Assessment for Preschoolers Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired
Assessment—conducting tests to find out your child’s strengths and needs: will be important throughout their education. As a preschooler, your child’s educational team will be gathering information to help them make a formal plan. The IEP is a document for what is needed to access learning as a result of how their eye conditions impact their education. As always, it is important to ask questions of any professional who seeks your permission to assess your child. Find out the purpose of the assessment, how the information will be used, and where you can learn more about the particular instrument (test) and procedure. You will also want to get a copy of the assessment report.
There are several types of specialized assessments specifically for students with visual impairments that a teacher of students with visual impairments may conduct with your child.
Functional Vision Assessment – The functional vision assessment is the cornerstone of the assessments done by a teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) if your child has useful vision. The functional vision assessment is done to find out how they are using their vision for near tasks (closer than 16 inches), intermediate tasks (16 inches to 3 feet), and distance tasks (greater than 3 feet). It combines formal tests with informal activities that the TVI designs so that he or she can observe your child using their vision. For example, your child may be asked to match toys according to their color to indicate when they can see an object held to the left or right side. Based on the information gathered through such activities, the teacher will make recommendations about ways to help your child learn to use their vision more effectively.
Learning Media Assessment (LMA) – The Learning Media Assessment involves observing how your child uses their senses (primarily vision, touch, and hearing) to gain information about their surroundings. The object is to determine the way in which your child takes in most of his information, also known as his “primary sensory channel.” The TVI can use this information to make recommendations about whether your child should be starting to learn to read and write in print, braille, or both at the same time. The teacher will also make recommendations about the types of literacy tools (see “How Students with Low Vision Read and Write” and “How Students Who Are Blind Read and Write”) or assistive technology that can help your child with near vision tasks, and distance tasks. The TVI will also determine if your child seems to be ready to begin formal instruction in reading and writing or if they still need exposure to preliteracy activities and skills before formal instruction begins.
Developmental Assessments – Your child’s educational team will continue to conduct assessments that help gather information about your child’s development. They compare your child’s behavior against developmental guidelines for when a child is expected to do a specific task. Professionals use them to chart your child’s development over time and to compare their progress from one administration of the assessment to the next. When considering the results of any developmental assessments, it’s important to remember that they only provide guidelines for a range of typical development, not hard-and-fast rules and that every child’s development is different.
The TVI may observe your child and fill out a checklist of skills expected of a child at this age. The TVI will probably speak with you to get some information about your child’s behavior, especially about skills that they probably cannot observe at school, such as taking a bath without assistance or ordering food at a restaurant. Some assessments have been developed specifically for children with eye conditions. Assessments have items that are appropriate for children with blindness or low vision and can assist the TVI in gathering information to guide instruction for your child. These assessments are not all geared toward the development of children with blindness or low vision. They can sometimes be different from children with typical vision. It is important that any person who is conducting or interpreting any developmental tests for your child is experienced in working with children who are blind and low vision or else consult with a TVI.
Observations and Checklists – When gathering information about your child, it’s a good idea for the TVI to do more than one type of assessment. Observing your child in a variety of activities is usually a key component of all assessments. The teacher may just take notes to analyze later what they observe. Different checklists are available to guide their observations; for example, there are checklists to help gauge your child’s knowledge of how to use assistive technology, social interaction skills, or independent living skills.