Main content

Alert message

Presented at AER, Toronto, 2002
Marybeth Dean and Katherine Morgan

Challenges for Service Provision:

During the last decade there has been a steady increase in the number of visually impaired children nationwide, especially with a diagnosis of cortical visual impairment (JVIB, July, 2001, 418-433). Many of these children have multiple disabilities, including deafblindness, which results in the expectation of additional specialized consultation skills required by the Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI). During this time there has been a renewed emphasis on the importance of literacy for academic students, especially the braille readers. At the same time there has been limited increase in availability of Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments(TVI), resulting in large teacher caseloads. The combination of increased numbers of students and more time spent directly teaching braille and associated compensatory skills has resulted in drastically reducing the TVI time available for consultation on behalf of students with multiple disabilities.

Connecticut Perspective:

The Connecticut Board of Education and Services for the Blind (BESB), a state agency servicing adults and children, currently has 19 full time Education Consultants/TVIs to serve approximately 600 students. Though Connecticut is a small state, managing the itinerant model can become a juggling act. Caseloads for school-age consultants average thirty students, with three to four braille readers assigned to each consultant. With these challenges of service provision, BESB has had to make hard decisions about the level of service provision to “non-braille readers”. Ten years ago, TVIs routinely provided monthly consultation for students with multiple disabilities in “non-academic” programs; now in most cases, the consultation visits are down to four times a year, including the IEP meetings.

This level of consultation provides only a bare-bones service to the child, consisting of:

  • a classroom observation,
  • a functional vision assessment,
  • a consultation with the classroom teacher, and
  • the IEP meeting.

This model does not allow for regular exchange of information, a routine monitoring of child’s learning or a consistent assessment of the utility of suggestions previously provided. These infrequent consultations also provide little time to build a relationship with the classroom teacher, have contact with other professionals, or most importantly, develop a connection with the student herself. In many cases, Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments have started to feel that their consultation time is not well spent on behalf of these children since they see little change, either in the child’s progress or the child’s learning environment. Clearly, this model of consultation is not effective in providing information about specialized teaching strategies.

Meeting the needs:

In the spring of 2000, the deafblind specialists at BESB decided to try to fill this gap by training special education staff who work with “MH” kids in the local school districts. The proposed model of training would provide critical information as well as support to classroom teachers, PTs, OTs, Speech Therapists and others who worked with visually impaired children with multiple disabilities.

The first step was to send out a survey to local district special education directors to determine their level of interest and support for this training project. 50% of the surveys sent out to special education directors were returned. The results indicated a high level of support for the proposed in-service concept as well as a willingness to release staff to attend three full-day programs during the next school year. The first year in-service program was based on the information gained from this initial survey.

The plan for the first year was to provide a series of three programs, each presented at three sites within the state. The intent of this plan was to encourage participation by local school districts, and limit the drive time for their personnel. BESB collaborated with the New England Center for Deafblind Children (NEC) and the Capitol Region Education Council (CREC) to identify the areas of learning, the presenters, and the financial costs required.

First Year Plan: 2000-2001

Sites: Three sites were selected for each of the three in-service programs, one site each in the southeastern, southwestern and north central parts of the state. Each of the three in-service programs was to be presented at each site. (Due to low enrollment, there was no fall session at the southeast site.)

Staffing: Six BESB education consultants (TVIs) volunteered to participate in this program. The consultants presented the fall in-service and assisted with logistics and in facilitating small group discussions for the winter and spring sessions. This required each staff member to participate four full work days, two in the fall and one each in winter and spring. Since the staff usually assists in presenting 2 days of in-service training in the fall, this program required only an additional 2 days.

Logistics: The logistics were managed this first year by CREC, a state agency which BESB had been using to sub-contract evaluation and teaching services for students. CREC assisted in securing locations, contracting with outside presenters, advertising, registration, and provision of morning coffee. BESB planned the program, lined up speakers and provided CEUs for participants.

First Year Presentations:

q Fall: Introduction: “Understanding the Visually Impaired Child who is Multiply Handicapped or Deafblind” included specific information on causes of visual impairment in children with multiple disabilities, especially cortical vision impairment, as well as classroom strategies, with an emphasis on communication.

Presenters: BESB Staff

  • Winter: “CVI: a Neurological View of Learning” presented a conceptual framework along with ideas for planning and implementing a meaningful curriculum.
    Presenter: Mary Morse, Ph.D.
  • Spring: “Building Strong Relationships/Literacy for the Multihandicapped” focused on issues of language learning, communication and quality interactions.
    Presenter: Barbara Miles, M.Ed.

First Year Summary

Participants: A total of 108 individuals participated in this training.

  • 59 Special Education Teachers
  • 13 Speech and Language Pathologists
  • 11 Paraprofessionals
  • 10 Physical Therapists
  • 7 Occupational Therapists
  • 8 Others (TVI, School Psychologist, Nurse, Supervisor)

Evaluations:

On a scale of 1-5, with 5 being highest participants were asked to rate the overall program. The composite rating was 4.6.

Results of evaluation survey for future training:

  • Writing Functional IEP Goals 12
  • Practical Strategies 12
  • Sensory Integration 11
  • Communication/Literacy 10
  • Ideas for Inclusive Settings 9

Second Year Plan: 2001-2002

  • Year two was planned in much the same way as year one with just a few changes:
  • In addition to the New England Center, BESB, initiated a collaboration with the Special Education Resource Center (SERC) which took over the financial and site facilitation and CEUs provision.
  • Due to low attendance at one site location, it was decided to hold the inservice programs in only two sites.
  • Though the project team’s goal was to build an ongoing base of knowledge within school districts, through participants’ commitment to attend each of the inservice programs, this requirement was waived.
  • Stronger efforts were made to include parents in the trainings.
  • Two other learning opportunities were provided: a two-day workshop for Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments on cortical visual impairment and a video conference on triwall construction.
  • During this year a survey was sent to over 500 special education personnel and families state wide. The intent of the survey was to get additional information on training needs for future planning of professional preparation.

