Charity-of-the-Month

Blind Children's Learning Center - October 2004

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Blind Children’s Learning Center’s mission is to develop the full potential of blind, visually impaired and deaf/blind children and youth to lead independent lives.


Blind Children's Learning Center provides a full-range of programs and services to assist blind, visually impaired, and blind/deaf children, birth to 21 years of age and their families.

The core programs are Infant Family Focus, Early Childhood Center, Youth Outreach and Counseling. Comprehensive services, starting as early as possible and continuing through high school, include: speech and language, occupational therapy, orientation and mobility, Braille instruction, specialized vision services, social opportunities and adaptive technology.

Blind Children's Learning Center provides a full-range of programs and services to assist blind, visually impaired, and blind/deaf children, birth to 21years of age and their families.

The core programs are Infant Family Focus, Early Childhood Center, Youth Outreach and Counseling. Comprehensive services, starting as early as possible and continuing through high school, include: speech and language, occupational therapy, orientation and mobility, Braille instruction, specialized vision services, social opportunities and adaptive technology.


Blind Children’s Learning Center - PROGRAMS

Infant Family Focus
Infants and Toddlers from Birth to Three Years of Age

Infant Family Focus provides family support, parent education and instruction to infants and families in the security of their home environment immediately following the initial diagnosis of vision loss. Bilingual program staff
work closely with medical specialists and community resources to facilitate a comprehensive and individualized family service plan.


Early Childhood Center
Children from Six Months to Six Years of Age

The Early Childhood Center creates a team environment
for families, early childhood specialists and certified vision educators, to develop an individualized program for each child. The educational program focuses on a child’s play skills, sensory vision enhancement, communication,
movement, pre-academic and self-help skills. The program also includes pre-Braille instruction, Orientation and Mobility, Occupational Therapy, Speech and Language and Individual and Family Counseling in a reverse-mainstream environment where visually impaired students play and learn alongside their sighted peers. The Early Childhood Center is accredited by the California Department of Education and licensed by the Department of Social Services.


Youth Outreach
Kindergarten through High School

Youth Outreach provides resource referrals, educational and
technical support for our mainstreamed students through direct services and/or consultation by credentialed teachers in the areas of vision and Orientation and Mobility. Other Youth Outreach services include mentoring, counseling and tutoring.


Counseling Department
Individual Counseling for Our Center’s Children and Families

Under the direction of a licensed Marriage Family Therapist our Counseling Department provides a safe place for parents to discuss the unique issues of raising a visually impaired child.

Our counselors organize support groups, speakers and parenting classes as well as offer in-home services to families with a child or children newly diagnosed as blind or visually impaired. Students and alumni of the Early Childhood Center receive play therapy alone or with siblings in an open and non-threatening environment. As a vehicle to foster communication and socialization, a counseling program is also offered for teen groups.


Orientation and Mobility

Orientation and Mobility is the process of knowing where you are, where you want to go, and how to get there safely, efficiently, gracefully, and independently. Modern society depends heavily on the use of visual cues to make orientation and mobility happen successfully for its fully sighted members.

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Without good vision, however, one may not be able to make efficient use of public resources such as community signage or transportation options to find out where things are, and how to get to them conveniently. Barriers spring up between blind people and public resources. With little or no vision it is more challenging to know what is in the surrounding environment and how to interact with that environment gracefully, safely and productively.

For blind children, sports and recreational activities may pose particular challenges or hazards, which may, in turn, interfere with social development. If orientation and mobility skills remain poor, blind children may not be able to interact successfully with their sighted peers, and may find themselves with little companionship.

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For blind adults, lack of vision may interfere generally with one's capacity to conduct all the normal activities of living such as grocery shopping, managing a household, holding down a fulfilling job, supporting a family and running the many daily errands that make the world go round for all of us. Studies have shown that good orientation and mobility skills lead to positive attitudes about oneself, to improved recreational and social involvement and to gainful employment.

At Blind Children's Learning Center, we help children and youth master their environment despite lack of vision through special instruction in orientation and mobility. Our students become able to interact with the environment and manage their lives gracefully, productively and safely.

For very young children, we concentrate on use of the cane, hearing and visual skills for walking safely. As children get older, we turn our attention to recreational activities such as ball play, playground management, and running and having a good time. We bring children and youth out into the community to do street crossings, go shopping, and generally participate in all the opportunities that the world has to offer.

We work with families and other professionals to demonstrate that blindness need not limit one's ability to be successful. Positive or negative attitudes at home can make or break the student's ability to be successful. With the right encouragement, attitude, and skills, blind children can participate actively and successfully in typical child and adult activities and contribute amply to society as a whole. Life can then take on the full excitement and luster that it might afford any sighted person.


