Saturday, April 30, 2011

From my students...

Me: Ahhh....graduation time is just around the corner. It's an exciting time for seniors, bittersweet for us teachers. I get so proud of my students as they take the leap to the next chapter of their lives (but then I miss them!!). Some of my students go off to a vocational program but most of my students head off to college life.

I know for some of my parents of young children the college dream seems like something that might not happen. It's a tough pill to swallow to hear that your child is "legally blind". But parents (and students), take heart. Being blind does not take away your dreams and aspirations. It just means you have to learn to "see" a new path.

I have two students that I have had a lot of time with graduate this year. One is going off to UConn (and will be a very famous lawyer someday!!) and the other is Leah, my senior going off to Curry College. My side note about Leah is that in every class of students, you find a few students who can be so awesome, that you completely forget that they have a vision impairment. Leah is definitely one of those students. Leah has been one of my older students who has mentored younger students at my programs for almost a year now. My younger, female students love her because she is just so cool. She plays sports, she's funny and she just gets it.

One of the major things I try to work on with my students is their ability to own their vision impairment and not make it their foremost identity. It's a hard thing for them to do. It just is and I know that. I especially think it's difficult for my students with low vision. The ones that "don't look blind". How do they fit in? Well, they do! And I've got a truckload of awesome students that teach me how to teach them. So, I thought I would let them teach you blogland a few things about being blind and being a teenager. I asked Leah to write a little bit about her thoughts on going to college. Enjoy!

Leah: My name is Leah Bourassa, I'm a senior in high school and soon going off to Curry College . College is definitely a new experience both scary and fun at the same time, I cant wait to go yet at the same time I hate to leave .I cant wait to meet a bunch of new people yet at the same time im frightened a little . College is a great way to experience new things and be able to live on your own test your waters. Now in my case I am legally blind which I for one think is pretty cool that's one thing that should be a very interesting part of the college life, telling everyone of my professors and friends may be a challenge yet if you want them to know the real you and help you get through life easier it's better that they know. I've always gone through life telling everyone I have a lazy eye and I'm legally blind some people think its the coolest thing in the worked and others are afraid of it the ones who don't know how to accept it I'm not close friends with yet the others love to be apart of it with me. for the sake of my grades and the bond between my teachers / professors I am willingly telling them if and when I can not see something and its never an issue for them to help make accommodations or have an extra note taker in the room. believe me it helps allot.. Now for getting around campus I never like walking alone anyway's yet for the most part ill walk with friends and if I need to get somewhere ill go up and ask someone that's not an issue I'm a people person. The best part about this is that I wilt be receiving a scholarship by the Governor of Ct himself from the Governors coalition for youth with disability . I am extremely honored and excited that they chose me for this I worked hard to prepare for it. All around I can not wait for the whole experience. I couldn't have ask for a better mentor Robbin Keating to help me archive a higher goal. the more opportunities that come your way grasp them and take advantage because they definitely help in the long run.

Leah Bourassa

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Sunscreen for Albinism

Hello blogland, this week I am happy to share the work of one of my students, Gwen V., a high school student in Connecticut. Gwen has Albinism and beyond that, is a talented artist, funny, smart and has decided to be part of the solution with me in an effort to collect sunscreen for people with Albinism in Tanzania.

For those of you who do not know, people with Albinism living in the country of Tanzania do not have access to sunscreen. Can you imagine having a condition like Albinism and living in a rather sunny place like Tanzania? Although there are other issues facing people with Albinism in Tanzania, the issue of sunscreen is the one I have chosen to support.

From now until the end of the summer at every program that I supervise for my students, I will be collecting as much sunscreen as I can (SPF 50 or higher, lotion preferred).

Gwen became aware of the sunscreen issue shortly after I started this new initiative. She stepped up to the challenge to collect the sunscreen. I am proud to blog that she has started her own Facebook page, Sunscreen for Albinism, to support the collection efforts. She has taken her personal cause to her family, friends, school and community. How could I not blog about this??

This is a great example of skills straight out of the good ol' ECC---self-determination & self-advocacy just to name a couple.

Please support us and efforts to collect sunscreen for people with Albinism living in Tanzania. Our collection will be sent to Tanzania via the Under the Same Sun organization.

Way to go Gwen!!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Another movie with FREE descriptive language option!

I am happy to blog that on this Sunday evening I popped our new movie, Tangled, into the DVD player and just with Toy Story 3, the English descriptive language option appeared. Cheers to Disney for apparently making this their new standard option. Hopefully, other animation studios like Dreamworks will also jump on the bandwagon. For such a long time, parents have had to hunt down conferences to purchase descriptive movies for their children with vision impairments. The Lion King is to be re-released this fall and I hope that it also will have this option as well. I will keep you posted!

