How can schools socially include learners who have vision impairment and additional needs? Specialist teaching assistant Claire Thompson shares practical ideas.
Emma (not her real name) is a 15-year-old girl who is completely blind and in Year 10 at a special school. She moved to the special school in Year 7 from a mainstream primary school.
At primary school rather than being included in class lessons, more often than not Emma was taken out of class to work with her 1:1. And she was allowed to nap in the afternoons. So when she transferred to special school she was used to being on her own and having things done to suit her. Emma wasn’t used to socialising or participating in activities with peers. She hadn’t really been given choices to become more independent.
Our aim was to enable Emma to become as independent as possible and close to her peers both socially and emotionally.
The Vision Impairment team and support staff at the school began by introducing Emma to making choices. Staff gave her two choices – for example of activity, or food or drink – and she had to pick one. She occasionally didn’t like any of the choices but she still had to pick one.
This approach didn’t stop the tantrums at first, and such a change was clearly challenging for Emma. But eventually Emma learnt that she couldn’t always have things her way. As the first year progressed this blended into understanding that sometimes her peers chose differently to her, so she started to question why they made those choices.
Making choices and asking questions led her to begin to make bonds and start to understand others people’s ways of thinking and realise that different people liked different things. A knock on effect was that she started to find similarities with class mates and to develop close friendships.
Although Emma had started to make friendships in class, her peer’s understanding of her visual impairment was still quite underdeveloped. Also her transitions round school were still all controlled by adult helpers. When her friends wanted to play with her or ask her anything, it was all being done via the adult working with Emma.
The first thing the visual impairment team did in conjunction with school was to work with Emma and her peers in personal social health and citizenship education. These lessons gave us the opportunity to explore everyone’s feelings, thoughts and presumptions about Emma’s visual impairment.
The sessions worked really well and included a session where we placed blindfolds over Emma’s peers to help them try to comprehend how Emma’s experienced the world. The children asked Emma questions and as their understanding grew so did the relationships between all the pupils.
This approach has benefitted Emma greatly. She has developed from a needy, self-centred, isolated child into a young woman who can now make her own judgments and empathise with others. She now participates in clubs with her peers and is confident how to act and respond when meeting new people.
· Claire Thompson is a specialist teaching assistant working with Doncaster Visual Impairment Service. She recently completed RNIB’s training course for teaching assistants, Partners in learning
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