By Mark DeAngelis
When it’s hard to move your gaze, it’s more challenging to learn.
I have been working with a student named Bridget in Heather Hall’s classroom. Bridget has a visual impairment that challenges her ability to track motion — like Ms. Hall pointing to the SMART Board, for example. Because of this impairment, she will fixate on one thing for several minutes.
Bridget’s goal is to be able to track movement and visually focus on a new object for a few seconds. Since November, she and I have been working together every school day for about 45 minutes to improve her tracking ability. We do this using several assistive technology devices.
You may have heard many references to assistive technology, or AT, before at Gompers. We use AT a lot here. Many believe it is another term for computerized devices that help people communicate, but AT is more than that. Any device that is able to increase an individual’s independence can be considered assistive technology, whether it’s a shovel with a soft grip to make it easier for someone with arthritis to use or an iPad app that teaches the alphabet to a child.
For Bridget’s vision, we use (among other things) a toy wand topped by a ball that lights up and spins. Bright lights cue Bridget’s vision, and she especially seems to like red. Often, when I hold up the wand and wave it slowly in her path of vision, she will turn her head to keep it in sight. The fact that she moves her entire head, rather than just willing her eyes to follow the light, may indicate she doesn’t have complete 180-degree peripheral vision; still, it is encouraging to see she is able to track its movement.
We also have a number of free iPad apps — like Gravity, Electra and Doorbells — that provide visual and audio stimulation. Often, I will help her get her hand on the iPad screen so she is able to see the streams of light that follow the movements her fingers make there.
At first our sessions moved slowly, because I was new in Bridget’s world. Now that we’ve established rapport, she is starting to respond to the lessons. We’re working on different daily activities to try to keep her visual focus for 15 to 20 seconds at a time. After we have mastered that, we will try to increase that length of time — because it will mean an improved ability to stay on task in class.
Mark DeAngelis has a master’s degree in special education with an emphasis in visual impairment (certification) in the State of Arizona. He also is an Employment Services Supervisor who presently oversees safety and behavioral issues for approximately 40 members at Gompers Employment Services.