Future Reflections Convention 1992, Vol. 11 No. 5
IS YOUR CHILD AGE-APPROPRIATE?
by Ruby Ryles
Parents of Blind Children Seminar
National Federation of the Blind 1992 Annual Convention
Editor's Note: Reprinted from the November, 1992, Braille Monitor.
Barbara Pierce, Associate Editor
Among the families of blind children, those who work with blind people, and many blind people themselves there is a polite conspiracy of silence about the actual abilities of blind people. As the views and philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind have found more and more wide-spread acceptance or at least lip-service, people in the blindness field have learned to mouth the politically correct phrases: "My blind twelve-year-old gets himself ready for school independently"; "We expect our blind clients to pull their weight in the work place"; "I can travel anywhere I want to go." All of these are perfectly rational and appropriate statements. The trouble is that most of the people who make them or ones like them every day don't mean or believe them.
Many blind people seem to think that pretending they are independent is the nearest they will ever get to true independence. After all, they think, deep down, everybody knows that blind parents use their sighted children as intelligent and literate guide dogs. Family and friends had better be prepared to drop everything to act as chauffeur to the blind person, and no one really expects a blind employee to carry his or her full share of the load. Above all, and most devastating, no one actually expects blind children to keep up academically and socially with their sighted peers. It would be, of course, a shocking breach of good manners to say these things out loud, but many people (perhaps most) believe them.
We who are members of the National Federation of the Blind, however, do truly believe that blind people have the capacity to live fully normal, contributing lives. In the beginning we may only hope that this is the case, but in this organization we can look around us and see blind people who are living proof that this is indeed so. The blind children who are being raised by the members of our Parents of Blind Children Division are perhaps the most dramatic living proof of the power of the philosophy we espouse.
Ruby Ryles is a leader in the Parents of Blind Children Division and the mother of a blind son. She is also a distinguished expert in the education of blind children. She is currently enrolled full-time in a doctoral program at the University of Washington and is working part-time in the program for visually impaired students that she established in the Bellingham, Washington, School District. She was also this year's recipient of the National Federation of the Blind Distinguished Educator of Blind Children Award. She addressed the Parents of Blind Children Seminar on Sunday, June 30, 1992, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her remarks went straight to the heart of the confusion about appropriate expectations for blind children. Her expertise is unimpeachable, her words are clear, and her message is compelling. Here is what she had to say:
I live in the Seattle, Washington, area; and I am a professional in the education of blind children. I've been the Arkansas State Vision Consultant, coordinating and developing state-wide programs for blind and visually impaired children. My staff and I worked out of the Arkansas School for the Blind in conjunction with the State Department of Education of Arkansas. I spent a number of years as an itinerant teacher for the blind in Anchorage, Alaska.
Recently I developed and currently supervise a program for blind and visually impaired children in the Bellingham, Washington, School District. I also do private contracting with various school districts in Northwest Washington to assist in meeting the needs of their visually impaired student populations. I have a bachelor's, a master's, a year and a half of post-master's study; and I am currently a full-time Ph.D. student at the University of Washington in the area of special education, doing educational research on the blind. Are you impressed? Could I intimidate you at an IEP meeting? I certainly must qualify as a major-league expert regarding your blind child; don't you agree? As the kids would say, "Not!" Or, more correctly stated, "Wrong!" Well, if a hot-dog professional, who has read a ton of textbooks and taken and taught innumerable classes isn't the authority on your blind child's abilities and potentials, just who is? You are, my friends. You may not know or use the jargon of the professionals, but you truly do have the expertise regarding your child. Some of you parents do not quite believe me, do you?
Well, let me run over your areas of expertise, using the special education terminology of the day. When your blind baby began saying, "Bye bye," did you teach her to say, "Bye bye, Dada"? If so, then you assessed her proximal zone of linguistic development, scaffolded, and became her first communication development specialist. Did you hold on to your year-old baby's fingers and walk and walk and walk barefoot across the living room rug to encourage him to walk alone? Then you probably blatantly defied the Domon-Delacoto theory and became your child's initial peripatologist. Did you wrestle with your child on the bed, stack blocks, roll balls, play on the slides and swings, and guide your child as he or she put on socks and zipped a coat or loosened a lid on a jar? Then you're as accomplished in small and gross motoric guidance and ADL skills as any occupational or physical therapist I've worked with.
