Future Reflections Spring/Summer 1994, Vol. 13 No. 2

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OUR HOPE FOR THE FUTURE
by Dawn Neddo

[PICTURE] Kyle stands in his driveway as he waits and listens for his school bus to come down the road to his home.

From the Editor: Kyle-Dawn Neddo's son-is blind. In every other way Kyle is a typical boy. Two years ago, he was a typical four-year-old, and today he is a typical six-year-old. But two years ago, Kyle's education was not proceeding in a typical manner. Unlike his sighted peers, no one was showing Kyle the letters in his name, or teaching him the alphabet, or showing him books that he would soon learn to read. And Dawn Neddo was angry. She saw her son as a competent child who could, with the proper education and opportunity, hold his own with his sighted peers. But his teacher-a professional certified to work with blind and visually impaired children-apparently viewed all blind children (Kyle included) as inherently limited and incapable of full participation. 

A clash was inevitable. However, the odds didn't look too good for the Neddos. After all, Kyle's teacher's attitude only reflected what most people believe to be true about blindness, anyway. What hope could Mrs. Neddo and her husband have about prevailing with their radical notion that-given the right tools-blind children can learn and accomplish on an equal footing with sighted children? But there was hope, and it came in the form of the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan and its caring and knowledgeable members.

Reprinted below are three items from which Dawn Neddo's story of Our Hope for the Future unfolds. The first is a performance report from a regular toddler program that was open to all toddlers in the community. The Neddo's independently enrolled him in the program and paid the fee just like other parents. The report demonstrates how typical Kyle is in his development. The next item is a narrative based on an open letter Dawn wrote and circulated to local and state education officials in an attempt to get Braille and other services for her son. The final item in the article is a presentation Dawn Neddo made to the October, 1992, state convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan. It was, by the way, at this convention that Dawn was elected to her current position as President of the Parents of Blind Children Division of the NFB of Michigan. Here are the three pieces which make up Our Hope for the Future.

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April 4, 1992
TASK Karate, Inc.
Toddler Activity Class
1332 South Commerce Road Walled Lake, MI 4839O

RE: Kyle Neddo's Performance In Program

To whom it may concern; Kyle Neddo has participated in our Toddler Activity Class for more than one year. This class encourages social skills, coordination, motor skill development, and confidence to function in a group without a parent present. There are approximately sixteen toddlers in his class.

The following is my evaluation of Kyle's performance:
PARTICIPATION: Kyle participates in nearly every activity. He sings, dances, runs, jumps, tumbles, stacks, plays tee ball, bowls, walks on low balance beam, completes crafts, and much more. He excels in memory games and basic tumbling. The only activities he cannot do are obvious visual games such as color matching. However, he happily accepts an alternate role such as handing out the colored items to be matched.

SOCIAL SKILLS: Kyle is very happy to be in the company of his peers. He treats all toddlers with respect and very patiently waits his turn even though he cannot see exactly when that will be. The other children are not at all distracted or concerned that he is different. Kyle functions as a member of the group. He is outstanding at comforting other children. We recently had a little boy who did not feel well and cried for quite some time. While the other children simply played around him, Kyle followed his voice, approached him, held his hand, gently touched his face, hugged him, kissed him on the cheek and said, You're o.k.

SELF CONFIDENCE: This is Kyle's strongest asset. He believes in himself and his abilities. He knows when he needs additional information (because he cannot see the details of what is obvious to those with sight). He asks for help freely but does not like constant assistance. He only wants a minimum of extra attention and is very effective at communicating where those lines are drawn. He asks what he needs to know, then clearly says Now let me do it myself, and he does.

I have greatly enjoyed having Kyle in our program and am confident that he will be successful in a preschool program. He has strong support from his family and great confidence in himself.

Sincerely,
Kelly Johannes
Toddler Program Director

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The following narrative is based upon the open letter Dawn wrote in April, 1992, about the deficiencies in her son's educational program:

We are now into our seventh month of school, and I am still very frustrated and disappointed in the services my son Kyle Neddo has been receiving from Oakland Schools, his teacher of the visually impaired (VI teacher), and Walled Lake Special Services.

For three-and-a-half years now I have tried to be patient, but Kyle's needs are not being met by Oakland Schools, and I am concerned with the lack of response to my input about Kyle's education.

When Kyle was a baby, I felt that the Early Intervention Program would be the support and direction my husband and I needed in raising Kyle. In fact it has been a source of frustration, disappointment, and anxiety for us. I honestly cannot say what benefit Kyle has had in having a VI teacher in the last three-and-a-half years.

The VI teacher has chosen to work on developmental issues which I am trained, willing, and able to work on myself. I have asked her numerous times to be the VI consultant and only work on the areas in which I am not trained-such as Braille and Orientation and Mobility instruction- but she is still working on the developmental areas.

Kyle should be doing the same things as other four-year-olds, only in a different way. Things such as: 1. recognizing his first name in Braille; 2. beginning to learn the alphabet (in Braille, of course); 3. following a Braille line with his fingers; 4. getting some hands-on experience with reading Braille; and 5. being shown how the slate and stylus and Braille writer work.

