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A team approach for the transition to middle school and beyond for a young man who is deafblind and gifted.

Although there is ample research to guide an educational team in the transitions of a student who is deafblind, there is little research to inform such transitions when intellectual giftedness is also a factor. In this article, we describe the role of a multidisciplinary team in transition planning for a student in a public school full-inclusion setting. The student, John (a pseudonym), had hearing impairment and cochlear implants; a visual diagnosis of microphthalmia, which enabled him to perceive shapes; and an exceptional intellectual ability that was recognized in school district-wide testing on multiple assessments in the third grade. In his fifth-grade year, the educational team focused on five areas that they felt would be integral for the student's success in the transition from elementary to middle school: staff dynamics, sound dynamics, social competencies, environmental knowledge, and academics.

John's parents were active participants with the educational team in planning his education. A teacher of visually impaired students and an orientation and mobility (O&M) specialist addressed vision issues, a teacher of hearing impaired students focused on auditory issues, a speech-language pathologist worked with speech articulation, an occupational therapist guided fine-motor development, and an adapted physical education specialist monitored physical education accommodations and adaptations. In addition, a braillist produced materials in braille and served as an on-site paraeducator; and a specialist in the field of hearing impairment, from the University of Kansas, served pro bono as an advisor. A county social worker addressed "outside of the school" issues. John's parents also requested that a district administrator join the educational team, because of their son's unique intellectual abilities and possibilities. Key to the team process was the establishment of a guiding philosophy: The parents insisted that John's limitations would be overcome by his own talents and abilities, and that any limitations set in his path by others would not be considered insurmountable. An instructional "best practices" model followed the philosophy of "living in the solution and not in the problem."

The United States Department of Education's Educating Blind and Visually Impaired Students: Policy Guidance (2000), Assistance to States for the Education of Children with Disabilities (2005), and the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 2004 provided ample support for the creation of an educational program that focused on the use of assistive technology, braille, career education, O&M, compensatory skills, social interaction, recreation, and leisure skills.


Transitions can be particularly stressful for students with visual impairments as they move from a familiar environment to an unfamiliar school. They may also be difficult for general education staff members, who may never have taught a student with visual or auditory impairments and may have little understanding of expectations, accommodations, or interaction techniques for such students.


Preparation, planning, and communication can help ease the difficulties that might occur when students are making transitions. To smooth this process for John, a teacher of visually impaired students created a transition timeline that was initiated in elementary school, prior to John entering the seventh grade in the middle school, and it was repeated at the end of eighth grade for his transition to high school. All components were implemented with input from team members as needed.


In accordance with the timeline, in December, John's teacher of visually impaired students and his O&M specialist met with the new school's counselor and administrator to provide an overview of John, necessary accommodations, and space requirements for a vision office for braille production. The O&M specialist also assessed the school buildings for ADA compliance. In January, the teacher of visually impaired students followed up with the school administration to review John's needs, and the O&M specialist began familiarization training with the student.


In March, the teacher of visually impaired students contacted the new school's counselor for a tentative schedule of John's classes, so textbooks could be ordered in the appropriate format. In April, office space for the braillist in the new school was inspected and computer and phone connections were confirmed. Plans were made for moving essential equipment and initiating the technology connectivity that would be required for the equipment.

In May, the new teachers received a teacher-information packet and PowerPoint presentation and participated in a meeting about John's accommodation needs. For the transition to high school, the same procedure was followed, except that John accompanied his teacher of visually impaired students to the meeting with his new teachers, so he could practice the self-advocacy skills he would one day require in meetings with college professors or employers.


In August, before school began, the teacher of visually impaired students and the O&M specialist informally visited with John's new teachers to address last-minute questions and to review his unique needs.


In September, after school had been in session for one to two weeks, the teacher of visually impaired students and the O&M instructor visited with John's teachers to hear any questions or concerns. In October, an educational team meeting was held that included John.


The teacher-information packet that was distributed to John's new teachers included:

* a page of student information that described John's visual condition, visual devices, primary reading and writing media, technology, seating requirements, and mobility parameters;

* contact information for educational team members;

* an at-a-glance version of John's individualized education program (IEP), which listed John's IEP goals and schoolwork and testing accommodations;

* a list of teaching tips on expectations, interaction suggestions, classroom strategies, substitute teacher information, and emergency drill or real emergency protocols;

* a description of the braillist's role and location within the school grounds; and

* a list of O&M definitions and expectations and instructions for sighted-guide technique.


John wore bilateral hearing aids at age 5. He could hear well enough to listen and understand most of what was said to him if the speaker spoke very clearly; his hearing aids also allowed him to access environmental noises. He received his first cochlear implant, on his right side, at age 5. He continued to wear a hearing aid on his left side to help in the localization of sound. As he gained skills in utilizing his cochlear implant, his speech and auditory awareness increased.