Do you remember the time you used a stern, disapproving voice and sat your child in a chair for ten minutes to settle him down or sent him to his room because he sassed his grandmother or tore the arm off his sister's Barbie doll or pitched a fit at Safeway? Did you know that you were assessing his current level of behavioral, social, and emotional functioning and applying behavior modification techniques to ensure the appropriate attitudinal adjustment of a non-compliant, temporarily behaviorally-disordered child? I don't know about you, my friends, but my own service delivery model of behavior modification when my blind son Dan was little was expedient, efficient, and measurable, especially when it was administered to the seat of his pants. Parents are cognition and behavior specialists long before any psychologist ever puts our blind child's name on paper work or assigns him a score on any test. You are the expert.
You don't use the jargon, and my apologies for the pompous introduction. My point is not to be silly, but to stress the fact that education, specifically special education, is glued together with jargon. I really think that special education would come apart at the seams if we didn't use jargon, especially if professionals had to say in real language who they are and what they do. Don't be too impressed or intimidated by titles and degrees or jargon in special education because there is no one and no test ever devised that knows your child as well as you do. Believe in your child's abilities. If you don't, there is no one who will. Any professional who makes you feel less knowledgeable about your child is poorly trained, insecure, arrogant, or all of the above.
We've established the point now that you're an expert in your child's behavioral, emotional, physical, and social development. Well, how about academics? You heard Fred Schroeder speak about this earlier today. Are you just going to have to trust that the special education department in your school district will do the right thing? No. Listen up because after the next few minutes you as a parent will be able to assess your child's academic progress and design a program that will take him through his public school years. Pay close attention now, because this information draws the line between a real expert on blind children and someone with only degrees and titles and pompous introductions to recommend him or her. There are only two words. Write them down on a scratch pad or a piece of scrap paper, but I want you to carry them in your heart for the rest of your son's or daughter's childhood—age appropriate. That's it, and it's a hundred percent, guaranteed, fool-proof, sure-fire, can't-be-denied secret. The majority of professionals in our field don't know it or practice it or, sadly enough, believe it. But you now know the secret of success for your blind child; and I want you to feel it and live it.
Let's talk about these two empowering words. Very simply, "age-appropriate" just means that your child is doing the things at the same age as he or she would have done them as a sighted child. For instance, what is a six- or seven-month-old child doing? Sitting up. That's one thing. Okay, there is no reason at all that a blind child shouldn't be sitting up at six months. At twelve months, what's the age-appropriate thing a child should be doing? One thing is walking. There is no reason not to expect it, even though we are told quite often by mobility instructors that blind kids don't walk until twenty-four months. In my own experience that's just not so--I do have a number of years of experience with blind kids and have raised a blind son. He walked at twelve months. A number of times I have had people point to research that blind kids don't walk until twenty-four months. Well then, how do we explain all the kids that do walk earlier?
At two and a half years old, sighted babies are into everything. Our blind infants ought to be into everything too. If they are not, you need to teach them. Teach them to get into the cabinets and what fun it is to find the pots and pans and to bang them together and make noise that will drive you crazy: all of the things that we say, "No, no, no" about to a two-and-a-half-year-old. If somebody tells you that your two-and-a-half-year-old is such a good baby, you better get scared, because your baby is not age-appropriate. If he is not age-appropriate at two and a half, then when is he going to be? When is he going to find the pots and pans and get into them? When he is twelve? That is not age-appropriate.
