It is difficult to determine a least restrictive environment. We needed to prove that the county where we lived could not provide the same quantity and quality of services that the Maryland School for the Blind could provide. This is a challenging task and takes some time and effort.

As new, young parents, my husband and I felt intimidated and unknowledgeable. My advice to others who feel like that: Get over this feeling quickly! It seemed so simple to us that, of course, the program that would be least restrictive for Matthew would be one in which everyone in the school specializes in visual impairments. Physical and occupational therapists would be on staff. There would be speech and language teachers, orientation and mobility (O&M) teachers, social workers, nutritionists, psychiatrists, and teachers of students with visual impairments all in one wonderful place. The best part would be the other children with visual impairment and their parents. We would not be alone anymore. This was how I defined least restrictive environment.

The county, however, believed that fewer services provided by very qualified people, who were stretched thin with heavy caseloads, serving Matthew, alone in our house, was the least restrictive environment. They also suggested having him attend a center-based program with a teacher who did not have a vision background with other children, none of whom was visually impaired, and some of whom used wheelchairs or other motorized equipment—which seemed to us to be a safety concern for Matthew.

What happened? Well, Matthew started Maryland School for the Blind in October of that year and stayed there for five productive years.

My husband and I were not intimidated by the professionals at the table, and we made sure our voices were heard. Did we, as parents, have all the data we needed to prove our point? No! But we trusted our gut instincts as parents of this very special young man and did not leave the decision solely up to the professionals.

My last bit of advice to parents: Read, read, read everything you can find about your child’s visual impairment and how it will affect his or her development, and trust yourself, along with the professionals who work with your child. Become a member of the team!

Sheri Davis
Mother of an 18-year-old son with Leber’s congenital amaurosis
Lutz, Florida