The educational team felt that static and dynamic sound localization and discrimination were two areas that were essential to address in addition to traditional auditory training for travel in multiple environments. Static sound localization and discrimination require directional attention, and they are important for safe and efficient travel (for example, when a student is changing classes or is outdoors). John was encouraged to practice his directional listening skills. Faculty members used interventions to reinforce these skills that included identifications, requests, and directives, and they reminded John to respond to the direction and origination of sounds. Positive reinforcement for successful interactions and recognitions was consistently provided.

Although no data was kept, faculty members noted an improvement over time in John's one-on-one communication, social behaviors with staff members and peers, and direction of gaze to sources of sounds. O&M lessons included sound-source recognition tasks in isolated and familiar interior and outdoor environments. An essential part of this strategy was for John to adjust his cochlear implant to respond to his environment, and he learned to modify the implant's settings until it responded appropriately to a specific environment. Ongoing communication between John and his educational team members, parents, and audiologist were crucial to make adjustments as necessary.

Because of John's visual impairment, the teacher of visually impaired students informed teaching staff members about the importance of narrating their own work at the board and other classroom activities. To ensure that he could access everything the teachers said, he was initially seated on the left side of the classroom to maximize the signal to his right cochlear implant. In addition to strategic seating, a desk-unit soundfield system was utilized in elementary school in which his teacher wore a microphone that transmitted her voice to a small speaker on the right side of his desk. The speaker system kept the teacher's voice at a constant level as she moved around the classroom. This setup often required creative use of desk space in order to accommodate his braille textbooks and braillewriter.

John received his second cochlear implant, on his left side, when he was 13 years old. Up until this time, he had continued to primarily receive auditory input from his right side, and any noises from his left side had continued to be less audible to him even with the new hearing aid. While adapting to the implant, his teachers observed him turning his head to position his right side toward the person speaking. To correct this behavior, the right implant was turned off; he was only permitted to use his right implant when he worked in O&M lessons, as well as in sessions with the school's speech and language therapist. Sound-localization and discrimination tasks were initiated with static sound cues and continued until a level of proficiency was achieved.

When he was adjusting to his second implant, ongoing communication between John, educational team members, parents, and his audiologist was crucial to make adjustments as necessary. As the years passed, and the maturity of the left-side implant increased, so did his ability to regulate his hearing through experimenting with the implants' processing programs and settings.

As technology changed and advanced, a personal FM (frequency modulation) system replaced the desk-unit sound-field system. This new system was smaller and easier for him to carry around when he needed to change classes in middle school. The system consisted of a microphone that the teachers wore that transmitted the sound to a receiver--a piece of equipment about an inch square that was directly attached to John's cochlear implant processor. This setup allowed for clearer sound with less distortion as the teacher walked around the room. With the new FM system, however, surrounding noises (for example, other students' spoken contributions during class) were less audible. Teachers were made of aware of this fact and encouraged to repeat questions and comments from other students into the microphone, and John was encouraged to self-advocate and ask for clarification of what was said. When he made the transition to high school, a second FM receiver was added to the personal FM system to accommodate his second implant and the upgraded technology. As he became older, John was responsible for making sure the FM system was working, handing it to teachers at the beginning of classes, getting it back at the end of the class, and explaining how it worked to new teachers or substitutes.

The increased use of technology and multimedia in the classroom needed to be addressed when John made the transition to high school. Teachers in the new school used ceiling-mounted projectors that allowed them to utilize various teaching tools, such as computers, the Internet, DVD or videocassette players (VCRs), and SMART-brand technology such as interactive white boards. Unfortunately, the projectors made it impossible to place a microphone close enough for him to hear the audio clearly, and he needed to work with the teacher of hearing impaired students to determine the best configurations for his FM system in each setting.

Along with strategic seating, a variety of audio cords and splitters were used to connect the media (that is, the computer, the Internet, DVD players or VCRs) to John's teacher-mounted microphone unit. This allowed for cleaner, less-distorted sound to be transmitted to his receivers and heard through his cochlear implant processors. Audio cords also allowed him to access to the screen-reading program, JAWS, without distracting other students.

As with all technology, the FM system did not always work. However, each problem was a learning opportunity for John to become more independent. He learned to carry backup batteries and could troubleshoot basic problems. Alternate strategies, such as changing his position to accommodate his stronger hearing side or setting an alternative time during which he could access a video again, were discussed and implemented as needed. The team's goal was to train him to monitor and address his auditory needs with proactive advocacy and with inquiries about lessons and activities. "Learning and applying the skills associated with educating teachers on my disability and my accommodations were beneficial for all parties" (John, personal communication, January 2013).


