Insight eNewsletter - August 2010 issue

Back to school!: CNIB supports learning at all stages of childhood

Two young girls with their backs to the camera walk to school.Twelve-year-old Alyssa is excited to be going back to school this fall. She’ll be starting Grade 7 at a new school and, while she won’t know the other kids and the teachers, the school will be familiar.

That’s because for the last four months, Alyssa and a CNIB specialist, Jeanette, have been paying frequent visits – practicing moving from classroom to classroom, storing Alyssa’s cane in a locker and mastering her new lock.

“It’s okay that I’m blind,” says Alyssa. “...I guess since I’ve always been blind, it’s not so scary.”

Blind since birth, Alyssa has had CNIB in her life for as long as she can remember.

Alyssa’s mom started giving her tactile books from the CNIB Library when she was just six months old. The Library, one of the largest resources for alternative format books in Canada, is stocked with thousands of children’s titles in braille, printbraille and accessible audio.

It’s also home to many educational programs for kids, like Tactile for Tots – an initiative that supports early literacy development. Books like “Where’s My Ball” teach blind and partially sighted preschoolers basic concepts that children with vision loss may not understand, like over, under, behind and above. Tactile for Tots also features a guide that instructs parents on how to use the books effectively.

“It’s all about concept development,” says Kerrie St. Jean, a Professional Practice Leader at CNIB. “Kids can know all the words, but they need to understand what they mean.”

For older children, ages six to 14, the library has the Children’s Discovery Portal and the TD Canada Trust Summer Reading Club. Meanwhile, the library’s Homework Helper program gives kids professional assistance in online research for their school work.

Alyssa and her mom Dawn also participated in a ‘moms and tots’ group at CNIB, in which parents learned skills from each other like how to interact with their kids and how to help them play with toys.

“The parents formed an incredible bond and the kids still play together today,” says Dawn. “A tot who is blind can’t crawl and reach for a toy . . . They taught me how to use a laundry basket to prop Alyssa up and keep the toys near her.”

As Alyssa grew, CNIB services grew with her. When she became more mobile, she needed to learn to get around safely. So at age two, she came to CNIB for training on how to use her first white cane, which had to be shortened by two inches to accommodate her. Later on, she also started getting assistive technology training, like learning to use specialty computer software for people with vision loss. At CNIB, Alyssa learned how to use a program that reads out the words on her computer screen so she can do her homework more easily, as well as how to use her MP3 music player.

Alyssa’s MP3 player has recently broken, but because CNIB taught her skills like how to make sandwiches and set the kitchen table, Alyssa is earning money for doing chores around the house – and she’s saving up for an iPhone.

When she’s not doing chores this summer, Alyssa might be found at her local CNIB day camp. There, learning happens through hands-on experience, and campers take lots of trips to local attractions – like a local sea life park where the action is described to campers by a sighted partner.

“I don’t like those so much because my partner gets so interested in the show that she stops describing it!” says Alyssa.

Alyssa prefers activities where she can get right in the action, like wall climbing at the local gym. She also makes full use of the activities at CNIB’s Lake Joseph Centre, a fully accessible camp facility where kids with vision loss are able to do lots of fun summer activities, like waterskiing, hiking and kayaking.

She’s busy enjoying the summer now, but it won’t be long before Alyssa heads into the classroom for her first year at the new school. But thanks to all the help she’s received from CNIB, she’s ready for it.

Caregiver Tips: What to do when dad can’t see like he used to

Chances are that as we age, our sight will be affected. The following five steps can help you when your mom or dad has been diagnosed with vision loss.

1) Get emotional supportAn elderly man smiles with his daughter who has her arm around him.
Feelings of helplessness or anxiety are common. Your parent is experiencing a loss and so are you. You both need to come to terms with how you’re feeling. Sometimes talking to others in the same situation can help. CNIB has emotional support resources, like peer support groups, which can help either of you.*

2) Understand your parent’s condition
Knowledge is power. The more you know about your parent’s sight loss, the more you’ll be able to support them. Visit their eye doctor or a CNIB low vision specialist, and ask as many questions as you need to. For a list of questions that might be helpful, read our ‘Helping your parent make the most of an eye appointment’ article.