Happy Easter everyone!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dressing Boards for Children with Multiple Impairments

This is a project that I did a couple of years ago for a student that had CVI and CP. He was a youngster who was in a hospital bed and needed his mom to physically assist with him with many tasks. His team called me in because his mom wanted to find a way for him to be independent about picking out his clothes.

Here's the situation: when dressing, he cannot sit up or walk over to pick out clothes. Here's what I want all of you to read very carefully: there are still ways we can help our students be independent!! It doesn't matter what their needs are. We can still encourage choices and initiation.

Here's what I did: First I had to interview mom and find out more about the dressing routine. She dresses him in the morning alone. He can grasp items. He can see red very well. These are some of the things I wrote down as I interviewed mom. After talking to mom and then observing their dressing routine, I had an idea and headed off to the fabric store. I purchased a sturdy, thick foam board, red shiny with sequins fabric and clothes pins. Next, I whipped out my all purpose industrial hot glue gun and industrial strength velcro and got to work. See picture below.

Here's what I made: a dressing frame that he could use to 'pick out' his clothes.
Here's how it works: Mom puts his shirt on the board using the clothes pins. She holds it above him (as he is laying down in his bed) and using a combination of hand under hand and verbal cues (and PATIENCE), she has him feel the collar of the shirt.

Here's the language: She uses scripted, consistent language (especially in the beginning when teaching the new routine):
1.Here's your shirt.
2. Feel the collar (all of his shirts have collars)
3. Grab your shirt. He has a fantastic grasp so he can grab his shirt and pull it off the frame.

Mom repeats the same sequence with his pants:
1. Here's your pants.
2. Feel the zipper.
3. Grab your pants.

Now the beauty of this is that it is homemade. It's easy and fast to replace. Eventually the clothespins will come off. I bought mom a bag of them that she could replace as needed. The total cost was about $10.

I used sparkly, red fabric because he has CVI. After he demonstrates understanding of the sequence, mom can start offering him a choice. Which does he want to pick out first: his pants or his shirt? He can tactually initiate and make his choice.

There was one tricky thing that I had to think about when making this initially. Mom has to do all of this by herself and has about 5 minutes--max to do it in. Being a single mom to preschool age students, I got the bind mom was in. I needed to make her something that she could put on and use without needing a second pair of hands. Check out the picture below! I added velcro straps on the back! This little guy just slides onto her arm and she can hold it above her son and help him hand under hand without needing a second pair of hands! I practiced with it several times and could slip it on in about ten seconds.

This dressing frame was the foundation to dressing skills and independent living skills for this preschooler. He can't use this forever but it is the start to daily living skills.

CVI Information Blitz, Part 3

Now that you have been reading about the characteristics of CVI, keep reading part 3 of the CVI Information Blitz!

I have included general teaching strategies for teaching children with CVI in this post. This is part one of strategies. It's a lot of reading! Part two of strategies will come next week. Again, make sure you consult with your TVI for specific strategies for your student. This is general information from a general handout our agency provides. It's a start to understanding CVI but make sure you continue to learn. I have posted resources in other CVI posts and you can always see your TVI.


  • During activities, introduce object in left to right order. This helps the child to organize his vision and teaches left to right sequencing.
  • Use color and movement to get visual attention.
  • Use primary colors rather than pastels. (Yellow and red)
  • During visual tasks all available energy needs to be used on the task, therefore, all other handicaps must be accommodated for (head control, balance.)
  • You can also use verbal cueing. Verbalize what they are seeing if they understand language used.
  • Organize the child’s visual world by using good, even illumination.
  • Eliminate visual distractions and clutter. Place objects on plain background.
  • Use good even illumination.
  • Simplify visual information to enhance processing of information.
  • Don’t force child to look at your face. Faces may appear aggressive or may overstimulate the child. Overly animated face may cause child to look away.
  • Eye contact increases with familiarity, positive situation, and security.
  • Eye contact lessens with more complex activities. Too many demands, therefore you need to limit the requirements of the activity.
  • Child’s brain needs to organize and understand visual world through consistent, meaningful, and functional activities.
  • Presentation of items too close requires focusing which the student may not be able to do.
  • Place objects and materials on upright surfaces rather than flat.
  • Use a good contrast and highlight when presenting visual information.
  • Use common objects. They have more sensory stimulation than plastic objects with few differences other than visual.
  • Move hand along table to obtain object and slide it away on the table when done.
  • Introduce a new object by pairing it with a familiar activity or introduce a new activity with a familiar object.
  • Hold object no closer than 10-14 inches to the child to block out other visual information.
  • Place objects against plain background.
  • To help child fixate on an object, hold it, tap it or squeeze it. When the child looks at it, shake it.
  • To increase shifting gaze behavior, have the child look at one thing then the other. Use two objects at the same time; blink one flashlight, then the other, squeeze one toy, then the other. (Do not flash the light in the child’s eyes.)
  • Include the child in the process of getting materials and putting them away. Don’t make things appear and disappear. This will results in a passive or helpless sense.
  • Use visual markers to reduce visual stimuli.
  • Visual images should be simple in form and presented in isolation to avoid visual overload. Avoid crowding of objects, background clutter.
  • Be consistent with colors for containers or backgrounds.
  • Children with CVI may not be able to control visual input by attending to important events and suppressing the others. Try tactile cueing to help the child organize their perceptions.

