assessments and Access, has great quotes from experts in the field about the problems with assessments geared toward children with typical vision and hearing.) 

I learned early on in Eliza’s life to politely tell evaluators where they could put the assessments which would inevitably result in a grim column of zeroes or checkmarked boxes of “no”.  Right back in their briefcases, of course.  Ahem.

(I call dibs on “Grim column of zeroes” for a band name.  “Checkmarked boxes of no” sounds like the world’s worst cereal.  Nothing like the flavor of failure to start the day.)

The grim column of zeroes represents the failure of formal assessments to accurately gauge the abilities of children with sensory loss.  It does not reflect their capacity to learn.   It literally means nothing. 

This has been a topic of conversation for CVI moms on Facebook recently.  Probably because it is IEP season and we are all hunting resources for appropriate IEP goals for our kids.  I am personally working on IEP goals that have higher expectations for my non-verbal kid who will wrap you around her finger with her cuteness, a method of sailing through life that has served her well so far.

IMG_0834Image:  A girl smiling broadly swings at the park.

By asking around about the problem of assessments, it was suggested to me that I look into the work of Dr. Jan van Dijk.  I thought I would pass along what I found.

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From Perkins eLearning: In the early 1960s, Dr. Jan van Dijk of the Netherlands was asked to assess children with sensory impairments and multiple disabilities.

He found that existing assessment tools were not useful because they assumed that the children had been exposed to typical experiences; and he felt that children with sensory impairments and multiple disabilities, due to the very nature of their impairments, had not had the opportunity to experience the world in a typical manner.

Dr. van Dijk dedicated his 50-year career to helping children who have multiple disabilities in addition to deafblindness. His child-guided strategies are recognized and used throughout the world.

What is child-guided assessment?

Child-guided assessment is a procedure to bring the best of the child to the surface.
Children with multiple disabilities live in a fragmented world, often full of stress and anxiety.
The assessor wants to meet the child within this very peculiar world, to discover how learning in its broadest sense takes place. He tries to resonate with the child’s behavior by following the child’s lead.
When the child feels that he is controlling the situation, it is likely that he will open up and will follow the assessor’s suggestions for finding undiscovered paths for learning and emotional stability.

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I watched one of Dr. van Dijk’s webcasts yesterday.

http://www.perkinselearning.org/videos/webcast/child-guided-assessment

In my humble opinion, this is 29 minutes CVI moms need to watch to better understand why formal assessments don’t work and how to explain this to IEP teams.  Dr. Jan van Dijk (who died last year) was an expert on working with children with multiple disabilities.  And, as one CVI mom said to me recently, “CVI doesn’t stand alone.”

I felt as though I understood my complicated kid better after watching it.  It’s important information and gives a glimpse into the way to reach our children.

Also, it’s fun to listen to Dr. van Dijk’s accent.  (I am easily amused. Or, just weird after seeing one too many grim column of zeroes.) 

If you get a chance to check it out, let me know what you think.  I’d love to know if you found this information helpful and if it helps you make progress with your child’s team.

Thank you!

 

 

 

 

 

Death by IEP / Assessments and Access

There are no tests of potential (different from achievement) that are free from inherent bias for individuals with CVI. The items are often based on content that is linked to visual learning and therefore, the scores will skew low

….and they certainly do.
Dr. Christine Roman-Lantzy

Cognitive assessment is typically based on how a child learns information including rate of learning, problem solving, and accuracy. For children with vision impairment, they have not had access to basic information.

How can you learn, let alone be judged on, information that either you cannot access or others have not given you access?

Dr. Sandra Newcomb

Hello fellow families of beautiful children with CVI,

Since it’s IEP season, I’ve been thinking about assessment tests recently.  As a parent of a child with special needs, I have watched my daughter go through a gauntlet of physical, developmental and cognitive testing from her earliest days.  It can be hard to watch.  It can be hard to hear the results.  Whatever the results, I want them to be accurate.

As the parent of child with CVI, I have learned that there is a lot to be aware of when someone says they want to assess your child.

