Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Education, Education, Education

When we were given Ethan's diagnosis* one of the first things we did, after a little bit of blubbing, was to look at the Cambridge University website to see what facilities they had for blind students! A slightly odd action you might think, particularly as Ethan was only about four months old at the time, but for us we have never thought of Ethan's sight problems as something that should hold him back from achieving anything he wants in life and education is an important part of this. 

So what does having a child with a visual impairment mean in terms of schooling and what help is out there? 

We received Ethan's diagnosis at Addenbrooks in Cambridge. We were very grateful to the consultant who agreed to see us, she was lovely and immediately got in touch with the VI team in Essex. A very lovely VI teacher then came to visit us at home (I realise I have used the term lovely in the last sentence as well, but really it is the best word to describe these lovely people) . She was very reassuring about Ethan's educational future and gave us lots of ideas of how to stimulate him at home. We were very clear that we wanted Ethan to attend a mainstream school as he didn't have any other additional needs and his VI teacher was able to talk us through how she assists children during their time at school. The VI team have continued to work along side Ethan ever since that first meeting, and will do until he leaves school. I had always planned to go back to work after having children, so Ethan went to a local nursery when he was about 9 months old. I remember nervously ringing the nursery to enquire about a place and to tell them about Ethan's visual impairment - they were completely unfazed by the conversation and were very happy to have Ethan there. Our VI teacher went to the nursery to do a bit of training with the staff and Ethan had a great time there. When Ethan progressed to pre-school, again the VI team went in to do some training and to show the staff how to teach Ethan pre-braille skills (a lot of egg boxes and golf balls were used!).

Ethan's pre-school was in the grounds of his primary school, which was very handy for orientation visits in the run up to him starting. The school Ethan goes to have been absolutely fantastic .  Ethan loves going to school and integrates fully in all aspects of school life. The VI team work alongside the teachers to adapt resources and supply equipment for Ethan. He has his own big cupboard of 'stuff' which has travelled with him each year and which I'm sure has caused a few "where on earth is this going to go?!" moments. I would imagine the biggest challenge is ensuring Ethan has all the braille resources he needs to keep up with everyone else. Ethan as a 1:1 LSA and some of her time is used in the preparation of resources, particularly now Ethan is becoming much more independent in the classroom. The school now has an embossing machine which means Ethan is able to read the same books as the other children. If schools are worried about covering the cost of these extra resources they needn't be, Essex County Council supply the equipment and the school receive extra funding because Ethan has a Statement of special educational needs. Even if your child doesn't have a statement, if they have some sort of visual impairment it is likely that they will be able to receive some extra help.

There have been many simple things that have been put in place to make Ethan's life at school easy. He has a talk partner for assmblies (he can choose one of his friends to describe what is happening so he doesn't miss out), furniture is kept in the same place so he can get round easily and there are all sorts of equipement that Ethan can use to carry out the same activities as the other children (ball with bell in for PE, extra large calculator, rulers etc).

Warning - this next section is full of a mother's gushy pride! We have been absolutely thrilled by Ethan's start to his educational journey. He has absolutely thrived at school, amazing both us and his teachers with how well he is doing. He has kept up with the other children, even though he is having to do his reading and writing in Braille (and do two lots of spellings - the word and it's braille contraction!) and has made a good set of friends. 

We really have had such a positive experience here in Essex, it will be interesting to see how the transition into secondary school goes - but we have a couple of years before we have to  think about that!

The Specialist Teacher team at Essex County Council have made a great DVD called Support for Visually Impaired Students in Mainstream Schools. It is a really good resource for parents and teachers as it shows how easily Visually Impaired children can be integrated into school. It also stars Ethan and me (please don't mock the terrible hairstyle I had at the time - I was growing out a shorter style and it looks a bit like I have a small moped helmet on). I'm sure if you got in touch with Essex County Council they could put you in touch with the team to get a copy.

*Ethan was born with a condition called Norries Disease, which meant his retinas did not develop properly causing him to have no sight in one eye and limited vision in the other.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

I want to ride my bicycle

Two years ago we decided to get Ethan a new bike. Up until this point he had a small bike with stabilisers, but as his friends were beginning to get bigger bikes and discarding the stabilisers, we felt we needed to help him keep up. Other parents of visually impaired children may have had other solutions to the dilema of how to allow your child independence on a bike, keeping them safe and not making them too different from everyone else - our solution was to buy a Pashley Robin bike. 