Behavior--I often find that I can tell as much about kids by their misbehavior as I can by their behavior. I think it was a real good lesson to me as a mom to watch my own son's misbehavior at age-appropriate levels. I had a student one time who was a third grader and I suppose is now a tenth grader. Kids in Alaska keep their boots in the closet, and they put on tennis shoes when they come to school. At the end of the day you change back into your snow boots. He was looking around for his snow boots, and somebody stepped on his hand. That was not pleasant, and he turned around and bit the kid. When I came in the next day, there was a big hullabaloo about this. I said, "Randy, you are in big-time trouble with the school for biting. If you are going to get in trouble for misbehaving, I would prefer to see you do it like an eight-year-old rather than a three-year-old. The next time somebody steps on your hand in the closet and you get angry about it, haul off and slug him; don't bite him." That's age-appropriate for an eight-year-old. My point is that, if Randy was going to get into trouble, how much more appropriate to do it as an eight-year-old.
I have a sadder comment to make on the lack of age-appropriate behavior. I had a student one time--she was probably in the eleventh grade. Somebody in class had called her a name that was none too pleasant, and she responded as an eight-year-old; she hit the girl. Now when I got to this high school, the counselor said that the teachers had already handled the situation. After I sifted through all that was happening, I found out that nobody had done much of anything about it. I asked, "Wait, why has no one done anything about this misbehavior? What would you do to a sighted eleventh-grader who hit somebody in the mouth?
"We would expel her."
She was never expelled; she was never even disciplined. Two years later, as she was transitioning into a job with the Anchorage Power and Light Company, she slammed a door on her supervisor's hand, not by accident, but out of anger, acting more like an eight-year-old than an eighteen-year-old. Obviously, Anchorage Power and Light was not real interested in retaining her services.
Age-appropriate behavior--it's very important. If the child is not appropriate at eight years old, when is he going to be an eight-year-old? When he is eighteen?
Language--one thing that needs to be understood is that blindness is in no way a cognitive handicap; it's just not. There is no earthly reason why our kids should not be on level developmentally. The only thing that holds them back in all these areas, whether it is language, behavior, academics, or anything else, is our own expectations--our own as parents and as professionals.
I ran across some interesting research recently. Unfortunately it was done outside the United States. Much of our research is rather negative. Fortunately, if you go to other countries to look for research, there is much better data on blind kids. One of the articles I looked at was talking about language and blind kids. The sample they studied indicated that blind kids' language acquisition and development were right on target with that of sighted kids, whereas the research in the United States says no such thing. I thought that was rather interesting.
In my own experience I find that blind kids whose parents work with them show no difference in language acquisition from sighted kids. Echolalia is a term often used by professionals to describe blind infants. It's parroting. If you say to your child, "Jennifer, do you want a cookie?" and Jennifer says, "Jennifer, do you want a cookie?" but she means, "I want a cookie," there is nothing abnormal about that. All normally developing kids (sighted or blind) go through an echolalic period. You don't need a speech or language therapist; all you do is model to the child the answer that you want her to give you. Quickly Jennifer will pick it up. Instead of saying, "Jennifer, do you want a cookie?" when she wants a cookie, she will say "Yes" or "Yes, please" or whatever it is in your family--not hard.
Dressing--at twelve years old one of my students was not washing or combing his own hair and was not clipping his nails. Again, if he doesn't do it at twelve, at what age? How inappropriate that at sixteen, he is just beginning to learn to wash his own hair. If as a parent you're not sure what is age appropriate, in other words, if you have a six-year-old and you're not sure what a six-year-old does because it's your only child, take a look around the neighborhood or at church. Look at other six-year-olds, and see what they are doing. There have to be other six-year-olds in your family. As a last resort go out and buy a book: Dr. Spock. Don't buy a book on blindness; buy one on standard development in children.
Eating skills--we can run the whole gamut with this one. But there is no reason in any area that your child shouldn't be doing what she would if she were sighted. A lot of people get very poor advice from professionals about such things as saving a fork until the child is five or six years old. But this means that by the time he gets to school he has had very little experience in using a fork; and, believe me, the rest of the kids in that cafeteria will pick up real quickly that your child is the only one consistently bringing a sack lunch with finger foods, that he doesn't ever get a hot lunch where he has to use a fork and a spoon and a knife. If you don't think that doesn't isolate your child, you are wrong. It does.
