In the 1960s and 1970s, a philosophy was introduced in encourage blind and visually impaired babies and infants to start learning prior to going to school. Most infants and toddlers learn best during their very early years by seeing and touching and listening to their world. However, babies and toddlers who are blind or visually impaired need to learn and develop their learning skills in a different way. This different way is often referred to as “early intervention,” meaning there is an intervention to more actively provide an encouraging environment for the infant and toddler to learn by using the senses they do have to overcome their challenges of not seeing as well as their same-age peers who do not have visual impairments.
Although voluntary, early Intervention is a critical service for children with visual impairments because these activities build a foundation for future learning.
Families and the school system work together to help achieve this early intervention learning. By introducing learning concepts and practicing them, the family can support the child’s later academic success.
An effective early intervention program can help meet a child’s needs in these five primary areas:
- developing ideas, concepts, and knowledge
- physical development
- social and emotional development
- adaptive development
If your infant is diagnosed with a vision impairment or blindness by a medical professional, BCF recommends that you contact your school system to start early intervention services. You will need the medical diagnosis to provide to the school system so be sure to obtain one in writing from your child’s pediatrician or other specialists. There may be additional testing involved to determine eligibility for program services.
Families are often assigned a teacher of visual impairments (also referred to as a TVI or teacher consultant). This teacher has had specialized education in working with families and infants and toddlers who have vision challenges. They are also a wonderful source of information for your family. The TVI can suggest strategies and activities to use to challenge your child to become gradually more independent through stimulating his or her curiosity and natural desire to learn about the world and how it works. Sometimes you will be able to use commonly available household items to help your child learn in a family environment.
A baby’s needs cannot be separated from the needs of his or her family. Therefore, effective early intervention services are also designed to help your family to learn more about how to stimulate learning in your child. And, because parents are their child’s best teachers, it is important for you to be involved in all the services your baby receives. You can continue working with your child at home to reinforce lessons and skills that the early intervention team members may have introduced. With the help of trained professionals, through meaningful and fun playtime activities that provide stimulating experiences, you can teach your child to explore his surrounding environment and become aware of what is around him or her. You can expect the learning early intervention team to work with you to develop a Family
Federal funding for both of these programs for blind and visually impaired children is administered through the American Printing House for the Blind (APH).
- Early Intervention: The Parent Center Hub of the Center for Parent Information and Resources, established by the US Department of Education, contains information on who to contact for early intervention services. To learn more, go to: http://www.parentcenterhub.org/repository/services-ei/
Pre-School Special Education Programs: To learn more about special education programs for preschoolers who are blind or visually impaired, please go to: http://www.parentcenterhub.org/repository/preschoolers/
- Multi-Disabilities. Additional information for parents of children with multiple disabilities, including vision impairment, can be found at: http://www.parentcenterhub.org/repository/multiple/
- Transition from EI to Pre-School: Planning for your child’s transition from Early Intervention to Preschool? Find resources here at the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center: http://ectacenter.org/topics/transition/transition.asp
- School Age Students with Disabilities: To learn more about special education needs and funding for children who are in school (generally considered to be age 5 – 22 (or sometimes older)), go to: http://www.parentcenterhub.org/repository/schoolage/
- TeachingVisuallyImpaired.com (a commercial website devoted to early childhood education. Go to: http://www.teachingvisuallyimpaired.com/early-intervention.html
- Other parent resources include the American Foundation for the Blind (www.afb.org) which offers excellent information for parents. For example, go to this page to learn more about early intervention services: http://www.afb.org/info/education/know-your-rights/early-intervention-services/235
- In addition to the government provided information shown above, these commercial websites may be helpful to both parents and teachers: