Future Reflections         Winter 2011

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Getting Ready for College Begins in Third Grade
Working toward an Independent Future for Your Blind/VI Child

by Carol Castellano
Reviewed by Carlton Anne Cook Walker

From the Editor: Carlton Anne Cook Walker serves as second vice president of the National Organization of Parents of Blind Children. The mother of a blind daughter, nine-year-old Anna Catherine, she is a teacher of blind and visually impaired students and holds national certification in literary Braille.

Getting Ready for College Begins in Third Grade:
Working toward an Independent Future for Your Blind/VI Child (Pre-K through Middle School)
by Carol Castellano
National Federation of the Blind
200 E. Wells St., Baltimore, MD 21230
(410) 659-9314, Ext. 2216
Catalog No.  LSA110 (print)

Carol CastellanoWith Getting Ready for College Begins in Third Grade, Carol Castellano provides an excellent addition to the library of every parent or educator of blind/visually impaired children. Efficiently and effectively she provides vital information to the novice, augments the skills of the veteran, and expands everyone's base of knowledge.

In fewer than one hundred pages Castellano packs a punch. She offers guidance on all of the major areas of concern for parents of blind children: academics, independent living skills, independent travel, social skills, and self-advocacy. Castellano opens with a chapter entitled "High Expectations," and she weaves this theme throughout the book.

Castellano explores both the needs of children who are blind/visually impaired and those of their parents. She speaks as adroitly to the needs of parents whose children have some functional vision as she does to those whose children are totally blind. She carefully demonstrates the need to keep expectations high and to look ahead to a child's academic future. In addition, she explains how parents can remedy an academic program that is not meeting a child's current and future needs.

About 15 percent of the text is devoted to independent living skills. Castellano emphasizes the importance of high expectations and the need to integrate everyday self-care activities into the lives of blind and visually impaired children when it is age-appropriate. Much of the time parents and educators get caught up in day-to-day classroom activities and neglect these very crucial aspects of the lives of blind and visually impaired students. Imagine a teen who cannot bathe, get dressed, or do laundry independently. How will such a student fare in college? While academics are important, Getting Ready reminds us that many other factors also affect success (or failure) after high school.

Another 30 percent of the book addresses independent movement and travel. In a thoughtful and accessible narrative, Castellano shows parents the importance of independent travel as well as the often-neglected issue of concept development. She provides several examples of "guided discovery" and helps parents gain confidence in their ability to facilitate their child's exploration of the environment. The book contains multiple photographs of blind children engaged in exploration activities and sports (including gymnastics, swimming, and bicycle riding). These photos can help families and educators see the range of activities possible for our blind children, if only we provide them with opportunities.

Many parents, especially those new to blindness and without blind role models, are unsure about when or whether to introduce the long white cane. Castellano highlights indicators of the need for a cane and presents a short but excellent explanation of basic cane technique.

I especially appreciated Castellano's explanation of "sighted guide technique" and the reasons why many orientation and mobility (O&M) professionals concentrate on this facet of training. This background information can help a parent effectively advocate for a program that best meets the child's independent travel needs.

Too often overlooked in the school setting, the development of social skills is another important need for students who are blind or visually impaired. In Getting Ready, Castellano describes multiple social skills and shows parents how to support their development in age-appropriate ways. She also addresses the need to help a child develop self-advocacy skills, and lists two dozen resources to support the skills she outlines.

As noted above, Castellano emphasizes the vital importance of high expectations and skill development throughout the book. In addition, she often emphasizes the benefits of accessing the knowledge of successful blind role models. Drawing upon their own fund of experience, blind adults can help blind children acquire the skills and confidence they need to succeed in college and in life. Getting Ready serves as an excellent introduction for new parents or a refresher for veterans, and I heartily recommend it for all.

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