Is your child limited in getting around in any way? For instance, mobility? This organization was at the leading edge in insisting on mobility for preschool kids and using canes. I can remember very vividly, five or six years ago, this organization was already fighting very hard to get the word out that young children need canes so they can learn what they need to know early. The blindness field was saying, "No, we need to give them canes for a thirty-minute mobility lesson at school and then take them away." You can equate that with giving a pencil to a three-year-old sighted child. Would you deny pre-schoolers pencils until they get to school and then hand them out for thirty minutes at a writing lesson? How good do you think they are going to be at handwriting if that's the only experience they have with a pencil? And a sighted person uses a pencil far less than the blind child uses the cane.
Role models--in our family and with the kids that I teach, we have a cardinal rule that, if you don't know how to do something, don't go ask the professionals. You ask the real expert—the blind person who is doing it. For instance, I had a tenth- or eleventh-grade blind kid in Anchorage. He wanted to take a class on small engines, working on airplane engines. I know absolutely nothing about that. When I was in school as a girl, shop was for boys. So the first time I stepped into a shop class, I felt like I was in a locker room or something. I had no idea how Joe was going to take this class--I didn't know the names of the tools. I had no idea how they could be adapted. It would have been foolish for me to dream up some way for him to adapt these things. So I called the fellow who was President of the National Federation of the Blind, and I said, "Do you know a blind mechanic?" I didn't even call the guy myself. The President gave me the number, and the school district paid for the call so Joe could make the call. And the result was that Joe took the class without much help from me. He didn't need it anymore, because he had the real expertise he needed. He had learned from the blind mechanic about the set of tools he needed. We then got together with the Lions Club and bought it.
When my son was eleven or twelve, he wanted to do a paper route. Despite all of my professional expertise and wisdom, I had no idea how he could do one. At the time Jim Gashel was in our city. It really took a lot of courage on my part as a parent, but I swallowed my pride, went up to him, and said, "Mr. Gashel, I understand that you had a paper route when you were a boy, and I want to know how you did it. My son wants to have a paper route. Did you go on your mother's arm?" (I thought he was going to gag on that idea.) He said, "Well, no, but I don't remember how I did it. Does your son know how to use landmarks with his cane?"
"I don't know."
He asked, "How does he get home from school?"
"He gets off the bus and walks about a block and a half to the house."
He said, "Then he has to be able to use landmarks." I still can't tell you how Dan did that paper route. This was in Alaska with snow up to your knees. We just started out one morning as you would with a sighted child. I had the route list. If you have ever had a sighted kid with a paper route, you know that as a mom you normally begin the route with the kid. You say, "Okay, 2113, that's the brown house on the right over there. Let's see, 2115, that's the house next to it. 2116, oh, that's across the street. And normally you go over the list with the kid for a few days. You know, that's all I did with Dan, and within six or seven days he was doing it alone. However he figured it out with his cane, he was doing the route on his own.
That is the way he has always made his spending money. He delivers papers for the Seattle Times still. He handles his own records. We never have to do anything to help him. In fact, he had to train two substitutes to take his route so that he could be here at the convention. We went to the Federation; we went to the real experts. The people that I work with professionally were kind of upset that we didn't make mobility lessons out of learning how to do a paper route. But look at the message that would have given Dan: You have to have a series of lessons in being normal.
When he was in the tenth grade, Dan wanted to be in the marching band at school. Again I had no idea how to help. This is a good marching band. Our high school has won state awards, and they are not about to let anybody in who will mess up their precision drills. I had no idea how he could do it, because he uses his cane all the time, and you can't use the cane during drills. Before I could think of contriving some kind of an adaptation, Dan got on the phone, called the National Center for the Blind, and said, "Let me speak to anybody who's blind and who has been in a marching band." He happened to get hooked up with Pat Maurer. The next thing I knew--and I didn't have anything to do with this at all--he talked to the band director, and the two of them worked it out to the point where the last time I went to one of his football games where the band was marching at half time, I videotaped it. When I got home, I was informed that the kid that I had the camera on was not even Dan. You couldn't find him. Dan was very pleased with that because he didn't stand out, and I was irritated because I wanted a tape of his marching.
