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Your child, young person and specialist educational support

Introduction

For integrated mainstream education and training to be inclusive learning needs to be made accessible and meet the needs of all children and young people. This often requires the involvement of a specialist teacher.

The following piece will use visual impairment to highlight the involvement of a specialist teacher. However, many of the general points raised could apply to the support required by other disabilities delivered by other specialist teachers.

The role of a specialist peripatetic teacher

Specialist peripatetic teachers travel around local schools and communicate advice, resources and support for disabled children, parents and young people. This, more specifically, may involve being given responsibility for a cluster of mainstream schools, special schools and homes in a given district. Alternatively, a specialist may be based in,

  • One school which has a resource base
  • A special school supporting children with low vision along with other disabilities

The specialist may,

  • Be given responsibility for a specific age group in a given area. This often means covering a wider area geographically speaking
  • Provide individual tuition in for example Braille
  • Transcribe class work into accessible formats
  • Advise non specialists about meeting the needs of your child or young person

Preschool

Evidence informs us that the pre-school stage is when basics in literacy, daily living skills, independence and mobility are learned. Time is therefore needed in a child’s home by a specialist teacher preparing the child for primary school in these skills.

Advice in the home

Working in the home can be time-consuming for a peripatetic teacher because of the travelling and a need to move at the family’s pace when establishing a working relationship and passing on new information.

Specialist support is extremely important in the early stages of development. Specialist intervention is necessary to address the developmental impact of a child’s disability, for example low vision.

Specifically in the UK intervention at this stage may involve:

  • Establishing an initial contact with the family of a visually impaired baby
  • Liaise with medical specialists to include a community nurse along with social services staff
  • Providing information about educational services available
  • Advice about developmental programs
  • Monitoring development
  • Monitoring progress
  • Providing information and advice about managing the emotional impact of having a disabled child

Support in the home can have a considerable impact on the child’s and the family’s development.

Support, advice and sometimes advocacy

A child having been referred by other professionals as having a problem with, for example vision, the peripatetic specialist should then carry out a preliminary functional assessment.

This specialist can represent an important link between family and clinicians by providing useful background information about a child’s circumstances. It can then be followed up with advice about for example low vision aids, their use and care.

Practical support can further be provided by organising hospital and eye clinic visits, interpreting information presented at visits and advise about other services available both locally and nationally.

Feelings and seeming different

Children and young people growing up with low vision can experience many negative effects. These might manifest themselves through:

  • Being unable to see how others look
  • Wearing glasses and especially if the lenses are thick
  • Using low vision aids or other specialist equipment like a cane

A specialist teacher can advise about managing the effect of being different.

Your child or young person might feel,

  • Like an outsider because s/he cannot take part fully in activities
  • Less capable because s/he does not fully understand concepts reliant on vision
  • Clumsy because s/he drops things or bumps into objects

All of these can undermine confidence or lower self-esteem. It is important that your child or young person does not identify her or himself in terms of low vision but instead as someone possessing a variety of human skills, capable of developing successfully based on successful experiences.

Educational support

The peripatetic specialist can deliver training in meeting the needs of your child or young person in the learning environment. For example, inform peers about low vision and help the school or college fully include your child or young person.

The specialist can also:

  • Show you activities which can improve your child’s visual skills such as fixation and tracking
  • Train your child in the most effective use of vision; for example, learn to write and record information, learn to use magnification, contrast and lighting or scan for information on a page
  • Show your child and young person how to best express her or his wishes

Trained teaching assistant

The skills of a trained teaching assistant under the direction of a class teacher are invaluable. Training will be required from a specialist teacher.

Alternatively, a sensory support team specialising in low vision may employ and train its own teaching assistants who are then allocated to specific children or young people. This strategy may be particularly beneficial if your child or young person is a Braillist requiring not only material constantly transcribed into Braille but also learning resources modified and adapted to meet individual need.

Input may also be required from a teaching assistant during:

  • Self-care activities
  • Supervision and support in practical work
  • Extra-curricular activities

A trained and experienced teaching assistant can also:

  • Produce large print and tactile materials
  • Support with the management of technological aids
  • Liaise with both the child or young person’s home and support specialist

Specialist advice

Low vision provision should be overseen by a specialist teacher in visual impairment.

Teachers working with your child or young person need regular and up to date advice about the impact of low vision on development and behavior. A low vision teaching specialist can advise on:

  • The child or young person’s progress
  • Teaching resources available
  • Suitable teaching strategies and programs

A lack of specialist support

Many families, children and young people are not getting the support they need? This occurs for several reasons to include:

  • A lack of sensitivity towards the needs of a child or young person with a disability and here specifically a visually impairment in the education or training system
  • Inadequate human and material resources
  • A lack of parental awareness
  • A failure in health and education authorities along with social care working together

A specialist teacher can help address these issues.