When Eliza was about a year old, a new occupational therapist wanted to assess her.

We were still wrapping our minds around the diagnoses that had quickly followed our girl into the world:  microcephaly, cerebral palsy, global developmental delay, cortical visual impairment.  The learning curve was less a curve than a straight 90 degree angle to climb with no climbing gear,  and occasional boulders of unforeseen complications – seizures, asthma attacks, severe GI issues, little sleep – raining down at any given time.  We were trying to find our way.

This was soon after our Neuro-Ophthalmologist had told us there was nothing we could do about CVI. “Take her home, treat her like a blind child, come back and see me in a year.”

This was soon after I had ordered Dr. Roman-Lantzy’s book and sought her out for the first time.  I was just at the beginning of understanding what Cortical Visual Impairment was.  The message that Eliza’s vision could improve, however, was loud and clear.

Dr. Roman-Lantzy’s work offered me a glimpse of hope, especially because many of her 10 CVI characteristics explained Eliza’s puzzling behaviors for the first time..

Eliza was a light gazer.  She stared at light coming in through windows, lamps, or any strong light source.  She stared at fans.  She reluctantly used her peripheral vision and only if she had to. There was a long latency period between the time she would glance sideways at an object and then reach for it (usually with her head turned away from the object).  If you did not know to wait, you would miss her processing and getting organized enough to reach for something she had seen 15, 20, 30 seconds earlier.

She would not look into faces.  Her head often hung down, especially in new environments.  The novelty of new places was too much sensory input, and often, caused her to have screaming fits.   She was in Phase I.  I was still learning what that meant, but it was a place to start.  It was a foot hold in my 90 degree upward climb.

The new occupational therapist wanted to assess Eliza’s fine motor skills to establish a baseline to measure future progress.  Made sense to me.  I knew we had to get used to doing this.  We had to let the experts do their thing. Their keen eyes and knowledge would help me read my girl who was in many ways still a puzzle to me.  Their assessments would give us a fuller picture of Eliza and what she could do.  Or would they?

This is what I remember from the first assessment 10 years ago.

It was called the Hawaii Early Learning Profile.  I remember because the acronym for this assessment is HELP.  That was very comforting.  Boy, did I need HELP.  And, why Hawaii?    What did Hawaii know that the rest of the United States did not?  Maybe, there would be poi and hula dancing involved.  (Remember, I was not sleeping and it gets very busy in my head even when I’m well rested).  The HELP would help.

Standing in the OT’s office with one-year-old Eliza on my hip, I read over the developmental charts in the HELP.  I noticed that a lot of what was assessed required that the child had typical vision.   I mentioned this to the therapist.  She agreed that was an issue.  HELP, like most developmental assessments, did not account for vision loss.  But, she would write a note that Eliza had CVI.

I continued reading the chart of developmental milestones.

Looks at picture” – Nope.

“Plays with hands, feet” – Hasn’t found them yet, so no.

“Looks at place where ball falls down” – Uh Uh.

“Plays Peek-A-Boo”  – Well, doesn’t look at faces, so pass.

“Searches with eyes for sound” – Can we substitute stares at light bulbs?

“Places cylinder in similarly shaped hole” – Okay, I don’t even know where to begin with this one.  Just no.

“She is technically legally blind,” I told the OT.  “She doesn’t look at pictures.  She doesn’t look at faces. New sounds startle her. Do you have a different assessment?”  

The OT assured me she would mention Eliza’s diagnosis of CVI in the notes section of the test.

“Wait, what?  The central challenge to her ability to interact with the world will be a footnote?” (Okay, I didn’t say anything that articulate.  The “Wait, what?” is more like it.) 

To begin, she wanted to test Eliza’s ability to track a ball and to reach for it.  She put a light colored tennis ball on a school desk and rolled it to where I was standing with Eliza in my arms.

“Get the ball, Eliza!”  the therapist prompted.  The ball rolled off the desk.  Eliza was oblivious.    The OT looked apologetic, picked up the ball and tried it again.  Eliza stared at the fluorescent lights above us.  I stared at the therapist in disbelief.

