Transcript of the Podcast with Dr. Kay Alicyn Ferrell
Narrator: Hello and welcome to this AFB Press Podcast, featuring a discussion with Dr. Kay Alicyn Ferrell, author of the book, Reach Out and Teach: Helping Your Child Who Is Visually Impaired Learn and Grow.
Dr. Ferrell is a professor at The School of Special Education and director of the National Center on Severe and Sensory Disabilities, College of Education and Behavioral Sciences, at the University of Northern Colorado Greely. She was the principle investigator of the groundbreaking project “PRISM,” the first study of child development in 50 years to focus on children with visual impairments and the ways in which their development is similar to or different from that of typically sighted children. In this podcast, Dr. Ferrell will be talking to us about her book, Reach Out and Teach: Helping Your Child Who Is Visually Impaired Learn and Grow. A revised and expanded version of the book first published in 1985. Susan Spungin, former vice president at AFB, was a consulting editor to this book. Before recording this podcast, Dr. Ferrell responded to questions from parents posted in APH’s FamilyConnect blog.
Narrator: Dr. Ferrell, thank you for being here to discuss “Reach Out and Teach.”
Dr. Ferrell: Well, thank you for inviting me.
Narrator: As I mentioned, the first “Reach Out and Teach” book was published in 1985. Why did you decide to write that book at that time? What was your goal?
Dr. Ferrell: Well, it wasn’t actually my goal. It was Susan Spungin’s goal. She had written a grant to the U.S. Department of Education because services in early intervention and preschool were so absent then. We just didn’t have them like we do today. It wasn’t put into the law until 1986, so there weren’t really services for kids, and this grant that she proposed was a way of trying to get information to parents who otherwise wouldn’t have that information. So really you have to give Susan Spungin credit for that part.
I learned a lot because of what we had done before the book was published and the way Susan had set up the grant. We asked parents what was the information they wanted to know, so the book really responded directly to parents and what they needed to know.
We had also asked university professors and teachers and just a whole range of people who work with kids who are visually impaired what they thought parents needed to know.
There were two different answers to that question. The parents had very specific things that they were interested in like, “What happens to my child when he goes to school?” “What happens to my child when he gets out of school?” Even in infancy. So it was a really important thing to focus on what parents wanted and not what professionals thought they needed to know.
Narrator: So why did you decide then to revise the original edition? Has the landscape of support for children with visual impairments and families changed dramatically since then?
Dr. Ferrell: Well, I have to say that I thought it had changed dramatically, and my experience with the blog the last couple of weeks has been things really haven’t changed all that much.
Parents are still going through some of the same things they were 25 years ago, but our original plan in the revision was that legislation had been passed in 1986, where kids birth to three years old were now covered under the U.S. Department of Education’s law, the IDEA law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. And that hadn’t been the case when I had written the first addition.
So we wanted to include all the information about what parents’ rights were in terms of birth to three. What they could expect for their services. What kinds of people should be involved with them at the birth to three-year-old range. So that had changed. But I really have to say that based on that blog, I really am surprised that so much has not changed from 25 years ago.
Narrator: What has not changed exactly?
Dr. Ferrell: Well, some parents still aren’t receiving services, or they’re not receiving services that are appropriate for kids with visual impairments. A lot of the services that are delivered are what we would call generic services. Those are services for all kids with disabilities, and they don’t have anybody involved in their program who really knows about visual impairment and how you can use that information to change development.
Narrator: How does the new “Reach Out and Teach” help get that information to those parents?
Dr. Ferrell: Well, I think it will do a couple of things. My goal was to try to demystify early intervention. Early intervention and professionals and the work they do are really—sometimes we just keep that close to ourselves, and we don’t share with parents why we’re doing things. So a lot of the book is explaining to parents why things are important to do. Why it’s important to work with your child and get him moving. Why it’s important to show your child different objects in the environment. How to interact with the environment. How to interact with people.
So I give reasons for doing those kinds of things. It’s not just a prescription that you should do this, this, this, and this. It’s you want to do this because it will lead to this. And this is the reason behind why we should do some of the things that we need to do.
Narrator: How should families use the new book?
Dr. Ferrell: Well, let’s see. I think they should use it based on their child’s age because that was one of the big differences from the first edition. The first edition we kind of covered and had chapters on gross motor development, chapters on fine motor development, chapters on language development, and in this book, we’ve tried to do it by age groups.
So we have infants from birth to about 12 months of age. Then the next chapter is from nine to 24 months of age. It’s trying to talk about those key developmental areas and what you should expect in all domains in that age group.
So I think that if I were a parent using this, I’d look at how old my child is, and I’d go to that chapter in the book. I talk about how the chapters overlap in that age group because we don’t have really good data on when visually impaired kids do things. If you find something in that book that maybe you hadn’t known about before, then maybe you can go to the previous chapter and look at that.
There are a couple of chapters that are good to read at any time. The first one is the introductory chapter that talks about what we do know about how children with visual impairments learn and grow then the last chapter, which is actually an epilogue written by individuals with visual impairments themselves and what they would say to parents about how they were supported when they were growing up and what they would suggest parents might do with their own children.
Narrator: And now, what about professionals? Is there a way professionals can use this book even though it was written for families?
Dr. Ferrell: Oh, I think so because our programs that prepare teachers of students with visual impairments don’t always cover that birth to five-year-old range. Most of the programs are kindergarten through 12th grade. So what those teachers are trained in is not early intervention and preschool. So hopefully this chapter will give them the background they can use to discuss with the families the kinds of things that are coming up. They can look up information, and they can know for themselves what to expect at that age level.
Narrator: Is there anything else that you’d like to share with us about “Reach Out and Teach” and the process of writing the book?
Dr. Ferrell: It was nice to know that there was a lot of information out there I could use as resources, which was way different from back in 1985. So I think there is a lot more information available for parents, and I hope I gave them in the book the kind of resources they can look into for more information. So the book is not the last answer, it’s just sort of the introduction and a guide of where do you go from here, and hopefully, it will lead parents in that direction.
Narrator: I know the early response to this book has been very positive from parents so congratulations. Thank you so much for sharing your perspective today on your book Reach Out and Teach: Helping Your Child Who Is Visually Impaired Learn and Grow. Thank you so much. We appreciate your insight.
Dr. Ferrell: Thank you.
Narrator: The book is available from the AFB Press online store and can be ordered at aph.org/shop or by calling 1-800-232-3044.
Listeners of this podcast can receive a 10 percent discount by using the coupon code: ROTPOD when they order. AFB Press of the American Foundation for the Blind is the leading publisher in the field of blindness and visual impairment in the United States. It produces books, journals, videos, and electronic materials offering a wide range of information for students, professionals, researchers, and blind and visually impaired people and their families. For more information, go to aphcareerconnect.org or check us out on Facebook.