Special Needs = Special Products

When you have a child with special needs, you can’t simply walk into Toys R Us and pick up the most popular toy and know that your child will love it. This is not a news-flash for parents of special needs kiddos. In that same regard, teachers can’t pick up a catalog and select a curriculum tailor made for our children. Even teaching tools especially for kids with visual impairments cannot be counted on all the time. Especially if your child, like mine, has additional disabilities.

This weekend, while attending a regional AERBVI (Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired) conference, I had the opportunity to check out many of the latest devices and methods for children with visual impairments. I sat in many sessions that shared great information…but not necessarily tailored for a child like mine. Even though some were very helpful, not one felt like a perfect “fit” for him.

While walking through the vendor exhibits, I saw some fascinating tools. However, as I travelled through the booths, I felt many weren’t necessarily going to do anything for my child who is blind AND autistic. He simply doesn’t learn like other sighted children…or like a typical blind child. Due to his lack of vision, low vision tools just aren’t applicable. Just when I felt the exhibit hall may not offer anything for him, I came across a new device known as the Perkins Smart Brailler.

When it comes to learning braille, I think he needs something that isn’t too technologically advanced, but also gives him greater feedback than the traditional Perkins Brailler. (A brailler is a tool used to write braille.) I had heard of the “smart” brailler, but had yet to really get a chance to use one yet. The great thing is that they have text-to-speech, which gives immediate feedback. If he were to braille an “a”…the brailler says “a.” For a child that may need a greater incentive to write (like Eddie), this tool may be just the thing.

When it comes to Eddie’s education, I often feel like I’m piecing it together one lesson at a time. I have a hard time seeing the “big” picture or finding the perfect teaching tools to use with him. I often feel that the field of blindness simply doesn’t offer as many answers for him as it does for children who are blind, yet more typically developing. Yes, there are some great books and resources, but they are not as numerous as I would hope.

However, after my experience with the “smart” brailler this weekend, I feel a little excited about opportunities for children with visual impairments AND some other diagnosis. It appears I’m not the only one thinking about those kids. Obviously, the developers of the Perkins Smart Brailler are, but also are many teachers of visually impaired children.

I listened in and participated in multiple discussions this weekend revolving around children with cortical visual impairment (CVI) and children with optic nerve hypoplasia (ONH). Those two eye conditions are on the rise, and I’m happy to report that educators are concerned, and looking to address their needs. I can’t wait to read a future literacy program geared for my son. I have every reason to believe that someday I will.