Friday, February 11, 2005

Formation vs Information

Often, when a teacher learns that he/she will have a student in her class that is visually impaired, confusion, concerns and a feeling of being loss in the sea of the unknown are amongst the multiple emotions that will fill the mind of this person. So many questions, so few resources and not enough answers and facts to really help and you end up learning most things the hard way by being on your own.

Colleagues might be supportive and wanting to be helpful but without any formation and a huge lack of information, it is enough to keep you up at night. Why? Because, for this student like any other one of your student, you want to do what is best for him. Not so easy, is it?

How is it possible to understand your student's situation? How do you know how it feels to live with such a condition, day after day? How can you understand the frustrations that come with the territory? Simple! Get some formation!

A few years ago, I was sent by my School Division, all expenses paid, to follow a Braille and Visually Impaired through the Northwestern University, in Ontario, Canada. The University was offering the course on the campus of a school specialized in the field of people who are either blind, visually impaired, deaf or mute.

By living on the campus, I experienced things that no books, no videos, no human resources can ever provide to you...experiencing the conditions, the lifestyle and the educational resources that people with special needs are living on an every day basis.

Here are the things that I experienced there and that I suggest strongly that you experience yourself if you ever have the opportunity.

  • Interact with other colleagues who are taking this degree as well, especially if some of them are affected by the same or similar visual needs as your future student. I met two wonderful women that I ended up sharing a close friendship with, and both were legally blind. One owned a guide-dog and the other one was using a white cane. They were also teachers and suffered the loss of vision due an infection of the retina. During a period of four weeks, I learned how they felt going through this ordeal, how it affected their family and their work as well as the resources, the adaptations to their lifestyle, how to guide them as well as how to treat and use the services of a guide-dog.

  • Experience how your student might feel in various situation that he encounters every day. For example, brush your teeth or order a meal and eat it in a cafeteria with a blindfold. You can also use special goggles that represent certain types of visual conditions and cook. Ask someone to guide you or give you instruction while making some pudding. Play music or identify food by taste and smell or objects by touch. Try to find your way out of a room while blindfolded, by yourself. These are the kind of assignments that you would have in your classes. These experienced proved to be priceless in the future for my visually impaired student, her family, my colleagues and me.

  • Learn how to use the methods and resources such as how to read and type braille by using a brailler. Prepare some tactile books or semi-concrete material by molding the shapes of objects with a special machine that makes some special paper to mold to their shape and all the details.

  • Make some connections with the other people attending these classes with you. This will represent both your support group and will also provide you with ideas, experiences and resources.

Books, courses and the media provide a lot of information but the experience give you so much more as it really makes you understand what your student might be going through, why, what causes frustration and what really helps in a variety of situations. Take my word for it and you will not regret it!

Friday, February 04, 2005

Adaptations vs Discipline

When you have a student, in your class, that is visually impaired, some things must be adapted but others must be treated the same way as it would to any other student that is not affected by any disabilities.

  • Frustration can be a daily part of your student's life and should always be taken into consideration before giving your student some consequences for his display of frustration towards you, a classmate or any other staff member. You must understand that being visually impaired means to search for things that were accidently misplaced by him or others and that sometimes when classmates play tricks on your student, what seems to be funny to other children is less then amusing for your visually impaired student.

  • Confrontation makes things worse and you should always avoid it as much as possible. Instead, ask your student to explain to you the cause of his frustration. When you find out his side of the story, it will be easier for you to decide of the best way for everyone involved to deal with the situation. Let him know that you will also ask the other parties concerned about their side of the story and that you will meet with both sides at the same time to help each other understand the frustration and the reactions that were displayed during the situation.

  • Be a good listener as you don't know what caused the situation to happen and escalate to the point of an explosion of words and actions that reflected the frustration of everyone involved in this problematic situation.

  • Try to establish a good relationship with your student that will enable him to feel comfortable enough to confide in you and ask for your help or advice. Don't forget to make him aware that a friendship will never prevent you of giving him consequences when it applies as like any other student, he must be made aware of his limits and what is considered acceptable or not. He must learn that as everyone in our society, he must follow rules, obey the law and respect others as he would like to be treated the same way.

  • Adapt your consequences to his needs. For example, instead of using a method such as writing lines or tidying up the classroom, have him do some restitution. It will be more beneficial to him as he will learn more easily that what he said or done was not appropriate and must be corrected on the spot. This method is also beneficial to any other student. For example, if he hit someone that was in his way, according to him, and he pushed him, have him apologized and do something nice for him.

  • Calm avoid a storm as in, if there is a difficult situation that involves your visually impaired student, give him the opportunity to retire either in a favourite place inside or outside of the classroom. If his favourite place is outside the classroom make sure to inform the office so someone can keep an eye on him in case he needs to talk or to be assisted in any way. When he is calm, you can talk with him and your conversation will be more positive and beneficial as it will avoid a difficult confrontation and will help you to understand the situation more easily and deal with it accordingly.

  • Visual Impairment is not an excuse for misbehaving, displaying a lack of respect for others or his environment and that he will not get away with things because of his special needs. The rules apply to him as well as everyone else.

  • Teasing is bullying and every student should be made aware of it. After all, what seems funny to others might not seem to be funny for the victim. Such a behaviour should be dealt with right away, it doesn't matter if your student is the bully or the victim. For example, sometimes, students hide objects that belong to someone else, as a joke. Well, if your visually impaired student is the victim, it is quite a challenge in itself for him to find his things with aids or by following a routine without searching for something that was hidden on purpose. That would be cruel! On the other hand, if he is the one bullying, he should be made aware that it is not funny and that others might return him the favour another day and that it might not be as amusing for him when he has to deal with the situation.

As long as you listen well, that you show that you care, that you are fair and willing to adapt the disciplinary ways to deal with a problematic situation that involves your visually impaired student, it will be less frustrating for everyone.