Should My Blind Child Go to a Blind School?

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    A group of young children is sitting on the floor listening to a teacher reading a book. Sitting next to her is a single child.

    Should My Blind Child Go to a Blind School?

    If you have read my previous entries, you will know that I went to a specialist school for the blind from nursery up until college. So in this post, I will be talking about education regarding visually impaired children.

    One of the questions I get asked by parents of visually impaired children is ‘Should my child go to a school that specialises in teaching the visually impaired?’

    My answer personally, as a person who has attended one, would be, no.

     

    The Social aspect

    Yes, you will be sending your child to a protected environment with teachers who are aware of visual impairments, but most of the time they are over protected. They become so sheltered from the real world that they will find it hard to adapt once they are looking for university or employment. A lot of social behaviours sighted people take for granted are not learned, and mannerisms called ‘blindisms’ are picked up instead. If you have been following this blog, you might have remembered me mentioning that some visually impaired people don’t make eye contact or even often try to look at the person who is talking to them. They may turn their head to the side so that an ear is facing the speaker. This is understandable as we use our hearing more than our vision, but in a sighted world this doesn’t mean listening to someone–it means quite the opposite.

    I did this up until a few years ago when a sighted friend pointed it out. It was after this that I became conscious of other abnormal habits. This would not have happened in a mainstream school. Children are brutally honest, and a good old tease will perhaps put any so-called ‘blindisms’ to a stop.

    Blindisms aren’t restricted to one vice. A few of the most common include shaking the head from side to side, rocking back and forth, waving the hand or other objects in front of the eyes, and (for the more energetic) jumping up and down on the spot for no reason what so ever.

    Simply put, these are bad habits, just like biting one’s nails, but they’re twice as bad in that they aren’t as well-known. People who have never come across these might think, ‘What on earth are they doing?’

    Just imagine going into a job interview:

    ‘So Alex, why do you think we should offer you the job?’

    ‘I think I am full of enthusiasm!’ *jumps up and down* or *rocks back and forth*

    ‘Well, you are certainly showing that…’

    Let’s take it from another perspective: I have gotten in touch with Suleyman, The COO of a tech company in Los Angeles. Originally from Turkey, he moved to the States so he could attend a mainstream school and not a specialist one for the blind, which is the norm there.

    When I asked him if he would go to a school for the visually impaired, he said:

    “No, absolutely not. Kids learn how to properly behave in social situations because of the feedback they get from other kids. And you don’t have that in a blind school. If you do something you shouldn’t do, you’re going to get made fun of pretty badly, and you are not going to do it again. Also, a lot of blind schools are hesitant to teach things like that; they are worried of offending or hurting their self-esteem.

    We live in a sighted world. The sooner and younger we are when we learn how to function in the sighted world, the better we will be, because there might be a blind school, but 99.9% situations in life aren’t built around blind people.”

    I’m pleased that a visually impaired person who has attended mainstream education shares my views. If you wish to learn more about Suleyman, he was featured in the Wall Street Journal.

     

    The Education Itself

    Putting the social aspects of life aside, let’s get into the main reason why you are sending your child to school–education.

    The education given by these specialist schools are generally excellent, since they have teaching staff trained with a V.I awareness. Worksheets and textbooks will always be in an accessible format, with equipment being the same. These schools are usually smaller than mainstream ones, allowing the child more time with a teacher.

    However, you can get most of this in the majority of mainstream schools. A lot of academic institutions now have a disability department that will ensure your child has the resources they would need in the classroom, including a support worker to take notes.

    I received this when I was 15 and doing my GCSEs; my school didn’t have enough courses to offer so they integrated with a mainstream one. We would arrive on a big green bus with the words XXX school for the blind, and normally there would be other kids hanging around so it wasn’t very discrete. In class we would sit at the front with an assistant, who’d normally be a middle-aged, motherly type. So it was hard for anyone to approach.

    This is why the sooner a child is in mainstream, the easier it is for them to adapt. Their education will not only be more fulfilling, but the other children around them would learn and accept their disability.

    If you still insist on enrolling your child in a visually impaired school, make sure the school offers support to only those who are visually impaired. A lot of schools say that they support sight loss or other disabilities, or both of them together. These are the ones that I would avoid. I’ve always thought, without being controversial, that physical disabilities deserve separate accommodations. The obvious reason is that they are completely different, just as you and I have different skill-sets.

