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A Visit to Tommy's School (WPSBC)

Posted May 06 2013 1:40pm

Lunch at school.
A couple weeks ago I was invited to visit Tommy's school and observe some of his lessons and therapy sessions.

When Tommy had therapy at home through Early Intervention I got to see every therapy and discuss his progress with his therapists at every visit. Now that he's in school I am not an everyday part of the team. It's all up to Tommy now! 

But that also means that I don't know the tactics they are using to teach Tommy. I don't know what I can do to support their lessons and enhance Tommy's learning at home. I used to watch every therapy session when he had therapy at home and every session ended with ideas and suggestions from his therapists on ways to help Tom reach whatever goal they were working on. His teachers know that I am unemployed right now so they suggested I come in and observe some of his lessons. 

Ok, I'll be honest. They didn't just come right out of the blue and ask if I wanted to observe some of Tommy's lessons. Tommy had little bouts of sickness for about month and it was really affecting his eating. 

When Tommy isn't feeling well he just loses all interest in food. We had been gaining so much ground lately in our "food wars" that I took it very hard. Getting Tommy to eat has been a very long and frustrating process. Any steps back are very hard to take.

So yeah, basically we were talking about Tom's health and his eating and I got all teary and let out all my pent up emotions on the subject. Oh well, it happens to the best of us! Anyway, Tommy's teacher invited me to visit to see how his feeding therapy session have been going and observe his orientation & mobility lesson.

A tiny drinking glass makes all the difference.
His feeding therapy during lunch was very positive and Tommy ate well. It really does take a lot of time to get Tommy to eat enough food. He just does not have the same hunger drive that most people have. He would happily starve to death! His speech language pathologist (SLP), Miss Lisa, is very patient with Tommy but she is firm and keeps him on task with his eating. That's what he needs.

I noticed that they use a very tiny drinking glass and only fill it half way. He does so much better with that cup than the slightly larger cups we have been using at home. Small changes like that can really make a big difference. We also struggle to get Tommy to drink enough fluids so any opportunity to increase the fluids he gets by mouth is important. We now have one of these little cups for home use.

In general, Tommy is eating a larger variety of foods by mouth but the volume of food is still small. Last night he ate two beef ravioli and that was a big deal. We are working on getting him to like more foods than his trusty mac n' cheese, or "hac n' cheeeeese" as Tom calls it.

They say a child may have to try a food more than 10 times before they will begin to accept it. In Tommy's case it may end up being closer to 45 tries or more, but who's counting? The good thing is that we are seeing progress and that is what we want.

Tom and his new cane.
What did I learn from his Orientation & Mobility (O&M) session? Tom is fast with his new cane. That picture above is the only one I could get that wasn't blurry. He is so fast!!! This is not his usual NFB cane but one they ordered for him at school. It has a thick grip and a ball at the tip. I know the ball at the tip does not provide auditory feedback like a metal tip but Tommy is not yet using the cane with that level of sophistication yet anyway. He does not tap the cane he just lets it glide. This ball lets the cane glide along and doesn't get caught like the smaller metal tip did. I think this cane is a exactly what he needs right now and I'm so pleased that his teacher ordered another cane so he can begin bringing one of these canes home for practice.

It was so nice to meet his O&M teacher, Norm. Awhile ago I asked for a update on Tommy's O&M progress and I got a thorough update letter from Norm that also invited me to observe a lesson. I'm so glad I was able to do that.

Since Tommy has one year of O&M through Early Intervention he already had a foundation in O&M skills like trailing, squaring off, and very basic cane travel. But Tommy's old O&M had to be convinced to teach Tommy to use a cane. Initially he was very hesitant to teach cane travel to someone so young. I knew this teacher didn't have much experience teaching cane training to someone so young and that he had not taught cane training to anyone in a long time.

That's how it can be sometimes. Some teachers of the visually impaired don't get to flex their Braille or cane muscles enough and their skills get rusty. There just aren't that many children learning Braille unfortunately.

But I got to see Tommy motoring along the hallway with his new cane. He grips his cane with his left hand using a "thumbs down" grip and holds the cane pointing to the right so it crosses his body and gives him frontal protection.

Just talking to Norm was very interesting. He suggested we put some wind chimes up in the yard to give Tommy some auditory location clues. How smart is that? I would have never thought of that. He also mentioned that Tommy sometimes makes clicking noises and believes he may be doing a bit of echolocation. I would love to see Tommy develop that skill!

Daniel Kish is famous for his mastery of echolocation. He is completely blind and he bikes, hikes and travels the world. Some see this clicking as anti-social and off-putting but I want Tom to have every tool in his arsenal. If echolocation ends up being one of those tools, so be it. Watch this short video to learn more about echolocation.


In Physical Therapy I saw Tommy pedal a tricycle, go up and down stairs using correct form, and practice stepping up and reaching up to place gummy stickers high above his head.

It's funny. When we had Tommy's first IEP meeting my husband and I objected to walking up the stairs as a goal for Tommy. Tommy already walks up stairs? Why does he need to work on that if he already does it? Because he doesn't walk up stairs in a way that is healthy for his body. There are so many subtle body positioning differences that Tommy does that I would never notice because I am not a physical therapist. Thank god Tommy has a really good physical therapist that employs many fun activities into his therapy routines. I feel like she is really on top of things and that is a comfort.

Tommy doesn't keep his head up like he should and that has caused his shoulders to be a little rounded. The body isn't meant to held like that and it can cause pain. These issues are not uncommon in blind children but I am glad to have professionals helping him.

One thing everyone agrees with is that Tommy loves to explore and this trait will serve him well. Everyone is working to teach Tommy skills to compensate for his lack of vision and Tommy is making progress in all areas.

IEP Time
We also got our invitation to Tommy's IEP ( Individualized Education Plan) meeting later this month. I am excited to hear more about their plans for him. We just got a progress report that details how Tommy is doing with his educational and therapy goals. I am very pleased with his progress. 

His first progress report did not show much growth. I think that he was still getting used to his school at that point. This progress report shows improvement in every area. He is close to meeting some of his goals so I am interested to see what they have in mind for him next.

His verbal skills are getting better every day. He's not just saying yes or no these days; he is communicating! He is constantly surprising me with new little phrases and an increased interest in repeating the works he hears others say. It is just adorable to hear him parrot adult phrases. I love it!

COMING SOON...
A guest post from Jessica at Out Of Sight Teaching . Jessica is a TVI (Teacher of the Visually Impaired) in New Jersey. While finishing up her masters degree in Orientation & Mobility she decided to start a blog to share information with her students and their families. 

I love hearing stories and ideas from people who work in the field of blindness education. Blogs like Out Of Sight Teaching are a great resource for parents. 
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