Having a visually impaired child is very far from being the end of the world, but it can provide you with a dilemma when it comes to deciding whether to enter her into mainstream education or a school for the visually impaired. The decision will need to be based on you and your child’s best assessment of your child’s coping skills, as well as advice from professionals. The following factors should certainly be taken into consideration.
How independent your child is
Some children are naturally more independent than others. A child with a visual impairment may need a lot of support, or she may prefer to do things herself. In the latter case, mainstream education may be ideal. Provided there are measures put in place to ensure that she knows the logistics and knows who to turn to for help when necessary, she may be happier in an environment where she is left to cope largely on her own and is not made to feel that she is being treated differently from the others in her class. Then again, if a lot of specialist support is needed, a school for the visually impaired may be preferable.
Plans for the future
The aim of specialist schools is to prepare those with visual impairments for the future, so that they can cope when out in the big wide world. In most instances, that is exactly what happens. However, other students may find that it is a struggle to cope when they graduate and there is suddenly limited support, particularly when they move from a school for the visually impaired to university. For example, you child may become frustrated that tutors don’t put assignments and presentations up on the intranet so that she can access them with the necessary software needed. In that case, having already learned to cope with issues like that at a mainstream school may be an enormous advantage.
Accessibility of support at mainstream schools
There should be some level of support available for the visually impaired at every school. For example, in the county of Staffordshire in the UK, organisations such as ASSIST are available to provide students with note-taking support, software and logistics training, and the translation of materials into braille if necessary. However, it is obviously worth talking to both teachers at the mainstream school and to organisations that can help just to ensure that you, as a parent, are happy with the level of support that your child will be receiving. Obviously, schools for the visually impaired can provide much more intensive support.
Any necessary treatment
There are a range of conditions that can cause partial or complete blindness, some of which may require surgery on a regular basis. If this is the case for your child, mainstream education may not be flexible enough and may not provide enough opportunities for her to catch up when she returns to school. The double whammy of being behind and needing support in order to complete assignments may just be too much for her. Schools for the visually impaired will be used to this kind of situation and will be able to provide the necessary support.
The degree of impairment
It doesn’t necessarily follow that the worse your child’s eyesight, the more likely it is that she will need to attend a school for the visually impaired. If your child has no vision and knows that she isn’t going to have any in the future, she may be far happier to settle down in a mainstream school and get on with things. However, if your child’s vision is likely to deteriorate over her school years, she will have to deal with all the stress and insecurity that goes along with that. Mainstream schools may simply not be able to provide the support necessary. Of course, when that point comes, you could make the decision to remove her from mainstream education and put her into a specialist school.
How easily your child makes friends
Just because your child has a visual impairment doesn’t mean that she can’t make friends easily. If she has no difficulty in making friends, visually impaired or not, then a mainstream school could be a great way of ensuring that she has a wide range of friends from different backgrounds. However, if your child is shy and embarrassed or frustrated by her impairment, she may feel a greater sense of belonging while with students who have a similar understanding of the world. Of course, you may then need to consider what happens when she leaves school and goes to university or enters the job market.
Every child is different and you hopefully know the extent of her needs better than anyone else. Weigh up the pros and cons of different educational establishments and decide, with the input of your child and relevant professionals, which is best for her. And remember, if it doesn’t work out, it isn’t too late to try a different school.