Staying on the topic of school--kindergarten. You need to learn about the kindergarten curriculum. They're called specific learning objectives (SLO's), and every school district has them for each grade. These are the things that we expect the kids to know when they come out of each grade. Kindergarten is pretty basic, pretty easy. Children need to know the alphabet. Your child needs to know it in Braille; that's all there is to it. Numbers, children need to be able to count. Normally in kindergarten they are supposed to be able to count at least to a hundred. Your child needs to be able to do it too. You should be able to demand it; you must demand it from your school district. I don't care how it's done, whether they use Mangold, whether they do it with Patterns.
Because I taught first grade for about nine years before I got into this field, I like to use basal readers. I take a basal reader and adapt my own method. It doesn't matter how it's done, as long as the child is on level from kindergarten through high school. In kindergarten the kids need to know colors. Blind kids need to know colors too. Totally blind children need to know dogs are not blue, hair is not green unless someone's making a statement.
Animals--how inappropriate for a fourteen-year-old not to know about animals! It's very embarrassing for students at fourteen and fifteen and sixteen. Sometimes, after they begin to feel comfortable with me, my students say things that let me know that they have no concept of a bird, different wingspans, a bird's feet. We talk about animals' feet. We look at the difference between a cat's feet, goat's feet, bird's feet, cow's feet. How about tails on animals? Will your child ever have a good concept of a giraffe? You say, "Oh my, of course not." Well sure he will if you describe it by analogy. He's got to know something about what a giraffe's feet are like. Are they more like a goat's, a cow's, or a horse's feet? But first he's got to have a good concept of the animals that you can let him have hands-on experiences with. Do this at an age-appropriate time--three, four, and five years old--so that you can talk to him about animals. A giraffe has a tail that's much like a cow's tail, but how will he know if he doesn't know what a cow's tail is like, if you have not taken him to a fair?
We are city people, so when a fair came around, I used to grab the opportunity. If you go into the animal barns, the people always want to let your kid pet the animals. That's not going to give the child much of a concept of what that animal is like. I always say we need to get into the animal. I take the child's hands and together we feel the back leg of a dog or a cat or a cow to know what the animal's legs are like and how they differ from the front legs and how the legs bend. So when I talk about the legs on a giraffe, the child will have a concept of that. But it is much harder to do this when the child is twelve than it is when he is five.
Remember, when your child is in first grade (Fred Schroeder mentioned this earlier, and it can't be emphasized too much), your child is not learning Braille; your child is learning to read in Braille. It boils down to this: when your child is leaving first grade, he needs to be reading at a beginning second grade reading level, or he is behind. It is like dominoes. He's behind in first grade. That throws second grade behind. He's behind in second grade, and that gap gets wider and wider and wider. Don't kid yourself: your child is not going to catch up. You need to be sure now that your child is on level in first grade.
At three years old every child should be using a spoon; don't wait until your child is six. Don't let somebody tell you that it's normal for a blind child not to do something until later. That's not so! Beware of the word "realistic." Anybody that tells you to be realistic about your child, you know what that really means? Lower your expectations. It means don't expect so much, accept less. That's what it means, and you should get your back up.
Second grade is the time for teaching keyboarding--I don't like that term; it's still typing to me. A child needs to learn to type. All vision-impaired kids (low-vision and Braille-reading kids) need to learn to type because they are going to be communicating with print-reading teachers.
I've been criticized sometimes for waiting too long, but third grade is normally the grade that I introduce slate and stylus. I would wait no longer than that. Writing with the slate and stylus is one of the easiest things under the sun to introduce to a child. I wait till third grade simply because by this time normally they've got a pretty good grasp of Braille, and it takes about six weeks from introduction to the time when they're just about fast enough to keep up with the spelling tests. I like to say, "Okay, spelling is the first subject in which we are going to use the slate and stylus. You are expected to do your spelling totally with slate and stylus." I have to prime the teacher first to let her know that she is not to slow down in dictating the Wednesday preliminary spelling test for this child. He may be used to making A's in spelling. He may make an F or so in spelling because he is not keeping up, but the teacher is not to slow down. There is nothing that will make that child speed up faster than a poor grade on his spelling test because he couldn't keep up. As a parent you need to get onto your child at home and say, "Hey, what happened to this spelling?" even though you know. If you accept the low score on the grounds that, well he was using the slate and stylus, so he's going to be a little slower at this, what message does that send to your child? It's okay if I'm not up to snuff in writing and spelling.