If you feel isolated, in need of professional support and information see what Families and Special Educational Needs can offer.

Introduction

Visual difficulties may appear at any age and change progressively over time.

  • Some children and young people have a visual impairment from birth which is likely to remain constant with planning made accordingly.
  • Other conditions may improve after surgery.
  • Some children or young people becoming better at independently managing their disability over time.
  • Conversely, other conditions may deteriorate unpredictably and even occur by way of an accident.

Consequently, a service must meet the needs of children and young people with a static condition whilst being flexible enough to meet the changing requirement of others. This inevitably will have an impact on service planning. Therefore, being unable to meet need could be a planning issue.

Provision

Provision should always be allocated based on assessment and individual need.

Even if the visual impairment after assessment and consultation is not considered to be the dominant disability an appropriate level of support for a child or young person’s low vision will still be necessary.

Level of support

Members of a low vision team should endeavor to communicate, cooperate and work closely with other specialists in order to fully benefit the child or young person.

Even though visual impairment is a low incident disability its specialist nature justifies each local authority having its own team.

If an authority has a small population or covers a small geographical area it can join with another authority to co-run a team.

A local authority should not only employ specialist teachers but also specialist tutors. Tutors will then cover for example, touch typing, mobility training, independent living skills training, braille tuition, rehabilitation and habilitation. A rehabilitation or habilitation worker could also help children or young people access the community during out of school or college hours by arranging and supporting activities.

Specialist tutors may be funded jointly by all three statutory services or another adjacent local authority.

When should your child or young person receive support?

To aid quality control a low vision support team should clearly set out its engagement criteria in specific and quantifiable terms.

A member of the team should visit if your child or young person has:

  • A visual acuity of 6/18 and/or
  • A visual field of less than 10 degrees from the point of fixation and/or
  • Near vision loss rendering her or him unable to read print size appropriate to age and/or
  • A known ophthalmic condition (with the exception of strabismus)

Support should be based on 4 levels of visual need

  • Mild: acuity 6/18 in better eye or problem with one eye only or poor prognosis.

(Poor prognosis could mean for example someone with Retinitis Pigmentosa requiring support from when deteriorating vision is first noted and then monitored on a very regular basis by a peripatetic specialist teacher.)

Children should be seen termly by a peripatetic specialist for a functional visual assessment and monitoring with advice passed onto school, college and parents.

  • Moderate: acuity 6/24 to 6/36 or with Nystagmus, good near vision, or defect of at least half visual field.

A peripatetic specialist teacher will visit fortnightly or monthly dependent on need to advise on materials, the implementation of the Individual Education Plan and be involved in direct work with the child or young person.

  • Severe: acuity 6/36 to 3/60 or registered Sight Impaired or with a very restricted visual field and impaired visual acuity.

Delivered here will be direct teaching support and pre-tutoring from a peripatetic specialist involving daily contact or several visits a week. Specialist Teaching Assistant time will be needed in all lessons requiring 1-1 support for the reformatting of materials and during extra curricula activities.

  • Profound: acuity 3/60 or less or registered Severely Sight Impaired or unable to read print without a sophisticated aid for example Close Circuit Television or the child or young person is a tactile learner.

Delivered here will be direct teaching support and pre-tutoring from a peripatetic specialist involving daily contact or several visits a week. Specialist Teaching Assistant time will be required for 1-1 support, for the reformatting of materials and during extra curricula activities.

Pre-school placements

It is generally believed that most children benefit from an early school placement. They learn to:

  • Model behaviour on peers
  • Receive professional help to reach developmental milestones
  • Become more independent than in the home where the family may be inexperienced and over-protective

Specialist paediatric support

For children with a visual impairment and no other disabilities a mainstream day nursery, playgroup or nursery class will probably be suitable. Extra support is likely to be needed along with advice and training from a specialist in developing age appropriate:

  • Social skills
  • Independent living skills
  • Movement, orientation and mobility

The peripatetic specialist should design and monitor programs to be delivered by staff. These programs should be over and above the normal learning activities offered to non-visually impaired children.

Support in a specialist or non-specialist learning environment

Placing all children with a visual impairment in one nursery means that staff can develop specialist knowledge, skills and experience along with more specialist resources concentrated in one place.

Nursery attached to a school

Attaching a nursery to a school, and developing a resource base for visually impaired children can potentially provide continuity for the child and staff if the child moves into the school after nursery. At a time of transfer flexibility can also be built into the process; for example, the child can join the school later or more gradually on a part time basis.

