Carla sat across the kitchen table from Miguel, the early interventionist who had been working with their family since Carla’s son Angel was four months old and was diagnosed with Leber’s amaurosis. Now, at 18 months, Angel was making steady progress. Still, when Miguel pulled out a pile of papers and began sharing the information he had gathered from his latest assessments of Angel, Carla couldn’t help worrying that Angel was somehow failing the tests. Over a period of days, Miguel had been asking Carla lots of questions, watching Angel closely as he played and taking notes, and watching Angel’s reaction as Miguel held up a series of black and white cards and showed him colorful toys at different distances. Miguel was quick to point out the many things Angel had learned to do since his last assessments. “These are not tests that you can pass or fail, like in school,” Miguel assured her. “Every child develops at a different rate. We are simply looking to see how Miguel is progressing and what areas he needs our help with.”

Because of your baby’s visual impairment, the professionals working with your family need to conduct assessments, or tests, so they can better understand how his vision condition is affecting his development. The early intervention professionals may do some assessments of your baby that are specifically related to his visual impairment, while other tests will look at his overall growth and development. Although some of the assessments are similar to those done with older children, the methods they use are geared to your child’s age. For example, in addition to observing him closely and taking notes, they will probably ask you a series of questions about his abilities, such as whether he can put blocks in a bucket or see a person from five feet away who isn’t making noise.

When Your Baby Is Assessed

Any professional who seeks to assess your child must get your permission to do so. Before you give your permission, it is your right to ask questions so that you know

  • the purpose of the assessment,
  • how the information will be used, and
  • where you can learn more about the instrument (test) and procedure.

It is best if the team uses more than one method to assess your baby. In addition to the types of assessments mentioned here, team members may use checklists they have developed themselves or borrowed from other teachers or agencies. They may interview you and other people in your baby’s life to gather information. Alternatively, they may sit and observe your baby over time and write down information about what they observe.

Most professionals will write a short report summarizing the findings from their assessments. The report will include recommendations about things that can be done to better assist your baby in his development. It is important to get copies of all reports and to keep this documentation, both for your own information and so you can share it with other team members who are working with your baby.

Vision-Related Assessments

The following specialized assessments are used with children who are visually impaired. See “Assessments for Students Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired” for more details about these and other specialized assessments.

  • Functional Vision Assessment – The purpose of the functional vision assessment is to find out how your baby is using any vision he may have to see things both close up and at a distance. Based on the information gathered through a variety of activities, the teacher of students with visual impairments can make recommendations about ways to help your baby learn to use his vision more effectively. He or she can also suggest changes you might want to make around your home and in the ways you show things to your baby that may make it easier for your baby to see what is around him (see “Baby Proofing Your Home When Your Child Is Blind or Visually Impaired” for more information).
  • Learning Media Assessment – A learning media assessment is not routinely done until children are in preschool; however, your child’s teacher of students with visual impairments may want to do this assessment as your child approaches his third birthday if it is difficult to determine whether your child is more of a visual learner or a tactile learner (one who relies on touch). The learning media assessment involves observing how your child uses his senses (vision, touch, and hearing) to determine the way in which he takes in most of his information. The teacher of students with visual impairments will observe your child in his daily activities, such as playing a game, walking outdoors, or looking at a book with you. Based on this information, the teacher of students with visual impairments can make recommendations on the best ways for your baby to learn—for example, whether preliteracy activities you do with him should be geared more toward print reading or braille.

Developmental Assessments

For young children such as your baby, the teacher of students with visual impairments or early interventionist is also likely to conduct some developmental assessments. These tests help gather information about your baby’s development and compare them to guidelines about when a baby is expected to be able to accomplish a specific task or skill, such as sitting up, drinking from a cup without assistance, or putting two words together. Professionals use these assessments to chart your baby’s development over time and to compare your baby’s progress from one time the assessment is given to the next. Some of these assessments have been specifically developed for children with visual impairments. Others have been developed for children with disabilities but are not specific to visual disabilities.

Typically, the person administering the assessment will ask you a number of questions about your baby’s development and what he can or can’t do, or you may be asked to look at a list of such skills and behaviors that comes with the assessment and check off which ones your baby is able to do. The assessor may also observe your baby during play or other activities and check off the skills your baby is doing and the ones he isn’t yet demonstrating.

It is important to remember that guidelines for development only indicate a range of behavior that is typical for most children and that individual children vary greatly in when they start doing particular skills. In addition, children with visual impairments sometimes follow a different developmental sequence than do children with typical vision (see “Developmental Milestones: What Do They Mean?”). Therefore, as Miguel told Carla, the mother mentioned at the beginning of this article, you can’t come to any conclusions simply by comparing your child to other children of the same age or to a list of developmental guidelines. That’s why it is crucial that the person who is conducting or interpreting any developmental tests for your child should be experienced in working with children who are visually impaired or else consult with a teacher of students with visual impairments.