I would say, be very wary of putting an aide in a classroom with your child because an aide takes away independence. Think about it. If you've got an aide in the classroom with your child, at what point are you going to say, "Okay, no more aides in that classroom?" At sixth grade, fifth grade, when? Are you planning for it now? If your child has an aide in kindergarten or first grade, are you planning that next year we are going to say, no aide: she is going to do it on her own.
Dan hasn't even had an IEP since he was in seventh grade. He graduated from high school two weeks ago today. It has not been real easy along the way. The hardest thing I think has been for me to sit on my hands and not go to that school and wring some people's necks. I had to teach Dan to do his own advocating with the teachers. The science teacher, for instance, gave Dan a C, and in looking at the final report I noticed that they had included a computer printout record of the stuff the kids had done. Dan had done twenty-five percent of what the rest of the kids had done that quarter. I said, "Dan, do you realize you've done twenty-five percent, and the teacher is giving you a C? The teacher had written at the bottom that it was too visual. They had been doing a unit on astronomy, and they were computing distances between stars and that sort of stuff. It was beyond me, to be honest with you.
Anyway, I impressed on Dan that next year builds on this. You have twenty-five percent of the knowledge out of this science class that you are going to need for next year. Are you really satisfied with that? He went back to the teacher and said he wanted the extra work. He wanted the seventy-five percent that he had missed. He got it; he also got a lower grade on his behavior. I think his teacher thought he was a smart aleck, coming back and asking for the extra work. But he did the work and it taught him a lesson: he should not be letting his teacher make these decisions for him.
Often our kids have assignments cut for them. We are told that they work too slowly, for instance. It takes so much longer for them to get the assignment done. But what does this say to our kids? For one thing, they are being permissioned out of an education. Many times especially kids who are partially sighted and who don't know Braille are excused right into incompetence. If your child is partially sighted, there is no getting around it: he needs to learn Braille, which he can learn along with print. I would not advocate that he read only Braille, but he needs to learn to use print when it is efficient and Braille when it is efficient. It is far, far easier for your child to be taught Braille when he is six rather than twelve, because once kids get to about third grade, they are going to fight anything that is different. It is normal that they do. But I don't think that I have ever had a child, partially sighted or blind, below the third grade level who has ever resisted learning Braille.
Extra time--often our kids are given extended time limits, and the only reason they have extra time, whether they're Braille or low vision kids who haven't learned Braille, is that we haven't expected enough of them. If they are low vision and they need extra time, they need Braille. If they are Braille kids and they need extra time, they're not reading fast enough. That's all there is to it. And we need to step up their Braille reading instruction to be sure that they learn to read fast enough. There is no reason for our kids to need extra time.
Extra time in getting to class, extra time in getting to lunch--this should not be happening. As Fred said earlier about the kids who left five minutes early to get to the swings at recess, the message that policy sends to the child is very harmful.
How do you know if your child will benefit from reading Braille? If your child has low vision, There are some red flags that you can think about. If your child has low vision, does he enjoy reading? Does he pick up a library book and read it for pleasure? Normally not--low-vision kids avoid reading. As a partially sighted adult once said to me, "Reading print is just not pleasurable." There is no such thing as pleasure reading for these kids. Does your child use tapes a lot because print is so tiring? Does he need to have someone read the printed material to him?
Your child is not going to learn reading skills if he doesn't read. He has to read a large amount of material. Somewhere, in some of the readings that I have done in the last year or so, I have read that the average fifth-grade child runs across a million words a year. Do you think your partially sighted child using tapes is going to see that number? To be able to be literate, our children must physically read the same amount of material as sighted kids. For instance, is your partially-sighted child spelling as well as she should be? How is her reading speed? If it is not up to snuff, you need to be looking at Braille.
