School Placement Options
Some time before your child is ready to go to school, you'll have to decide which school your child will attend. Your decision will be based on what kinds of services are available in your hometown; whether there are any special family circumstances that need to be worked out; and what kind of program your child needs. Your basic options include:
- Regular classroom: If your visually impaired child has some vision and doesn't require much help from others in getting around, recognizing faces and places, etc., the best choice may be your regular neighborhood school where she or he learns in the same classes with sighted children.
- Regular classroom with itinerant or resource support: Again, your child is in the same school and classroom with sighted children. But in this case he receives a little more help. For varying amounts of time—according to how much help he needs—your child leaves the classroom to work with an itinerant teacher (one who travels from school to school) or a resource room teacher (one who has a special classroom in the school that children come to as needed). The teacher provides materials to be used in the regular classroom, such as brailled homework assignments and works very closely with the regular class teacher.
- Special classroom in the regular school: Your child attends a regular elementary school but is taught in a classroom with other handicapped children. Here your child gets the consistent help of a special education teacher, but still has the chance to get to know nonhandicapped children in the school—at lunch, or during art, music, or physical education classes. Itinerant and resource support specifically for visually impaired children may also be available.
- Special class in a special school: Here your child attends a school with other handicapped children, but lives at home. The school may be only a block away, or it might be a two-hour bus ride away. The classes might be:
• noncategorical (students with varied handicaps but all at a similar functioning level)
• categorical (students are all visually impaired)
- Residential school: Many states have a school for the visually impaired that enrolls visually and multiply handicapped children from all over the state. One advantage of this option is that the students get intensive help from specialized teachers.
None of these placements is set in stone. It is important to know that your child should be able to move in and out of a particular school placement according to his or her needs at any point in time.
Your child's needs are not the only consideration. The school's ability to meet those needs is equally important. Generally public schools are required to provide all these placements in one form or another under the concept of "least restrictive environment"—meaning that the farther you get from a regular classroom in a regular school, the more restrictive, or limiting, the placement is. But the quality of those programs can be affected by how many other children need the same services, or how many (and how good) the teachers are. While a classroom in a regular school may be less physically restrictive than one in a residential school, the regular class might actually be more restrictive—socially and educationally—if your child is not getting the help he or she needs.
- For some children, the least restrictive environment may be the neighborhood school with regular visits from a certified teacher of visually impaired students and an orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor.
- Other students may be bused to a school where they receive various support services, including daily instruction from a teacher of visually impaired students and an O&M instructor. They also participate in a resource room program.
- Still other children may attend a special school with or without residential programs during all or part of their school careers.
Learn more in Reach Out and Teach: Meeting the Training Needs of Parents of Visually and Multiply Handicapped Young Children, by Kay Alicyn Ferrell, Ph.D.