Every stage of schooling has its particular difficulties for the visually impaired child and there is no one-size-fits-all solution. For this reason I am proud to be working with a highly skilled and dedicated workforce where I work. Charlotte is one such young graduate who was recently thrown into the deep end with this young man, whom we shall call Freddie. Charlotte very kindly agreed to share her initial thoughts on the challenges of working with Freddie, who started at his secondary school last September. This is a brief introduction to how she has found it. Thank you so much Charlotte for your contribution.
The challenges of working with a visually impaired boy in a secondary school
In September 2011 I began working with Freddie (pseudonym), a visually impaired boy who had just started secondary school. Freddie suffers from very low vision, caused by nystagmus, which means his eyes involuntarily dart from side to side. Having never worked with a child with a visual impairment before, this role presented itself as a big challenge to me, but 5 months down the line I can safely say that my time supporting Freddie has been rewarding and hugely enjoyable.
As Freddie attends a mainstream secondary school, the resources used by teachers (such as textbooks and test papers) are not designed with the visually impaired in mind. Consequently, one of the most important parts of my job is ensuring that resources are adapted for Freddie so that he can properly access them in class. In my early days of doing this I spent a lot of time acquainting myself with the photocopier and quickly became an expert at using its many enlargement functions! As Freddie also finds it difficult to read certain fonts and text colours, I edit and print out copies of the PowerPoint presentations that are to be used in his lessons so that he has a suitably adapted copy on his desk to refer to.
The Internet has proven itself to be a really useful tool for finding resources and equipment for the visually impaired. A website called www.largeprintbooks.com has been particularly useful as it offers enlarged versions of hundreds of different popular books. I managed to order all of Freddie’s English texts from this website and believe this has really helped Freddie feel comfortable at his new school. Not only can he properly access the novels being studied, but he also fits in with the rest of the class as he has a normal book like everyone else. Online forums for professionals who work with visually impaired children have also been really helpful. When I was struggling to buy Freddie a suitably enlarged protractor to use in Maths, I discovered online that other people had had similar problems and came across the creative idea of photocopying and enlarging a normal sized protractor onto acetate and then laminating it.
Being an LSA (learning support assistant) is not just about making practical resources; a big part of my job is ensuring Freddie feels comfortable and happy at school. Something Freddie and I agreed at the start of the year was how important it was for him to not feel as if he stood out. Starting secondary school is hard enough without looking as though you are being given lots of extra attention and understandably Freddie wanted to be given space to settle in and make friends independently. This calls for a lot of tactical positioning in lessons on my part. I never sit by Freddie in lessons unless he asks me to; instead I help out the whole class, making sure I walk by Freddie every so often to check he is on track. As Freddie often suffers from headaches or tired eyes, I also made him a “Time-Out” card to show to his teachers when this happens. Strategies that may seem small like this actually have a big effect on how comfortable Freddie feels at school; rather than having to explain to the teacher in front of the whole class every time he has a headache, all Freddie has to do is show the card and he will be allowed a few minutes outside of the classroom. To ensure Freddie didn’t feel overwhelmed with questions and attention from his class teachers regarding his visual impairment, we set up fortnightly meetings between the two of us to discuss how he is getting on, which lessons and strategies are going well and which might need some extra adaptation.
Communicating with Freddie’s teachers about his needs and keeping them up-to-date on how he is getting on is a really essential part of my role, especially as Freddie attends such a big school with a large body of staff. In the past I have organised a training session with Maurice and Freddie’s teachers which gave them a space to raise their own questions about teaching a child with a visual impairment. I have also compiled handouts and ‘help sheets’ for teachers to ensure they are well informed about Freddie’s needs and the sorts of strategies that help him properly access his lessons.
Looking back on Freddie’s time so far at his new school, I feel really proud of him. He seems to be really enjoying school and is working hard in all his subjects, never letting his visual impairment stop him from achieving. I am really looking forward to the rest of the year with Freddy and from my chats with Maurice, have lots of ideas for other strategies to help him do his best at school.