We wanted something that was robust, looked cool and would last. The Pashley is really well made and can go over most terrains. With Ethan's limited sight we felt that a trike would give Ethan the balance he would need to be able to ride freely. We have been able to take him down farm tracks with him riding independently, whilst we are on our own bikes next to him, giving out the odd instruction. The pashley has toe clips so once Ethan's feet are in he doesn't have to worry about finding the pedals. The bike has one, low fixed gear - you should see the speed Ethan's legs go when he's pedaling! He can also reverse the bike by pedaling backwards (a feature that his younger brother Jasper is very jealous of!) We have not let Ethan ride it on the main road because of his sight, but as it goes so well on grass and rougher tracks, he has still been able to have a great time on it. 

We are now planning on buying a tandem - I'll keep you posted about how that goes!

Monday, 7 January 2013


Well here goes!!

After some bad news at the beginning of the year I have been reflecting a bit on who I am and what I do, and following the suggestion by a very good pal of mine I have decided to take the plunge and start a blog. "But what can she possibly have to say?" I hear you cry! Well, to be honest, I'm not entirely sure, but as with many aspects of my life I think I'll be alright making it up as I go along.

Introductions first...

What would I like you to know about me? 

I like at least two cups of coffee in the morning (milk no sugar).

I hate minced meat (all varieties, including vegetarian, it's the texture - but I am skilled in making it look like I have eaten some when it has been served up at other peoples houses).

I enjoy food, wine and the company of good friends.

I am a bit arty and recently started making pictures from buttons (they look much better than that sounds).

I love musicals and in another life I would be a professional ballet dancer (a job only stopped in this life by lack of any ballet lessons as a child - or skill).

I am a former teacher "primary or secondary?" secondary "ooh I could never do that, what subject?" Religious Education and philosophy "oh!" (this is generally where this sort of conversation ends, with the other person turning to my husband to ask him what he does and a 30 minute dialogue ensues).

I am easily distracted - I have made the two cups of coffee mentioned above, taken down a few Christmas baubles and half loaded the dishwasher since starting this.

I have been married for 13 years to a great guy called Neil (he is much cleverer than me, but I can generally solve murders on Lewis before he can), he is an ex scientist turned computery person (I don't really understand what he does) who commutes from the green green grass of Essex into London town. We have 2 sons who are 8 and 5 and generally have a pretty marvellous life.

As you will have seen from the title one of my son's is visually impaired - I try not to make this a fact that defines him or us, but for the plans I have for the future of this blog I have included it. Let me tell you about Ethan.

Ethan our first born and next in line to the Peacock throne turned 8 on New Year's eve. He is funny, clever, loves drawing, music and sweets. He can describe most of the world's flags (I'm sure there must be some sort of TV show we could exploit this talent on) and his favourite topic is geography. His top 3 bands are Kraftwerk, the Pet Shop Boys and Daftpunk (blame his father). He has an incredible memory and imagination, and although he can be a pest at times - he brings us a lot of joy. Ethan was born with his retinas not properly developed (due to a freak genetic mutation - think along the lines of Xmen), he has no sight in one eye, and peripheral vision in the other. He is able to navigate round fairly well and is learning Braille.

The fourth member of the Essex Peacock clan is Jasper. Jasper (or Jasper Lego Peacock as we have recently taken to calling him) has one main love - can you guess? Lego. He is obsessed by the stuff and disappointingly for me is now able to build all the models by himself. Jasper is a bright (I a quite biased about my boys!), funny, sometimes shy boy who also loves drawing. He is less into sweets than Ethan, preferring hula hoops. He enjoys films, books and the Kethup Boys (his name for the PSB). He is always hungry and seems to be going through his teenage years early, but again, just like Ethan he brings us a lot of joy.


Not sure if I needed to introduce myself in such detail - but hey ho! So my plans for this blog are to look at some of the aspects of having a child with a visual impairment and how to help them 'fit in' to everyday life. I will be reviewing products and experiences, and hopefully they'll be stuff in here that will be of use to people! Until next time, au revoir!