3) Offer specific help
Sometimes people with vision loss find it hard to ask for help for fear of being a nuisance. When you offer to help them, be specific. Instead of an open-ended offer such as “Let me know if you need anything,” say, “I’m driving to the store. Would you like to come?”

4) Find out what they can see
Learn as much as you can about what your parent is actually seeing. A CNIB low vision specialist can help you do that. Knowing what mom or dad is seeing can help you understand why they are having trouble with a specific issue, which will enable you to help them get the right assistance.

5) Tidy up
Around the house, make sure to put everything back where you found it and don’t leave anything lying around. People who are blind or partially sighted depend on routine and predictability to get safely around their homes. If something is better located somewhere else, discuss it with your parent and get their understanding and consent.

*CNIB services may vary by region visit CNIB Services to find out what is available in your area.

Who’s who: Who’s who in the world of eye health

Ever wonder who’s who in the world of eye health? Who does eye surgery and who does eye exams?

CNIB is part of a team of eye health professionals.

“Eye doctors help us understand the underlying cause of the client's vision loss and what aspect of vision is affected. We can then provide help with specific challenges that the client may be experiencing, such as reading or mobility," says Dr Keith Gordon, CNIB Vice President Research and Service Quality.

Here’s a quick guide to who’s who in the world of eye health.

An ophthalmologist is a medical doctor who has completed a four to five year post-medical school residency in comprehensive eye and vision care. As a fully trained physician and surgeon, an ophthalmologist has a complete understanding of the disease process and how it relates to the eye.

Ophthalmologists can provide comprehensive eye examinations, diagnose eye and related systemic disease, and treat with appropriate approved medical treatments, including medications. They have in-depth understanding of medical imaging, and specialized testing required to understand and diagnose all eye disease and are trained to perform surgical procedures of the eye and surrounding areas.

Ophthalmologists may prescribe corrective lenses or glasses and perform laser vision correction surgery. They have access to full hospital facilities and often work in teams with other medical and surgical specialists.

Optometrists specialize in the examination, diagnosis, treatment, management and prevention of disease and disorders of the visual system, the eye and associated structures as well as the diagnosis of manifestations of other conditions that happen in the eyes.

Optometrists perform eye exams to diagnose, treat or refer for treatment any abnormal condition of the eye, in cooperation with physicians and other health professionals. They prescribe and fit glasses, contact lenses or other devices and manage therapy to improve and monitor visual health.

Optometrists have graduated from optometry school with a minimum of six years of post-secondary education to obtain the professional designation “Doctor of Optometry (OD).”

Registered opticians are specially trained to design, fit and dispense eyeglasses, contact lenses, low vision aids and prosthetic ocular devices. They interpret written prescriptions from ophthalmologists and optometrists to determine the specifications of ophthalmic appliances necessary to correct a person's eyesight. Some registered opticians also design and fit cosmetic shells and artificial eyes. Other registered opticians may also make lenses and design and manufacture specific spectacle frames and other devices needed by their clients.

Opticians are educated through programs that have met the accreditation standards of the National Association of Canadian Optician Regulators and must also pass a national regulatory examination.

Low vision specialists provide education about medical diagnoses, training in the use of optical and non-optical visual aids and on how to most efficiently use residual vision. They also complete visual acuity and field loss testing, and refer clients to appropriate resources and organizations.

CNIB Low Vision Specialists work closely with ophthalmologists, optometrists and opticians to provide vision rehabilitation for CNIB clients.

Low vision specialists are graduates of a post-secondary institution with a major in health science or vision rehabilitation and a professional background in nursing, orthoptics or ophthalmology.

For more information about your eye health team or CNIB services available, please contact CNIB in your community.

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