When I ask about Braille, I am told that he isn't ready. But I'm seeing signs that he has an interest, and it seems that we are just wasting time repeating the same things week after week. His VI teacher has never shown Kyle any Braille letters, let alone his own name in Braille. Sighted four-year-old children can at least start to recognize the first letters of their names. She has yet to put his hands on a Braille book and show him how to follow a line of Braille. If it were up to her, Kyle would not know about, much less see or use, a slate and stylus and a Braille writer. 

Throughout the year we could have used various equipment for Kyle's education but were told by his VI teacher that she would not be able to leave such items with us or that the items were on back order. Such items include: 1. beeper ball (for a gym class in which Kyle was enrolled); 2. a slate and stylus; 3. an abacus; 4. age-appropriate toys which encourage tactile exploration; 5. textured books (which she had told us were very useful and important); and 6. a Braille label maker.

During this year's IEP meeting, I was belittled and intimidated by special services director, Dennis Wisniski, when I mentioned the possibility of enrolling my son in the regular Walled Lake Preschool. I was also informed by Mr. Wisniski that he had offered to me the visually impaired pre-school program, and they were not obligated to offer any other services if I rejected the center program.

As far as Orientation and Mobility (O&M) is concerned, I have discouraged the lessons with his VI teacher because the lessons had become repetitious and boring for Kyle and he was becoming fearful of walking on his own after the lessons. But when I take Kyle on our many outings, he always remembers his cane and loves using it. He walks independently using verbal cues. He has walked in various surroundings without problem or fear: from a quiet outdoor setting to a crowd of adults and children at the circus.

I feel, as I stated in September to the IEP team, that a new teacher with new ideas and a different approach and attitude is in Kyle's best interest. We need a teacher able and willing to work on Braille and be supportive and encouraging of Kyle's future. We need someone willing to work with Walled Lake Schools and give input to his preschool teacher so Kyle will not fall behind year after year as happens to many blind children.

This was how Dawn Neddo felt about Kyle's educational program in April, 1992. With some help from the NFB, Dawn had a little different story to tell when she gave the following presentation in October, 1992, to the state convention of the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan:

Hi, my name is Dawn Neddo, and my son is Kyle. Many of you already know Kyle. We've only been involved with the NFB for one year, but the help, information, and encouragement you have given us makes the time we've had with the NFB seem much longer.

One year ago we came to this convention frustrated, uninformed, and afraid. Today, because of the NFB, our family has a better understanding of Kyle's blindness and much more hope for his future.

One year ago at this convention we bought Kyle his first cane. His former teacher of the visually impaired would not allow Kyle to have a cane without her teaching it-we -might teach him bad cane habits.

Kyle has used his cane for one year now. He takes his cane everywhere he goes. Everyday he gets his cane and walks down the steps of our front porch, down the driveway to the gravel. There he waits for the bus to pull up. His bus driver says Hi. and Kyle walks toward her voice, climbs up the steps, and finds his seat. He tells me to stay in the house-he will do it by himself.

About a year ago Steve Handshu (a member and leader in the NFB of Michigan affiliate) became Kyle's advocate for his Individualized Education Program (IEP) meetings. With Steve's help, Kyle is now in the neighborhood Headstart Preschool Program. It was a battle to get Kyle in this program-even though ten percent of Headstart's enrollment has to be handicapped children. (Boy did they search for handicapped kids-anything but this blind kid.)

We finally found out he was in the program. But the struggle wasn't over yet. They didn't want him to start with the other children. They wanted him to wait until the staff was trained. I told them I didn't feel this was fair; besides, Kyle would train them. It really wasn't as hard as they were trying to make it.

They asked me to promise to go with Kyle the first week. I agreed. After one week of a few minor problems-such as taking turns, sitting up, looking at the book being read (even though Kyle is totally blind) and tattling on the teacher when she told him to close his mouth, I thought he was doing fine. But at the end of the first week I was told that they had searched deep in their souls and had decided I would have to come with Kyle every day for at least two weeks until they felt they could handle it.

Kyle is doing fine. None of his school problems are related to his blindness. They are all normal little boy problems. Most of the problems come about because he is independent, outgoing, and very verbal.

Because of Steve's involvement, Kyle has a new VI teacher consultant and an orientation and mobility instructor twice a week for one-and-a-half hours per day. He has a Braille writer in the classroom which he is learning to use. Kyle's new VI teacher is very happy with him. She's eager to work with him, and he is eager to work with her. He has friends and the kids enjoy playing with him. He loves school.

But this is only the beginning. We have a lot of work ahead of us, and in our school district we are probably going to have to push every step of the way. Kyle needs Braille; he needs to use his cane. We need to push for the slate and stylus's being introduced. His teachers are well meaning but totally uneducated about blindness. They are afraid of having a blind child in their class. They often do not want to take a few extra moments to fully explain something to Kyle. 

It will be an ongoing struggle, I'm sure, but I know that with the involvement of the National Federation of the Blind we can get what is best for Kyle. Thank you all for your inspiration.

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