She can’t see the ball,” I told the OT.  “It is too similar to the color of the desk.  Can I put a piece of black cloth on the desk to make it easier for her to see?”

“No. We have to maintain the protocol of the assessment.”

“If she could see it, she might reach for it.” 

“We can’t change how we do the assessment.”

So, the assessment will just be a series of zeroes then. It is going to look like she can’t do any of this if we don’t give her a chance to see what you expect her to do.  You’re not going to get an accurate idea of what she can do right now this way.  That’s like me asking you to run an obstacle course or do an algebra test in the dark. How would you score on that?”

“I’m sorry.  This is how we perform this assessment.”

“Well, it’s basically useless.  So, I think we are done here.” 

After watching the OT roll a ball my daughter could not see to her and then, scoring her as unable to track and complete the task, it dawned on me that the rules of this test were stacked against her.  Her development was going to chart a different path, a path this test did not accurately measure.

This was a new and strange idea.  I was slowly getting used to the fact that Eliza didn’t fit in anyone else’s boxes – not the pediatrician’s typical development questionnaires, not the stupid head circumference charts, and now, not even in the assessment for a child with developmental delays.

We were in unchartered territory.  We needed people who would think (and assess) outside of the box.  If the test did not apply to her, then the rules didn’t either.   I thanked the OT for her time, told her we would not be working with her, and took Eliza home.

I am not an expert in developmental assessments, but I have sat through many of them over the years both as an observer and an interviewee.  Eliza is far too capable and far too challenging to be relegated to “notes in the margin.”

I have since seen gifted  interventionists and therapists work with Eliza’s sensory challenges – starting with a thorough reading of her scores on the CVI Range.  I have seen them observe her intently for long periods of time.  I have seen them use trial and error when necessary, but always respectfully.

The kid faces enough challenges as it is.  She at least deserves to be evaluated in a way that reflects her true ability and potential.

And, the HELP was no help at all.  (Sorry.  It was right there.  Someone HAD to say it.) 


Fast forward about 10 years to a week ago, when I was sitting in a meeting with our IEP team at Eliza’s school.

Our search for FAPE in our CVI saga is a long and complicated tale. There have been successes and setbacks.  In the CVI spectrum, Eliza is on the complicated side.  She is non-verbal and has had a series of lackluster school placements.

Yes, she has delays in her physical and cognitive development.  Yes, she can learn.  Yes, these two sentences can co-exist.  You would be surprised how many people you have to convince of this basic fact.

This year we have had slow, steady success with communication.  On the other hand, she has also developed some behaviors that get her out of doing things she doesn’t want to do.  (That kind of cleverness doesn’t show up on cognitive tests.  And, will give me more grey hair than I already have.)

In this recent IEP meeting, a school psychologist confidently presented her assessment of Eliza’s behaviors and introduced the Behavior Intervention Plan that would shape them right up.  There would be a token system of bright yellow stars that Eliza would learn to associate with immediate rewards.  Eliza will comply!  Eliza will be rewarded!

Eliza is currently in mid to upper Phase II now.  With private consultation and work at home, she has begun showing more visual curiosity.  We have worked on teaching actual objects in her environment first and then moving to 2D representations of these objects.  Recent research from CTVI Matt Tietjen has revealed that children with CVI struggle the most with symbolic representations of objects – cartoon drawings, illustrations, etc…   They need to learn the actual objects and then learn the pictures of the objects.  (Check out his class, “What’s the Complexity Framework” offered through Perkins elearning.  Seriously.)

This is what was going through my mind when the psychologist started explaining her token system to us.  They were proposing stars (symbols)  to represent a reward for a child who does not have a lot of external motivators. (I never said she was easy.)  I wondered if the psychologist had actually met my girl.

I wanted to clarify about needing to use actual objects and then move to 2D pictures.

I interjected, “You realize she has a visual impairment right?  She has Cortical Visual Impairment, so we have to —” 

I know, I know.  High contrast.  We have to make the stars high contrast.”  The psychologist cut me off mid-sentence and began explaining her token system again.

