Tuesday, October 18, 2011

My newest handout for paraprofessionals

This is my "boot camp" for paraprofessionals! I feel as if a paraprofessional can get these tips down, then the rest is easy!! There is, of course, Braille modifications that I did not discuss in this article but those tips can come from your trusted TVI. I recently wrote this for our latest paraprofessional in-service. I hope you like it!

Take 5 for Independent Living at School
by  Robbin Keating, Vision Rehabilitation Therapist
 Independent living skills are essential for students with vision impairments.  For many students, getting started and practicing are the most challenging obstacles.  Paraprofessionals play an integral part in facilitating an independent environment at school.  It is important to remember that your encouragement and enthusiasm can make a difference in the attitude of your student.  

A few things every paraprofessional should know about creating opportunities for independent living skills:
§  Understand the basics of the vision impairment. Paraprofessionals should understand what the student can see, cannot see and basic modifications (preferential seating, sunglasses, contrast, etc.). This information is provided by the teacher of children with vision impairments (TVI)
§  How to do appropriate hand-under-hand assistance. Be aware that you are asking the student to touch their hands before you grab them. Make sure that your hands are under theirs (avoid the puppet instruction!) and guide them to that task. Slowly remove your hands from underneath theirs and let them take over full control.
§  Appropriate communication. Social skills can be very difficult for students with vision impairments. It is important that paraprofessionals do not hover over their students. When possible and appropriate, allow peers to help with instruction/assistance. Excessive hovering by paras greatly reduces the opportunity for social skills development. In addition, be mindful of how you speak to the student. Are you talking down to them? Talking too loud and drawing negative attention from peers? Acting like a parent?
§  Allow students to sink or swim! Create opportunities for the student to initiate and be independent. Every student can do at least one thing for themselves! Meet them half way if you have to—you do 20% assistance but they have to be active and do 80%.

Here are my top five suggestions for getting off to a good start with
 independent living skills at school:
1.    Take an honest look at how independent the student is.
Para question: What can the student do without my help?
Points to ponder: Ask yourself: Is this student not independent because I am doing too much? Make a quick reference list of the areas/school routines that the student is independent. You can label each skill with somewhat, needs full support, independent. This is a great activity to do with your TVI.
 2.    What is the realistic level of independence for this student?
Para question: Does the student have the capability to perform age appropriate skills? If not in some areas, define what those areas are.
Points to ponder: Where are you truly needed? The role of the paraprofessional for students with vision impairments is to know when to prompt, how to fade supports and how to reinforce desired responses (from TSBVI, The Paraprofessional Working with Students with Vision Impairments).3.    Commit to step back from helping with everything
Para question: What is one thing I am doing for the student that I can STOP doing?
Points to ponder: Paraprofessionals need to understand that it is okay that sometimes their role is to only supervise, not do.  Paras do not need to remain in close contact with students unless specified. Paras need to ask themselves: Do I sound like audio-descriptive service? One thing most paras can stop doing is talking so much. Allow students to get lost, trail routes, discover new items without para assistance both verbally or tactually. 
4.    Set  specific goals for independent living
Para question: What is one specific thing the student can START doing independently? Make a commitment to empower students to be independent as possible. Make sure you have a conversation with the student where you both outline where and how you will be assisting them. Stick to it!
Points to ponder: Children and youth with vision impairments can very easily become passive participants especially if paraprofessionals are doing everything! Give wait time (at least 10 full seconds!) before jumping in and providing assistance. Remember that vision is instant and without it, there is a processing time.  Remember, one main goal of paraprofessionals is to fade supports. Typically, students should not have to rely on you to be independent. 
5.    Practice, practice, practice!
Para question: Am I enforcing at least 20 minutes of independent living skills (ILS) 4-5 times a week?
Points to ponder: ILS should be peppered throughout the students’ school day. It should be embedded in their routines. Students should be expected to organize their own materials (as they like it, not how the paraprofessional likes it), be independent in the cafeteria, travel to their classrooms and maintain their own materials, supplies, routines, etc.

If you feel that you need more help in this area, ask your child’s Teacher for children with vision impairments (TVI) for assistance.

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