The educational team used the Independent Living Curriculum (Loumiet & Levack, 1993) to address social skills, because this curriculum offers instructional suggestions and resources, as well as an assessment tool that denotes what is age appropriate. This evaluation was shared among the members of the team who were able to observe John and recognize his strengths and identify gaps that needed attention. The evaluation was typically completed in the beginning of the school year and was repeated in the spring. These two evaluations revealed progress, informed IEP planning for the following year, and provided data to justify John's attendance in the expanded school year program at the Kansas State School for the Blind. The evaluation was also used to evaluate the daily living skill components of the expanded core curriculum. Instruction to address deficits took place at home and in community environments after school.


Knowledge of the new school environments, initially the middle school and later the high school, were essential for John's success. O&M lessons were taught after school in the new environments to familiarize him with the layout of the buildings and the significant landmarks. Further instruction took place during school hours, especially during passing periods, to familiarize him with the noise levels and potential interference. He met the key individuals in the new environments, especially in the cafeterias. The lunch protocol was practiced many times in isolation and in actual lunch periods until he indicated a comfort level. "Walking my schedule multiple times, learning the layout of the building, and going through the lunch line before the school year started made my transitions go more smoothly" (John, personal communication, January 2013).

Instruction using Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, especially the Trekker Breeze, in O&M lessons allowed John to plan routes and orient himself in outdoor environments. His proficiency with the GPS system provided him a tool that enabled him to develop the skills for accessing the "virtual open doorway" (Phillips, 2011, p. 676) to the environment.


John was enrolled in standard and honors classes and was also enrolled in the Enriched Learning (EL) program in elementary school and the Students Exploring and Experiencing Knowledge (SEEK) gifted program in middle and high school. The two programs are designed to allow students to complete projects of interest to them and also provide students time and support for the additional work required in honors classes. For John, physical education and consumer mathematics also received special attention. To complete his physical education credits, he trained on a treadmill, a Schwinn-Airdyne, and a piece of equipment he nicknamed "The Rack." Timed equivalencies for physical fitness levels that correlated with regular physical education activities were established with the assistance of the physical education and adapted physical education teachers. Outdoor running activities involved his paraeducator, the physical education teacher, and the O&M specialist or a student "buddy."

The teacher of visually impaired students modified a consumer mathematics course based on the text Consumer Mathematics (2003) to include bookwork, research, and a community element that provided John the opportunity to learn about various consumer mathematics topics outside of school, and he was accompanied by his teacher of visually impaired students and O&M instructor. The community visits were important, because he interacted with working professionals and learned directly from them. This practical version of consumer mathematics was an essential aspect of his transition from high school to college, because it provided him the opportunity to engage in activities that sighted students learn about by incidental observation, something students who are visually impaired are not able to do.


At the end of John's senior year in high school, a special award was given to students who had to surpass great obstacles to achieve their high school diplomas. Three of his classmates were honored, but he was not one of them. Upon further investigation, the selection committee explained that they had not considered him for the award: he was so accomplished that he was viewed as a regular student who just happened to walk with a long cane and use amplification to hear better. In their eyes, John, who was born with visual and hearing impairments, and whose attending pediatric ophthalmologist had recommended that his parents consider institutionalization, was no longer "the deafblind student"; he had made the transition to being just "a student."


Department of Education. (2005). 34 CFR Part 300 Assistance to States for the Education of Children with Disabilities (Federal Register Vol. 70, No. 118). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Department of Education. (2000). Educating blind and visually impaired students; Policy guidance; Notice (Federal Register Vol. 65, No. 111). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Loumiet, R., & Levack, N. (1993). Independent living: A curriculum with adaptations for students with visual impairments (2nd ed.). Austin: Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

Harmeyer, K. M. (2003). Consumer mathematics. Circle Pines, Minnesota: AGS Publishing.

Phillips, C. L. (2011). Getting from here to there and knowing where: Teaching global positioning systems to students with visual impairments. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 105(10), 675-680.

Craig L. Phillips, M.S.Ed., COMS, O&M specialist, teacher of blind and visually impaired students, Kansas State School for the Blind, 1100 State Avenue, Kansas City, KS 66102; e-mail: <cphillips@>. Jeri L. Hile, M.S.Ed., COMS, O&M specialist, teacher of blind and visually impaired students, Shawnee Mission School District, Arrowhead Administrative Center, 6601 Santa Fe Drive, Shawnee Mission, KS 66202; e-mail: <jerihile@>. Traci L. Jardes, M.Ed., teacher of hearing impaired students, Shawnee Mission School District, Shawnee Mission Instructional Service Center, 9700 West 96th Street, Overland Park, KS 66212; e-mail: <>.
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Title Annotation:Practice Perspectives
Author:Phillips, Craig L.; Hile, Jeri L.; Jardes, Traci L.
Publication:Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness
Article Type:Report
Date:Nov 1, 2013
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