I was reminded of something CVI Teacher Ellen Mazel said at a recent conference.

Ellen says that the most dangerous people she has ever met are

1. Teachers who have never heard about CVI

and

2. Teachers who have been to one workshop or read one article and think they are experts in CVI.

I knew I was sitting in this IEP meeting with someone who had read an article and decided she knew CVI.

She was going to continue using the assessments and the strategies she knew (for children with – I can only assume – typical vision) without taking into account how Eliza has access to her environment.
By the way, not having access to your environment, not understanding what is going on around you will affect your behavior.

This situation is still a work in progress.

I am shopping for an advocate and hoping to win the lottery.  To be continued….


What have I learned from these experiences?  What do I continue to learn?

When dealing with children identified with CVI, the CVI Range (Roman 2007) is the assessment that is the foundation of all other assessments.

When you are the parent of a child with CVI, be wary of the assessments used by your intervention or educational teams.  There are not many developmental assessments that take visual impairment into account.  Ask a lot of questions.

Ask them if they know what incidental learning is.  Our children are NOT incidental learners.  This fact should guide how therapists and teachers interact with them.

If you don’t feel comfortable with the answers, ask more questions until you do.  Or, ask for new providers.  You have every right to work with therapists and interventionists who have your child’s best interest at heart and who understand how to work with a child  with CVI.

Regarding other assessments for young children with sensory loss, I found interesting information here:

http://www.wonderbaby.org/articles/development-charts

and

http://www.perkinselearning.org/scout/assessment-young-children-visual-impairments

I am also aware of The Oregon Project for Preschool Children who are Blind or Visually Impaired. It is a comprehensive assessment and curriculum designed for use with children birth to six who are blind or visually impaired. It can be used by parents, teachers, vision specialists, or counselors in the home or in the classroom setting.

 

I am not recommending one assessment over another.  Each child with CVI is unique and requires a multi-disciplinary team approach of therapists, interventionists, teachers, and doctors.  Some of these team members must have a thorough understanding of CVI.

We, the parents, are team captains.  If your team proposes to assess your child with developmental tests that do not give your child access, you may need to discuss what other methods of assessments are available.

If no one on your team says you need to get a CVI Range completed for your child by a Perkins-Roman Endorsee, then, you need to lead the way.

Inaccurate results are not going to help your child.  Inaccurate results are not going to help your child’s therapists or educational team.

Even when it comes to assessments:

It is not extra

And, to all of those folks who want to test our children with tests that do not accommodate them…

To all of the therapists and teachers who have read one article or attended one workshop on CVI and then try to fit these kids in the margins or the footnotes, Eliza and I would like to respectfully say,

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Death by IEP / A New Category (Not a previously unpublished Agatha Christie novel…although wouldn’t THAT be cool? …but I digress.)

Hello fellow families of glorious children who happen to have Cortical Visual Impairment,

It’s IEP season at our house! 

That festive time of year parents of students with special needs eagerly anticipate with the kind of glee small children save for Santa.

Deck the halls with articles about neuroplasticity and webinars on Orientation and Mobility….Fa La La La and the CVI Range….. Ho Ho, ah phooey.

I can’t fool you.  I am not jolly.

Technically, it’s always IEP season at our house because I continue learning what I have to ask for and how to advocate for my complicated girl with a brain based vision impairment not currently acknowledged by the vast majority of school systems in the U.S.  More importantly, it is not acknowledged by, or regulated in, the current laws of Special Education.

Ho Ho – Holy Crud, this is hard. 

(To get us all on the same page, here’s a very basic definition of an IEP.

“IEP stands for Individualized Education Program.  An IEP is a written statement for a child with a disability  that is developed, reviewed, and revised in a meeting in keeping with certain requirements of law and regulations.

The IEP has two general purposes:

(1) to establish measurable annual goals for the child;

(2) to state the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services that the public agency will provide to, or on behalf of, the child.