Second Year Activities:

  • Fall: Introduction: “Understanding the Visually Impaired Child who is Multiply Handicapped or Deafblind”. Agenda was a repeat of first year, intended as an introduction course for new staff, or for those who had not previously attended.
    Presenters: BESB Staff.
  • Winter: “Competent Conversations” observing the conversational interactions of students with multiple disabilities or deafblindness, and incorporating conversations and concepts into activities with these students.
    Presenter: Barbara Miles, M.Ed.
  • Spring: “A Functional Assessment Model” is based on a family-centered assessment with creation of goals that develop from the parents’ perspective and are functional and meaningful across the day.
    Presenter: Jennifer Grisham-Brown, Ed.D.
  • Additional Trainings:
    • Spring In-service: Teachers of Students with Visual Impairments
      “Cortical Visual Impairment, Assessment and Teaching Strategies”. While not specifically a part of the In-service Project, this in-service program strengthened the skills of the TVIs to assess and plan for children with CVI.
      Presenter: Christine Roman, Ph.D.
    • May, 2002. “Triwall Constructions” Videoconference Presentation. This videoconference was presented as a pilot project. Such a format has the potential to reach more teachers across the state in a cost-effective way while minimizing travel for both the presenters and participants.
      Presenters: Kathy Morgan, Kathy Green and Tonya Reed

Statewide Survey

The survey was developed to help provide direction for training for the third year of the in-service program. Surveys were disseminated via mail and direct distribution by the education consultants and itinerant vision teachers within the state to local school district personnel. The primary respondents were the special education personnel, then speech/language specialists, occupational therapists, with more limited numbers by parents and other personnel. The most requested training model is full day workshops within the local school districts, while the teleconference/on-line approach held little or no interest.

Of 27 topic areas the following were found to be most important:

  • Vision related: Cortical Visual Impairment, and Adaptations and Strategies
  • Communication: Strategies that facilitate effective communication, and Hands and touch in communication
  • Classroom Organization/Environments: Creation and modification of materials, and Developing learning environments.
  • Goals and Objectives: Writing functional goals and objectives, developing activities based on goals and objectives, and Approaches to challenging behaviors.
  • Transition Planning: Assistive technology as the primary interest, and Creating child centered portfolios.

Third Year Plan:2002-2003

The proposal for next year’s training program was formulated using survey results, feedback from participants and presenters, and on-site staff observations. In addition, an effort will be made to include parents in the trainings.

Collaboration continues between BESB, the New England Center for Services to Deafblind (NEC), the CT State Department of Education (for funding), and the Special Education Resource Center, for publicity, financial payments, site planning, and participant contact.

This year the training project will include a four-day Summer Institute as a way to provide more intensive training for the participants. The Summer Institute will address the topics of appropriate assessment and functional goal development for students with multiple disabilities/deafblindness. This training area was identified both by participant feedback in the spring of 2002 and strong response to the survey. Funding for this additional training program is being provided through the CT Department of Education and NEC.

During 2002-2003 school year, the pattern of trainings will remain the same: three separate days given at two different sites.

Third Year Activities

  • Summer Institute: “Functional Assessment and Writing Functional Goals and Objectives” will provide an overview of family and child-centered assessments (COACH and “Reaching for the Stars”) and writing goals/objectives based on the assessments.
    Presenters: Jennifer Grisham-Brown, Ed.D. and Susan Edelman, Ed.D.
    Planned and facilitated by Karen Olson and Kathy Morgan
  • Fall: “Introduction: Understanding the Visually Impaired Child who is Multiply Handicapped or Deafblind.” Agenda will be repeat of first year, intended as an introduction course for new staff, with additional information on assessments/goal writing.
    Presenters: BESB staff
  • Winter: “Creating Personal Portfolios for the Present and the Future” will provide an overview of the process of creation of student personal portfolios which help family and educational teams collaborate to improve student transitions.
    Presenter: Martha Majors, M.Ed.
  • Spring: “Working with Children Who Have Challenging Behaviors.” This workshop will explore various behaviors that children with multiple disabilities/deafblindness may exhibit, due to their inability to communicate and to cope with stress or transitions. It will include strategies for educational programming.
    Presenter: TBD

Thoughts for the future

As this training series continues to evolve, BESB Children’s Services personnel continue to analyze and consider options for future training for professionals within local school districts or specialized out-of-district educational programs. Through these trainings, provided by outstanding experts in the field, BESB has been able to provide information that is current, pertinent and based on research. The focus will continue to be the unique learning styles of students with multiple disabilities, and those students who are deafblind.

These state-wide trainings have been successful in creating a base of knowledge for special education personnel, in educating and strengthening advocacy skills for parents, and establishing a few educational teams who have become strong collaborators within their districts. The initial project with video conferencing showed that this could be another format to provide short, yet frequent ongoing trainings across the state.

Another possibility being considered is for BESB to establish partnerships with targeted school districts in an effort to train staff and develop “model” programs. These model programs could then become teaching resources “beyond” BESB to other schools or districts within their locality. It would be a big project for BESB to develop these partnerships, but the model program may provide another to means to provide this critical training..

In any case, as so many students continue to be identified, with so little time available to serve them, creating new opportunities to educate local school personnel will continue to be our challenge.