    These are also the schools where the bad habits mentioned above are picked up. There are those who cannot control their body movements, and your child will mirror them in the long-run. Teachers will think this is the norm for children in a special school and will not comment on it.

    We live in a politically correct society and a lot of organisations want to be seen as being diverse. I think specialist schools are no different. They want to take on other disabilities.

    But can they handle it?

    With new disabilities come new staff, properly trained to teach in the field. A few years ago, a school for the blind was closed, judged by Ofsted to have ‘inadequate teaching, learning, leadership and management’, which in my opinion is because they took too much onto their plate.

     

    What are your thoughts on the matter?

    After reading this post, would you send your child to a visually impaired school?

    Have you attended one and found it beneficial?

    Let me know below!

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    • elly Sung Reply 18/09/2017 at 20:24

      Hi Alex,

      I like your post. It is helpful to me deciding the next step for my son Nathan Nipp. He has blindness habits that I am not so sure whether to stop or leave him be. I tried telling him to face the person he speaks to but his ADHD therapist didn’t agreed with me. As I was reading this I wish that there is a way Nathan can get this information from reading it himself so he understands it better. I am not sure if you can make it voice over your documents or how the blinds have access to your post… thank you and I am also hopeful to see that there is possibilities that Nathan can be as intelligent as the way you are now in the future.

      • Alex Man Reply 19/09/2017 at 21:50

        Hi Elly, thank you for commenting!
        It is hard for me to say as I know next to nothing about ADHD, but if a professional advice you to leave it, that might be the best thing to do, but it won’t hurt trying to teach him and see his reaction.
        As far as reading my website, most visually impaired readers will use a screen reader such as Apple’s VoiceOver or Jaws or NVDA on Windows computers, if you want Nathan to listen to what I written, why not read it to him yourself, I think that will be really nice for him.
        Good luck, and I hope to hear from you in the future 🙂

    • Chloe Reply 18/09/2017 at 21:27

      Another great post Alex, I will share this with my friend who has a 3 year old blind daughter. 🙂

    • Michael Taboada Reply 19/09/2017 at 12:21

      Hey Alex,
      Nice post. I agree with most of it. However, as you are in the UK, you may not have as much of an experience with US blind schools, and I’d like to comment on that:
      You mentioned that you will generally get an excellent education and get all accessible materials. Where it reguards the materials, in the US this is also true — let’s face it, if you didn’t get accessible materials at a specialist school, then they would be doing something (or more likely more than one something) horribly wrong — but the actual quality of the education in approaching near 100% of US blind schools is absolutely horrible. For example, it is common for most blind school students to be at an 8th to 9th math or other subject level after graduating, and in addition, many blind students at such schools stay at blind schools long past 18 (I’ve seen some students at a blind school into their mid twenties!) In my opinion this is just unacceptable, and like I mentioned doesn’t seem to happen at the UK schools, but most certainly happens at the US ones.
      I personally went to a mainstream school, and if I had gone to a blind school I shudder to think how I’d be right now (I have my own problems right now, and I’m sure these and others would be 10 times worse if I had).
      Just my thoughts, perhaps you can mention them in the article or mention the comments.
      -Michael.

      • Alex Man Reply 19/09/2017 at 22:38

        Hey Michael!
        Thank you.
        Admittedly I know very little about the American educational system, but it sounds somewhat similar here as well.
        Students can stay as long as their 20s, but these are typically people who also requires extra help, more than the blindness related help I mean.
        Normally at the age of 16, we will leave secondary (high school) and go to college or sixth form for two years,, then at the age of 18 start university.
        Interestingly a couple of users on Twitter has echoed your concern on how student in blind schools seem to be behind on to their sighted peers, and even more interesting they gave maths as an example as well, which surprised me as I thought a blind school will have the suitable equipment such as tactile diagrams and apparatus which makes their learning enriching.
        You can follow the conversation here:
        https://twitter.com/darbaga/status/910011608402870272

        In regard to your problems, are these social or academic problems?