When constructing an appropriate educational program for a child with disability, the IEP team broadly considers the child’s involvement and participation in three main areas of school life:

  • the general education curriculum
  • extracurricular activities
  • nonacademic activities”)
Source:  http://www.parentcenterhub.org

By the way, we parents are a critical part of the IEP team.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  Especially when it comes to CVI.  We have a long, bumpy road ahead of us, but we are the ones getting educated about CVI.  We are the ones seeking out experts, reading journals and books.

(Speaking of BOOKS, Dr. Roman-Lantzy’s NEW book, Cortical Visual Impairment: An Approach to Assessment and Intervention, 2nd Edition is out!!!!

Go to the AFB Store to check it out! 

https://www.afb.org/store/Pages/ShoppingCart/HomePage.aspx 

Then Celebrate!!)

We moms and dads are critical members of our children’s IEP teams.  We stay up late researching articles on CVI and our children’s other needs and diagnoses.  We print them out the night before.  We highlight and staple the articles filing them in manila folders with our children’s names written neatly on the tab.  This is our attempt to have some control over a situation in which we have nearly no control whatsoever. (Or maybe it’s just me.)

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Image:  A haggard woman in sunglasses holding stacks of research in each hand prior to an IEP meeting.

I am a perpetual optimist, much to the annoyance of my husband and some of my friends. Yet, despite my tendency to be ridiculously optimistic in the face of dire circumstances, I am worn down by years of IEP meetings that seem to go nowhere.


I have not learned the skill of successful IEP planning.  I am embarrassed to admit this. My daughter is now 11-years-old and I still feel inept and ineffective.  I feel as though I should be smarter than this.  

Googling “IEP assistance” brings up  many, many resources for IEP writing and advocacy.  I suppose I am in good, if frustrated, company.


 

In spite of plenty of effort and research, I  haven’t been particularly successful in articulating how Eliza needs to learn and how the school needs to put it in place. I’m worn down by giving each new school and each new teacher the benefit of the doubt for a few months,  then discovering that the implementation of what we put in the IEP was not carried out.  I’m worn down by insisting that she can learn more than the school thinks she can (“The downward spiral of low expectations.”).  I am worn down by seeing stacks of articles I printed out, untouched on someone’s desk.  Or, never seeing them again.

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Image:  A dining room table covered in papers, low tech communication devices, pictures and binders in preparation for an IEP meeting

Every year I spend  hour after hour attempting to convince, cajole,  and then, demand that the school team learn about how CVI is an obstacle to my child’s ability to learn and WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT.  I have hired private consultants and therapists with money I do not have.  I have documented the progress we make at home to take to school to show what Eliza can accomplish with mutual goals, high expectations, and a common understanding of how to navigate Cortical Visual Impairment because it is an issue every waking second of her day – much like my typical vision is with me every waking second of my day.

Meetings are planned.  School staffs are polite and weary.  Meetings end.  Everyone needs to get back to their jobs.   We agree to disagree.  I refuse to sign the document, or sign in partial agreement with my handwritten list of concerns.

The NEXT IEP meeting is scheduled in a couple of weeks so we can all jump back into the ring and continue the match.

And, before I know it, another year has passed.  I have been humored and circumvented without even realizing it.

I drag myself home after another IEP  meeting to nowhere like the last contestant in a 24 hour dance marathon.  I’ll crawl into a quiet place to sit and stare vacantly for awhile.  (Sometimes I find myself mumbling, “The horror, the horror…”  Ok, that was a slight exaggeration.  Maybe, “the frustration, the lack of understanding…access…..it’s about access, dang it”  Yes, that’s more like it.)

One night as my husband was coolly observing what used to be the dining table (see above), but is now my Command Center For Changing Education As We Know It For Children with CVI  – (too much?) – he commented,

“It’s like Death by IEP.”

And, suddenly my world made a little more sense.

So, now CVI Momifesto has a new category for all of the fun, D-I-Y projects that are our children’s IEPs.   This category will be a place to tell the IEP stories and to share what works and what really doesn’t work.

Baloney

Image:  A post-it note with the words “This is baloney” written on it.  The post-it note is on a copy of an IEP.

To be continued…..