Occupational Therapy

Occupational Therapy is a profession devoted to promoting development and health through purposeful, meaningful activities. It is part of a treatment for overcoming an illness, injury, and developmental or psychological impairment. Our goal is to help people regain, develop, and build skills for independent function, health, well being, security, and happiness. Occupational Therapists work with people of all ages. We are an allied health professional trained in the biological, physical, medical, and behavioral sciences.

At Blind Children's Learning Center, we provide Occupational Therapy services on many levels. We offer evaluation, consultation, and direct therapy services. A large part of our program is individual therapy services. Each classroom also attends a weekly sensory motor group. We have a large motor room filled with mats, equipment, suspended swings, tactile media, and toys. As Occupational Therapists work with visually impaired children, we assess neuromuscular and sensory foundations as they relate to acquiring developmental, behavioral, and functional skills.

We initially identify levels of motor skills, adaptive/self help skills, feeding and oral motor skills, social skills, play skills, and the child's ability to process and respond appropriately to sensory information in their environment. This includes not only the five senses we commonly think of (sight, smell, touch, sound, and taste), but also our hidden senses. Our hidden senses are our vestibular and proprioceptive senses which provide us with crucial information on movement and feedback from our muscles and joints or out position sense.

These are important senses, especially for a child with visual impairment because they relate directly to the child's ability to move through space and also to know and sense where your body is in space. For example these senses tell us if we're standing up or how high we need to lift our foot up to walk up stairs. Because visually impaired children may develop differently, it is essential that they receive early intervention.

When a child has delays in the areas assessed, The OT evaluates and identifies factors attributing to their lack of development. She then sets up a specially designed treatment plan with goals. By using therapeutic activities and exercises, which are done in the context of play, the child remains interested and challenged at just the right level to develop mastery.

If you walk by the Occupational Therapy room at Blind Children's Learning Center, you may see children swinging on a trapeze, bouncing on a large ball, climbing across an obstacle course, or playing in a large box of beans. Although they certainly are playing and having fun, know also they are working toward developing the skills they need to successfully master their environment. It is through developing a sense of mastery over their movements and environment that children with visual deficits will ultimately have the confidence to be more independent at school, home and in the community.


Braille Instruction

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Some parents and even teachers ask, "Why teach Braille," when there are other ways a blind or visually impaired individual can access the same information. Why shouldn't we hold accountable Braille literacy for the visually impaired as we hold literacy standards for the sighted world? Depending on what statistics you evaluate, literacy among the visually impaired is as low as 12%! Not only is Braille great for just reading books, but what about for note taking in class, labeling, recipe cards, an address book and so on. High tech devices are wonderful, but the cost can be upwards in the thousands of dollars!

Also, keep in mind that what works for one individual with low vision, such as CCTV's and large print, may not work for another. Think of how much time it takes to finish a task, complete a homework assignment, or read a book, using large print. These are just a few of the advantages of having the skills to read and write Braille. To teach or not to teach Braille should be handled on a case by case basis.

Sighted preschoolers are exposed to letters and words all around them. Whether it is in their classroom, at the grocery store, or a trip to a fast food restaurant. Prebraille skills expose blind and visually impaired children to Braille in the same way, but instead of seeing letters and words, they are feeling them. Sighted children use crayons and pencils to begin letter writing, blind and visually impaired children use a Brailler. Mom and dad will sit their sighted child on their lap and read them stories, helping their child turn pages of a book. They will teach them the top of a page, the bottom of a page, turning the corners of the pages to get to the next page and so on. The same skills are necessary for blind and visually impaired children although some of these steps may be done hand over hand. Prereading skills and prebraille skills have the same outcomes except they are taught in different ways and with different materials. Braille illiteracy is on the rise. Every blind and visually impaired child should be given the opportunity to learn Braille if that is what will work for them. It should not be a choice of last resort!


Peer Buddy Program

All kids like to have fun, just to get together and hang out with friends. However, this is more difficult for blind teens. To help teens overcome some of the obstacles they face and afford them the same social opportunities their peers have we offer the Peer Buddy Program.

The Mission Statement of the Peer Buddy Program is to pair adolescents, one sighted, one with a visual impairment to enhance the lives of both individuals. The interactions of both individuals will teach them social interaction skills, the growth in understanding of themselves and others, and the building of friendships through shared experiences and fun. Our vision is a year long program with ongoing events with the goal of the peer buddies meeting together at the Center as well as to take the friendship further by meeting independently.

This two-year-old program draws upon middle and senior high school students as well as college students from throughout Orange County. Students commit to a yearlong involvement. This includes both attending the monthly events at the Center as well as contacting their buddy during the month independently. Students determine the party themes, volunteer to be on a committee for event planning and choose their own buddy.