    • Patrick Bouchard Reply 19/09/2017 at 14:18

      I went to a school for the blind for 11 years. I believe they have their place, but I don’t recommend going to one if the child can handle a mainstream school, for many of the reasons stated. Michael’s comment also holds truth; while I wouldn’t consider the education I got in high school to be several years behind, the pace was definitely slower than at a mainstream school. My sister who is a year and a half younger than me was often learning the same things I was. The selection of courses available is also far more limited; one of the reasons I went to an applied college instead of a university is because I simply did not have the prerequisite courses for a degree program, because the blind school simply did not offer them, as I’d be the only one taking them.

      I will say that the independence training I received toward the end of my time there was good, though. Being able to receive that while finishing my education, rather than taking a year off to go to a centre potentially costing someone a lot of money was nice.

      I think blind schools are good for the blind students who also have cognative disabilities, where no matter what they did they would be lagging behind and alienated by other kids at a mainstream school. But where it can be done I definitely agree mainstream school is way to go. I’m in some ways still recovering from the damage that school did to my social habits, and it’s been 7 years since I’ve been there.

      • Alex Man Reply 19/09/2017 at 22:47

        Hi Patrick,
        I agree and my experience is very similar, I went to two blind schools, the second one was more learning life skills such as cooking and other domestics, and I went to a mainstream college for my classes during this time.
        Yes it’s hard to determine if your child who also has cognitive disabilities, if they will be better in mainstream or a special school, I assume it really depends on the severity of their condition.

    • Char V Reply 19/09/2017 at 14:22

      I come at this from the perspective of having been at a school for the blind (for some of my high school years), being at a school with a resource room where several blind students worked (most of my elementary schooling), and being at schools where I was the only blind student and had a resource worker. I agree with your posting, with two additional comments. I honestly found the education at the school for the blind I attended to be less comprehensive than what I received at mainstream schools. This was particularly true of mathematics in high school. The second is that the skills I would have expected to learn, I.E. life skills such as eating with proper manners, I didn’t see anyone teaching at all. The socialization was fabulous and I appreciate the computer knowledge I gained there which has served me well over the years, but all in all I would not recommend sending a blind child to a school for the blind from kindergarten on. I really enjoyed the 2 and a half years I attended one, but am glad that I was a teen by the time I started and already had social skills

      • Alex Man Reply 19/09/2017 at 22:52

        It is harder for a child to change something as they get older, so being in your teens helped. This seems like the best pathway, mainstream education, with a mix of special adaptation, finishing it off with some life skills. 😊

    • brianyoung Reply 19/09/2017 at 20:31

      hi alex i disagree with yo no i like the blind schol i lern how to type and other skills things i would nevre lenr in a main schoool

