Early Mainstreaming For The Visually Impaired Child
by Dave Melanson
When a sight impaired child is mainstreamed into a regular classroom for the first time one of the major challenges the child faces is making friends, being wanted and accepted as an equal among classmates. I have mentioned in previous articles the importance of mainstreaming the sight impaired child early in his or her school life, however I also realize that certain exceptions may apply. For example, if the child is totally blind it may be important to first have that child attend a school for the blind to obtain training in Braille and also to learn basic social skills. However, once these skills have been learned there is no reason why the child cannot attend a regular classroom. Again it depends on the severity of the sight impairment, but for many partially sighted children there is no reason why they cannot be mainstreamed immediately from the start in Kindergarten.
Once a child has been mainstreamed, you as a teacher often face the challenge of how to ensure that the student feels a part of the class and as though s/he belongs there. In order for this to fully work there must be cooperation from the other students. This is not always an easy thing to accomplish as many children are not exposed to differences around them and they may react in an intolerant manner. If the child has been fortunate enough to be mainstreamed in Kindergarten from day one and the children are exposed to this early (this is the best way to ensure acceptance and tolerance), the child more easily becomes a part of the everyday goings-on in the classroom. The other children become so accustomed to this student that they accept him/her as an equal in most cases.
I have often been very touched by the way most Kindergarten teachers explain to their classes how everyone in the world is different and how the teachers emphasize that this difference among all of us is what makes the world such a wonderful place to be. This simple, innocent, and yet true and educational way of dealing with this problem is usually very effective.
Let us now look at the problem of a sight impaired child being mainstreamed later in life. This can be very difficult for the student to be "thrown into" a whole new environment after being used to being among other sight impaired children. I have found that most teachers handle this situation very well, the one problem though is that it is difficult to ensure that the student is fully accepted outside classroom activities such as recess and lunch. Let's face it, it is very hard to force other children to play with and be friends with someone they do not wish to.
This can lead in some cases to the sight impaired child "clinging to teacher" because he or she feels that the teacher is accepting, tolerant and caring. I remember when I was in school, especially in the younger grades, I would want to be around the teacher a lot as I felt that I was accepted and wanted. I feel that the best way to handle a situation of a sight impaired child feeling left out or rejected is to offer as a teacher to take the student aside if you have a chance and talk to him or her. Ask what is bothering him or her and how they are feeling. Let the child vent, get frustrations out and let him or her be expressive. Make it clear that you as a teacher care and want the student to be comfortable in your classroom and that you want him/her to feel accepted and wanted. This will always remain with that student, he/she will remember you very fondly just as I remember my former 4th grade teacher Kathy Inniss. And you will feel that you have accomplished something positive with this student...something you will never forget and always treasure.
I have developed several audio tapes from previous seminars I have given on the topic of mainstreaming and integrating sight impaired children. I am willing to sell these tapes for $10 U.S. each. If there is any school district that is interested in purchasing a tape, please contact me:
702 Riverview Ave
Verdun Quebec Canada H4H 2C1
About Dave Melanson...
Dave Melanson is located in Montreal Canada. He has four years experience presenting seminars and sensitization training to elementary schoolteachers on mainstreaming and integrating visually impaired and blind children into the regular classroom. During the past 2 years he has begun to branch outside of the Montreal area and is now covering other Canadian Provinces as well as the U.S. When giving seminars Dave brings with him a briefcase of 10 pairs of simulator glasses, each allowing the wearer to experience a different type of visual impairment.
Dave will provide a tape of a previous seminar to any school district interested in booking a presentation in order to demonstrate the topics he covers with regard to integration and mainstreaming a sight impaired or blind child.
You may contact Dave for more information by e-mail at email@example.com or by telephone: 514 7683264. Dave can also be found in the Teachers.Net chatroom many evenings during the week, logged on as Dave/Montreal.