By Emily Coleman

smiling boy using braillewriter in the classroom

Regardless of a child’s needs, moving up to middle or high school can be scary. This is especially true if your child has a visual impairment. Most students have spent their elementary years primarily in one classroom with one teacher to get to know each year. As we know, this often changes as they move into secondary education. I suggest the following five tips to make the move easier for you and your child.

  1. Visit the school in advance. If your child has an orientation and mobility instructor, this will likely be a priority. Make sure your child gets to visit and tour his new school before the other kids. This can happen in the spring, or days before the first bell rings. It’s often best to do this more than once, so make the time to ensure your child knows his way around.

  2. Review the class schedule and meet the teachers. Take the time to sit down with your child and look over her schedule. Then, drop by the school at the open house or simply before school starts so that your child can put an identity to her teacher’s names. This will take away an uncomfortable first day of introductions amid the chaos of all the other students. Also, your child can practice walking through her daily schedule and learning the new routes.

  3. Let your child do the school shopping. We often want to make sure our child fits in with their peers, and we sometimes go too far by selecting all of their new school clothes and supplies. I suggest you let your children pick these items so that they can develop their own identity instead of the one we may want them to have. Even better, if you can give them some cash and send them away with a friend, they’ll know you expect them to learn independence.

  4. Find out what extra-curricular activities are available. Have your child look up what clubs and organizations are available at his new school. Then, go over the list together and discuss what they all mean. It’s important to encourage social interactions, and you can help your child become more involved at school. Kids who are visually impaired may not see the posters and sign-up sheets on the walls, so help them find something new they’d like to try.

  5. Provide information to school staff. In middle and high school your child will have multiple teachers that need to be aware of her accommodations. Sometimes, a teacher of students with visual impairments will share that information, but you can too. Get in touch with your child’s teachers and explain her eye condition and unique needs. If your child is ready, encourage her to do so as well. Self-advocacy should start as soon as possible, and teachers will appreciate hearing the students’ explanation of their visual condition from a first-hand perspective.

If you follow these five tips, your child with a visual impairment is likely to be more comfortable and prepared on the first day of school. You’ll also be more prepared for this next step. Take a deep breath and wish them luck. Then, when you drop them off or the bus pulls away, find yourself a cup of coffee because you deserve it!