    • Colton Hill Reply 20/09/2017 at 00:44

      Warning. Long comment inbound!
      I am also in the US. I am in mainstream school and have been attending mainstream since I started, I am in the 11th grade now. I believe I had preK in the PPCD/special ed settings, but they quickly found I didn’t need that.
      Some things I’ve been agreeably been told by many peers
      I have a high intelligence, great memory, and capability to process extremely well. This skillset gives me high capabilities in mathematics, of which I am now in Pre-AP Precalculous, working with an extremely flexible teacher, who is the head of the math department, a VI specialist contracted with the district for braille/graphs, and an orion TI84 talking graphing calculator for the calculations. The exact same model of calculator as the rest of the students really helps with the workflow, in regards to buttons and menus etc.
      I have social issues myself but most are related to my anxiety rather than my blindness, although that’s just another layer of alienation.
      I have been told by everyone around me that I am a computer genius, I do not consider myself to be such, as this level of computer skill is actually quite standard in the modern internet blind community. Also I live in southeast Texas surrounded by “rednecks” and “jocks”, so it’s understandable how I would be above the standard of computer knowledge. Small town brings that even higher.
      My own oppinions:
      I do not like being lumped in with the general word of “disabled.” The reasoning for this is quite clear. The disabled, as a large percentage, especially of this area, are mentally challenged, verrying levels of autism and other cognative underdevelopment.
      I do not mind what terms you call me by otherwise. Blind, visually impaired, the whole bit. As I have no real usable vision, blind suits me. And if you are interested in how I live my life, I am glad to share. I may want to know how you live yours. It helps interaction.
      I stand out in many ways among my peers, although I’m not exactly hateful of these differences. After all, because I’m different, I am interesting, and thus more people will want to be my friend. I need all the friends I can get.
      People who get into a general conversation with me feel like they will offend me and so often studder and pause when words like “see”, “watch”, etc come up in what would be the normal conversation pattern. I tell them, I am just a person, use the language you normally would. I use it too! I used to tell people I watched something on TV. They asked how did you do that? I listened to it. I have only light perception, no usable vision for reading and making out images and distinct shapes. One key to socialization, no matter who you are, is to follow the norm. I have multiple issues with this for non-blind related reasons, but the language is not a lacking part. That, and the fact that I have no noticeable accent in the middle of country accents also makes me sound strange. One thing a lot of people do is point, obviously I ask where they are directing, and they can simply point my finger towards it and I have my direction. I point myself to help interactions. As far as non-verbal cues, such as facial expressions goes, if I ask them a question and they do not respond, but I know they’re in conversation, I ask them if they responded. This will help them understand that they need not knod. With expression cues that may give away mood, most of these can be picked up by behavior patterns and/or tone of speech.
      When I meet a person, as in an exchange of “hi”, I start with a simple bit of familiarity to help me get to know this person for future interactions. Name, age, grade if in school, and sometimes gender for those hard to read voices/names. When this person talks to me in the future, I attempt to call on my memorized voices, sometimes asking if they are this person. Voices can get confused, and I account for this.
      Overall, as far as blindness goes, I would say I am a decent social interactor. I am terrible at it for reasons beyond the scope of this post.
      As far as work goes, I do pretty much everything orally, with a paraprofessional the school has assigned, also called an aid/assistant. Some work, such as math, I have brailled, but in the end it gets written on a paper and turned in in print to the teacher for grading. For homework, or anything involving reading long passages of text, I ask the teacher email me a textual copy of the work, it doesn’t have to be in plaintext but at least a word document. I read it with my screen reader, answer the questions, and send it back. I believe digital is one of the keys to uniting the blind and sighted community, as we’re all using computers now anyways, why not use them combined!
      That is my very huge thing, sorry for the spam.

    • Melissa Reply 24/09/2017 at 21:05

      I want to preface by saying I am 41, so it’s possible what I experienced growing up is not necessarily the way things are done now.

      I went to a mainstream school. I lived in Maryland for the first 9 years of my life, and then we moved to Iowa. I liked the way things were done in Maryland better than I liked how things were done in Iowa. In Maryland, I had a lot of help. I had a teacher that came to the school every day my Kindergarten year, and then got less every year after that, so by third and fourth grade, I only saw her once/week. We (the visually impaired and hearing impaired kids in our area) got together often for field trips, parties and camp outs. It was nice knowing you weren’t alone.

      When we moved to Iowa, I felt like they were not used to dealing with someone like me. They had a blind school here in Iowa, (closed a number of years ago) so people probably wondered why I didn’t go there. It was also at this school in Iowa (public school) that I first experienced being made fun of for my impairment. In Maryland, the teacher who came to visit me would occasionally teach the whole class on many different handicaps. My classmates thought I was cool with my gadgets. In Iowa, there was nothing like this. The person who came to see me from the department of the blind came only once or twice/year. I had all the things I needed like large print books, etc, but I did feel very alone, and it was definitely a growing experience learning how to handle that new situation. Not necessarily a bad life lesson though. I learned not to care what others thought, and I did eventually make good friends, etc. Also, in Iowa, there was no effort to get visually impaired kids together for any kind of socializing. I was the only one like me I knew. Funny thing is, I ended up going to high school in the same town the blind school was located, Vinton, IA.

      I went on to college. I have a degree in music and one in German. I made a friend in college who is completely blind, and he had been to the blind school his whole school career. One thing I noticed off the bat (and we also discussed) was that he was so used to having every hour of his day planned for him, that he struggled with knowing what to do with his free time. He would call me and say, “Well, I’m finished with classes today, it’s only 2:00, and the dining hall doesn’t open until 5:00. What am I supposed to do for the next three hours?” He struggled with homework because there wasn’t someone there telling him to do homework from this time to that time. It was really odd for me to witness.

      Overall, I am thankful for my education, and I don’t feel like my parents should have done anything differently.

      As for my own children, we homeschool, but that’s a different topic entirely (and they aren’t visually impaired either). 🙂

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