How the Books Work
The Reach Out & Teach books come as a pair, the Parent Handbook and the Reachbook, both authored by Kay Alicyn Ferrell. The Parent Handbook is an invaluable resource that explains, from a teacher's point of view, how to communicate with and teach new concepts to a blind and/or multiply handicapped child. The book is written for parents with the understanding that, in most cases, it's the parent who does all of the real teaching and interacting with a visually impaired child, not the therapist or the teacher.
The Reachbook is also a great resource, especially if you use it to its full potential. In the Reachbook, the author offers quizzes, questions, and charts to help you understand and apply the concepts you've learned in the Handbook. The Reachbook can also serve as a sort of journal or progress report of your child if you keep up with it and write in it often. You can also use it to store important contact numbers as you meet therapists and social workers who help you receive the services you need.
What I Learned...
The two books on their own act almost as a self-driven course on teaching blind and multiply handicapped children. I think the most important thing I learned from reading these books is how important it is to be an advocate for your blind child. This advocacy takes many forms. At first, you have to remember that your child is dependent on you to receive the services and resources that he needs. Even though the federal government provides laws that "guarantee" your child certain services, it's much too easy for the state to overlook these laws, especially if you are unaware of them yourself. Through the Handbook I learned, for example, that my son Ivan must be examined and evaluated by a test that is designed for visually impaired children and that this test must be administered and interpreted by someone with experience with visual impairment. Knowing what the law requires makes it much easier for me to ask our team to provide Ivan with all that he needs.
The second part of being an advocate for your child is to remember that most people have very little experience with visual impairment and that they may not know how to respond to or how to interact with your child. Through these books, I learned a lot about how blindness effects development and this has given me the terminology and tools to help other people understand why Ivan may do things a certain way or how it may be best to help Ivan understand something. The hard part is remembering to stand up for Ivan because, at least right now, he's too young to do it himself. For example, when we go to the doctor's office, I tell the doctor to talk to Ivan, tell him who he is, tell him what he's about to do, let him feel the stethoscope before he uses it, etc. Even medical professionals forget that the little guy sitting in front of them can't see.
Another important part of advocating for your blind child is reminding them how to interact with the sighted world around them. As Ivan matures, we need to remember that he can't see what's "normal" and what isn't . He needs to have the opportunity to decide whether or not he wants to make "eye contact" or rock slightly while having a conversation with someone. I don't want to punish Ivan for acting in a way that makes sense to him as a blind child, but I do want to let him know what's "normal" so he can make that decision for himself. The Reach Out and Teach books emphasize over and over that blind children can't see the difference between them and other children so you need to speak up and tell them. If you don't, they'll never know.
Finally, and maybe the most helpful, I learned how babies and children develop physically and how we can help Ivan move through different fine and gross motor milestones. Knowing the terminology and the order in which development is supposed to take place (for example, that babies need to be able to cross midline and twist before they can crawl) has helped me tremendously in discussing Ivan's development with his physical therapist. It's much easier to work with the therapist in planning Ivan's goals now that I know which goals are most attainable right now and which goals should come first. This has made me a much more effective advocate for Ivan during our IFSP goal-setting meetings.
I highly recommend reading the Reach Out & Teach Books. This is a great place to start learning about how to teach a visually impaired child.