What experiences have parents had enrolling their blind children in a public school mainstream Kindergarten class?

My son recently turned six years old, and he is in a Pre-K program at a preschool for blind and visually impaired children. He has bilateral ONH with light perception. We are planning for Kindergarten, and we don't know how mainstream kindergarten classes would accommodate his needs. Does anyone have any guidance? My fear is that he will be in a classroom full of sighted children with visually based teaching methods and be lost. How have your children adapted to this type of placement?

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Posted by Amber Bobnar on Jan 14, 2016 - 9:11am

This is an ongoing debate for many families and I don't think it's unusual at all for a child to begin school in a specialized environment then transition to a mainstream classroom when they are ready. The big question is: When are they ready? And of course... is the school ready to accommodate them?

You can see another conversation on WonderBaby that covers some of these issues here:
http://www.wonderbaby.org/answers/education

And I love these interviews with a mainstream preschool and kindergarten teacher about how they prepared for a blind student:

http://www.wonderbaby.org/articles/preschool

http://www.wonderbaby.org/articles/kindergarten

Charlotte Mellor has also written about this a lot on her website:

http://www.wonderbaby.org/resources/start-my-journey-choosing-best-educa...

http://www.wonderbaby.org/resources/why-i-decided-go-sen-education-over-...

http://www.wonderbaby.org/resources/specialist-vi-school-or-mainstream-h...

Posted by Amber Bobnar on Jan 14, 2016 - 9:39pm

You can find more responses on our Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/wonderbaby.org/posts/1151089274909013

Posted by Pzip1234 on Jan 21, 2016 - 11:16pm

As a CTVI for almost 25 years (now on medical disability :-(), with nine of them in a school for the blind and 13 as an itinerant TVI in public schools, I have observed the pros and cons of both settings. I also taught two years in the college setting. I made a deliberate choice to work at a school for the blind after being an itinerant teacher for several years. I knew that I had a bias against special schools and I wanted to be able to speak from personal experience. As you will see, those nine years affected me deeply.

When I was at the school for the blind, our largest population of students were middle schoolers. I feel this is because even below-average braille skills will get a student through elementary school. Teachers feel sorry for the "poor little blind child" and accept sub-standard work and make excuses that they wouldn't for a sighted child. They read texts aloud or often the blind student sits, doing nothing while the sighted children complete an activity that was not modified for him. This is when behavior issues kick in.

Once a child reaches middle school, the stakes are suddenly much higher. The student should be a competent braille reader and writer, as well as being very familiar with the braille math code (Nemeth). The workload is much more rigorous, and usually the students are suddenly changing classes with an already stressed and stretched to the limit itinerant teacher trying to communicate with and prepare work for six teachers. The student should already have been using Assistive technology since early elementary school, but probably did not. These skills are often difficult to teach appropriately by an itinerant teacher in a public school setting (no matter how "good" or "dedicated" she/he is). A number of factors figure in, including but not limited to large caseloads, shortage of certified vision educators, in particular those who are proficient in braille and Assistive technology and not enough VI hours per week for each student. A one-on-one aide who knows nothing about vision is of no educational use except to comfort the student, make him dependent, and keep him from disturbing the rest of the class.

So...the child arrives as a frustrated 7th grader who always did "fine" up until 6th grade where everything--especially math-- fell to pieces, as did the student, parents, classroom teachers and TVI. The next two years are a frenzy of learning braille and Assistive technology, and understanding how the real world works (most employers don't hire the "poor blind adult" who can't dress appropriately or get to work on time. Who doesn't have social skills like respecting personal space and eating meals with correct manners.

My advice to anyone with a blind or severely low vision (probably needs braille) student is to find a school for the blind and make a visit. For some parents this may mean relocating for a few years. This is an extreme sacrifice, but where there is a will, there is usually a way. By kindergarten age, at the latest, my child would be enrolled in the day school. By middle school, a residential setting for teaching the Expanded Core Curriculum in detail is a possibility.

During the elementary years your student will be immersed with people who are specialists in curriculum and in braille and are also vision specialists. They will have the opportunity to participate in physical education classes, which public schools just don't make accommodations for. I have a vivid memory of a seventh grader who came to us from public school and exclaimed, "That was the first time in my life that I didn't have to sit on the bench during PE!" I had another student who graduated valedictorian of her class and was the captain of the Goal-Ball team and even competed in the International Special Olympics! I jumped off of the high dive in our pool with dozens of students during our summer camps. Our school had a very nice paved track that our students road tandem bikes on, ran track with a sighted guide and could independently walk around the track with friends.

Different schools for the blind have different opportunities. Some have Snack Shops where the students learn to cook and prepare hamburgers and hotdogs, collect money, make change and socialize with friends. Another school offers canoeing and kayaking. Another snow-skiing or a full wood-working shop. Schools for the blind also have Orientation and Mobility Specialists to teach safe travel skills, Occupational and Physical Therapists usually full time, a social worker who is also vision certified, braille teachers for specific lessons, and Assistive technology specialists.

By 9th or 10th grade, your student should be prepared in every way, for a public school setting and all it entails. The next four years should be all about transition after high school--whatever direction that may take. He will have learned social and organizational skills needed to survive in high school and to make friends with sighted students. A specialized school placement is not a life sentence!

Children who have additional behavior issues, which often accompanies blindness, with some eye conditions more than others, sometimes do not receive appropriate services in a public school setting, just because no one--from school psychologists to autism specialists, to special education teachers--understands the unique needs of a child who is blind. It's not that they don't want to do the right thing--they just don't know what the right thing is. It is heart-breaking for parents and fills the child with even more anxiety which causes more acting out behaviors, and the cycle is set.

As you see, my years at the school for the blind changed my mindset completely when it comes to any child who needs to learn braille. Please explore all options, and never give up!!! Parents are my heroes!