Multi-disabled and visually impaired

Children who are multi-disabled and visually impaired, although depending on individual need, can be suitably placed in a mainstream setting. Alternatively, the best option may be a local day special school. This could mean a special unit linked to other pre-school mainstream provision. If so, then a structured plan of training should be provided before the child arrives in order to ensure that all staff at the placement receive advice and training to address the child’s visual needs.

It cannot be emphasised enough that a visual impairment, no matter what other areas of need are present, must be supported by specialists in visual impairment.

Significant developmental delay

Some children with complex needs, for example significant developmental delay, may need a great deal of individual support. Although the child may seem to have little in common with peers of a similar chronological age a child who is severely delayed often benefits from interacting with others who are of a similar age.

A unit for those with a variety of special needs may be restrictive, and consequently, a child with low vision may benefit from a wider social context. If those surrounding the child are also developmentally delayed and not using language, it is very difficult for them to establish any relationship with a visually impaired child and visa-versa.

Mainstream and specialist education or training support

Issues to consider include:

  • Non-specialist classroom teachers must know where to get advice and support to meet the child or young person’s visual needs
  • There must be enough specialist time available to meet need
  • Where will funds for specialist provision come from to meet your child or young person’s needs? For example, who will fund:
    • Task lights
    • Specialist ICT and its maintenance
    • Double spaced and heavy lined paper
    • Large print books for use in lessons and the school library
    • Books in Braille and MOON
    • Blinds for windows
    • General adaptations to the environment; for example, highlighted steps, accessible notice boards and a generally hazard free communal environment
    • Improved lighting generally
    • Training for school and college based staff and particularly school or college based Teaching Assistants
    • Specialist equipment so the child or young person can access physical education, practical subjects and extra-curricular activities
    • Coloured overlays
    • Low vision aids

Support in a mainstream school resource base

Whilst sharing the same campus the unit must be an inherent part of the school.

Benefits

  • A resource base is usually more economical through being able to concentrate human and material resources in one place
  • Resourcing is likely to be greater and therefore, educationally better for your child
  • Staff throughout the school develop experience and expertise in meeting the needs of children with low vision
  • This encourages many to devote time and energy to improve skills because they know that they are likely to continue encountering this type of need on a daily basis

Your child with a visual impairment will also have contact with other children who are visually impaired and this can help to counteract the feeling of isolation which some children feel when integrated into a mainstream placement.

Disadvantages

  • Concentrating provision in one school means, although integrated, your child may have to travel to the placement and is thereby separated from the immediate local community, though being separated from their immediate local community. There are places in the UK where local community ties are very strong and a child would feel alienated if educated out of the community
  • Sometimes, children who are part of the unit tend to find it very secure and can even be encouraged to spend a lot of time to include break times in the unit. This undermines the concept of integration and consequently, full integration doesn’t take place
  • Travelling to a unit can also pose a problem. Time spent travelling increases the school day. It can be tiring and this may impact on homework
  • If children are travelling and using a taxi they can miss out on the incidental learning which takes place after school when peers ‘hangout’ together. Activities usually undertaken during ‘hanging out’ time can then be taken during lessons or at other inappropriate moments
  • A child travelling by taxi can also miss out on breakfast club or after school clubs.

What should a specialist resource base address and incorporate?

  • The learning environment should be accessible. This can mean addressing:
    • Poor lighting to make it suitable
    • Frequent and hazardous changes to floor levels
    • Poor acoustics which hinder the maximising of hearing
    • Signage so it is accessible
    • Additional power points
    • Highlighting the leading edge on steps and stairs
    • Blinds over windows
    • Convenient storage space for bulky, expensive equipment and leaning resources

A school where there are a large number of languages spoken may present a problem for children already finding it difficult to communicate 

Meaningful integration

For proper and meaningful integration to take place your child should be a full participant during:

  • Registration
  • Assemblies
  • Playtimes
  • Lunchtimes
  • Extra-curricular activities

If integration isn’t occurring it needs justifying in a specific and quantifiable way, kept to a minimum and regularly reviewed.

Further education

Local mainstream post-secondary tertiary colleges suitable for those with low vision are often under resourced with access to expertise in low vision absent too.

Like schools, these colleges require input from specialist teachers and tutors in visual impairment. They require similar curriculum resources with staff trained in the same way.

Age appropriate independent living skills and mobility training in particular should be offered. However, for many, the only option to meet need currently is a specialist independent residential college.

If you feel isolated, in need of professional support and information see what Families and Special Educational Needs can offer.

Copyright 2019