Does a child use tapes for book reports? Teachers assign book reports because they want the child to have the experience of reading books, and tapes don't provide the full experience. Kids can't learn to spell words off tapes. For instance, one of the students I had recently was a junior in high school, and she had just learned Braille. She was reading and saw a phrase in the text. She said, "This morning--I didn't know that was two words." If you get your information from tapes, there is no way that you could catch such a simple thing as that, let alone being able to spell a word like "Chicago." There is no way unless you have read the word "Chicago" enough times that you would know that it is not spelled with a "S-h-i-k." Be sure that your child is reading a lot.
Written expression is another big red flag with partially-sighted kids. Punctuation, paragraphing, syntax: all suffer greatly if the child doesn't read. Kids who don't read can't write. Braille is the answer.
Handwriting--can your child read his own handwriting after it gets cold? For instance, after a couple of weeks could you pull out notes from your partially sighted seventh-grader's notebook and say, "Read this back to me." If he can't read it, seriously consider Braille, because your child could benefit from learning it.
When I am called to assess a child in junior high, I know what I am going to find. The school personnel will say they want me to come look at a child that is visually impaired. Probably the student is in a resource room, some kind of a self-contained setting for at least one period a day. An aide or someone else is helping the child, more or less pulling her through assignments--reading the material, helping with spelling. These kids are not getting through school on their own. They are not getting the literacy skills that they need at all. Most of them are permissioned out of a lot of basic courses, such as foreign language, geometry, and higher math, because teachers believe these courses are too visual for kids with limited sight. Braille kids aren't denied such opportunities. For instance, last year my son Dan took trigonometry and chemistry. He needed no aides to take these classes. It's not that Dan or my other students are brilliant. It's just that they learned Braille from early on, and they took it for granted that they were expected to do higher math. They were expected to take trigonometry and geometry and two years of Spanish or French or German. Good Braille readers can do that. Those who struggle through with print can't. Such students are not normally good enough readers to handle complex material.
I lost my glasses earlier this week, and with my university courses, I've got to do a lot of reading. I got migraine headaches Monday and Tuesday. I'm taking a statistics class right now, and the eye strain gave me migraine headaches. I finally told my husband I couldn't go on. I was either going to have to start using Braille or go get some glasses. That experience gave me real empathy with a lot of the kids I have taught and am thankful for, the low-vision kids to whom I have taught Braille. Reading print is just not pleasurable for them, and they don't do enough of it to be very literate. Your kids won't be either, if they are partially sighted. Teach them Braille.
One definition of literacy is the ability to read and write at grade level. If your child is a Braille reader and she is in third grade and you don't know whether she is reading on level, how do you tell? Ask to borrow a third-grade textbook in your child's class. If it's not in Braille, there is somebody in your community who knows Braille well enough to Braille a story in the middle. Hand it to your child and listen to how she reads. See if she is fluent with it. If she is, ask her some questions about what she has just read. How is her comprehension? You can tell whether she is stumbling all over herself in answering your questions. If she has no idea what she has read, she is not on grade level. I don't care what that IEP says, what the assessment says; you do your own assessment of your child. It's not that hard.
I will finish by saying that in the Federation we believe that blindness can be reduced to the level of a nuisance if you've got the skills and opportunity. Can blindness really be reduced to the level of a nuisance? You bet it can, but only if your kid has good skills, a positive attitude about blindness, and a chance. One day soon, parents, you will find yourself in my shoes. Your child will be taller than you are, standing on the threshold of adulthood. I'll tell you from experience, it will be here in the blink of an eye. It seems like yesterday that Dan was a little one in my arms, and he is starting at Washington State University this fall. I can't believe the time is here. Time is a vindictive, relentless thief, and the cruelest theft of all is the theft of our kids' confidence in themselves. Don't let another day go by before you see that your child has the skills to ensure that he can become a confident, independent adult. You do that by seeing that he is a confident, independent child. See that he's age-appropriate in every way.