CVI Information Blitz, Part 2

Here is part two---Enjoy!



· This is a brain condition not an eye condition. The optic system of the eye is often fine and the eyes appear normal. Non use of vision can be:

· Avoidance behavior when over stimulated

  • Protection from perceived threat
  • Reaction to non-motivating environment
  • Sign of stress
  • Lack of recall of similar situations
  • A difficulty in sensory integration

· Children often have normal eyes at birth, usually coordinated eye movements.

· Around age 2 they may be diagnosed with optic atrophy due to lack of stimulation. Strabismus may develop with age, if child has difficulties with motoric control.

· Residual vision is variable, inconsistent and fluctuating. The child may have visual field defects.

· Vision fluctuates based on health, strength, fatigue, medications, seizure, and environment (noisy distracting environment).

· Children often shake their head side-to-side trying to find their visual field, attempting to get their visual system going.

· CVI is like looking at an incomplete drawing –you may not see something initially, but when told what it is, you can see it.

· They may need to confirm vision by touching.

· Visual symbols such as the face may be difficult to recognize-may be due to scanning difficulties.

· Children may avoid eye contact. (Gaze avoidance) They might look to either side, look away or be using peripheral vision.

· Short visual attention and visual interest. Children can’t handle too much sensory input. They appear to be daydreaming.

· Children respond first to things in periphery before centrally.

· Children often have good motion detection. In fact moving objects are easier to see than stationary ones. In addition, children in motion may be more aware of objects in the environment.

· Color perception usually intact. Yellow, orange, purple and red are easily perceived. Use primary colors rather than pastels. Colors easier to perceive than shapes.

· Pupillary response is usually fine although students on seizure medications may have a sluggish response.

· Depth perception, concepts of space and distance are often difficult. Children may have difficulty reaching for or placing objects accurately. They may be aware of distance objects but not able to recognize them.

· Some children improve visually with age while others may not.

· Children have difficulty discriminating foreground/background or figure ground; therefore clothing under a clear wheelchair tray can be confusing.

· Staff clothing can be visually distracting; clothing should be plain not patterned.

· Visual gaze will increase when the child feels in control of the situation.

· Children may get close to things not because they are myopic (near sighted)-but to block out other things by getting close, so that the object fills the entire visual field.

· The midline might be a stressful area to work in – watch the child to see if this is a problem.

· Many CVI students are found to be farsighted.

· The children may close their eyes while listening because too much stimuli is offered. There may be too many activities and the children can do only one thing at time.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

CVI Information Blitz, Part One

This is the first part of my first ever CVI Information Blitz! I am going to be updating The Bee with several CVI posts for the month of April. I am going to go back to the basics with post #1. This post will include basic information on CVI typical behavioral & motor characteristics. The visual characteristics is a bit too much to add in as well.

I did not write this information. This is an excerpt from a CVI handout our agency provides education teams. You should always consult with your pediatrician and ophthalmologist for specific questions relating to your child.


  • Most children have overall neurological difficulties
  • May have seizures
  • Consistently inconsistent
  • Cortically Blind-don’t always have intact memories damage to memory bank (oxygen deprivation) - Cognitive evaluation of experiences is based on memory
    · Children may have central auditory dysfunction –therefore no symbolic language
  • Integration of sensory information is disrupted - child needs processing time to receive sensory information and output response
  • Pervasive brain damage


Response levels of CVI children vary widely. The ability, what, or how a CVI child sees varies child to child.

  • Disorganized, visual information maybe received though may not be organized or understood by the brain.
  • Children with CVI often don’t demonstrate habituation, a neurological process by which active attention to a stimulus decreases over repeated trials. Children with CVI can’t sort out what is most important; therefore some may always be overly responsive.
  • Often respond and react rather than interact.
  • Arousal level can be the opposite of what it appears to be. i.e. the child may fall asleep because he is overly aroused.
  • Has an expressionless face as if staring right through you
  • Has difficulty sorting out important vs. unimportant information.
  • Has difficulty anticipating what will be happening.
  • First response to experiences is emotional or reactive
    · Fatigue is often present because of overload and inability to screen incoming sensory information


CVI children have motor problems, problems with spatial orientation

  • When reaching for objects, students with CVI often look at object, turn eye gaze away and then reach with hand. Difficulty organizing visual information and reacting motorically.
  • If life is perceived as stressful, frustrating, or confusing by the child a physical response may occur i.e.: increased heart beat, slowed digestion. If the child is always on chronic alert the immune system can break down
Keep checking back for more on the CVI Information Blitz!