Some of the party themes we've had already include:

1. Mural Designing and Painting
2. Pie Eating Contest
3. Baking Party
4. Bake Sale
5. Holiday Caroling Party
6. Lock-in Party
7. Valentine Dance
8. Beach Party
9. Bowling
10. All Girls Night
11. Year End Luau/Dance
12. Halloween Party
13. Movie Night
14. Ice Skating Party

The participants are learning about themselves, others and having fun!

If you know someone who would be interested in joining the Peer Buddy program please call our hotline and leave a message (714) 573-8888 extension 555.


Mentoring

"Mentor" is defined as one who guides and nurtures another through setting good examples, maintaining a trusting relationship and imparting ones knowledge.

Here at Blind Children's Learning Center our program is unique. Out mentors are blind and visually impaired middle and high school students. These students have already faced and overcome many of the challenges our little ones are experiencing.

Eating, dressing and even simple play may be difficult for a blind preschooler. Having a "special friend" or mentor to help them figure out their environment is a huge benefit.

The program has been successful in building self-esteem in both the mentors and their partners. The children look forward to the time with their mentor and vice-versa. It's incredible to see the bond that develops.

The mentors and children have fun as they venture out in the community. You can find them rock climbing, skating and bowling. Sometimes they learn skills like measuring as they make cookies or we get really messy doing creative art activities.

If you are a middle or high school student who is visually impaired and are interested in becoming a mentor please call Sharon at 714-573-8888 ext. 118.


Technology

We have been asked numerous times by parents, family members and educators, what is out there and where to find, assistive technology for children/students who are visually impaired. It may be something as simple as a preschooler's toy or as advanced as computer technology. At Blind Childrens Learning Center, we begin to use assistive technology in our infant classroom, using switches and cause and effect computer software and pointing devices, as well as print/Braille books. In the public school setting, it is our goal to get school age kids the technology they need to succeed in the classroom alongside their sighted peers. This is done through grants and donations, and collaboration between the school districts and the Braille Institute.

Furthermore, these skills will carry over into the work force, which is a necessity for a blind individual to be competitive in the job market and maintain their independence.


Parent to Parent Program

To utilize the experience and knowledge of parents of a child with a visual impairment to mentor/be helpful to other parents with a child with a visual impairment. Parents will be paired through a coordinator considering similarities of culture, diagnosis and school districts when appropriate. Mentors will provide listening access to community resources and advocacy to parent mentees.

The following is a quote articulating the essence of the Parent to Parent Program.

"The parental need that professionals are probably least able to fill is the need for social support…Meeting other parents of disabled children thus becomes very important to many parents after they learn about their child's disability." Support provided specifically from parents of children having disabilities helps to alleviate loneliness and isolation, provides "hands on" expertise, as well as, offering capable role models:
(Seligman & Darling, Ordinary Families, Special Children, 1989)


Just ASK

Just ASK meets the needs of students, 3rd grade through High School. This new program is an expansion of the Mentoring, Tutoring and Counseling departments. All services will be available in one location. Here, the students will be able to get the individual help they need. Just ASK offers blind and visually impaired students a place to come together and get the extra help and technology they need. The homework lab will be equipped with new adaptive computers and a CCTV. Just ASK will be available to students Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 3:00 to 5:15 pm.

If you wish more information or would be interested in supporting our newest program please contact Sharon Mitchael, coordinator of youth services at 714-573-8888 ext. 118.
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Blind Children’s Learning Center
18542-B Vanderlip Avenue
Santa Ana, CA 92705
tel: 1-714.573.8888
fax 1-714.573.4944
web: http://www.blindkids.org/


Blind Children’s Learning Center is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, tax ID 95-6097023

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Erik Weihenmayer
W o r l d - C l a s s B l i n d A d v e n t u r e r
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On May 25, 2001 Erik Weihenmayer became the first blind man in history to reach the summit of the world’s highest peak - Mount Everest. And, on September 5, 2002, when he stood on top of Mount Kosciusko in Australia, Weihenmayer completed his seven-year quest to climb the Seven Summits, the highest mountains on each of the seven land continents. Erik joined an elite club of only 100 mountaineers who have accomplished that feat.

At age 34, he was also one of the youngest. A former middle school teacher and wrestling coach, Erik is one of the most exciting and wellknown athletes in the world. Despite losing his vision at the age of 13, Erik has become an accomplished mountain climber, paraglider and skier. He has never let his blindness interfere with his passion to lead an exhilarating and fulfilling life. Erik’s feats have earned him an ESPY award, recognition by Time magazine for one of the greatest sporting achievements of 2001, induction into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame, an ARETE Award for the superlative athletic performance of the year, the Helen Keller Lifetime Achievement Award and the Freedom Foundation Award. He has also carried the Olympic torch for both the Summer and Winter Games. In addition to being a world-class athlete, Erik is also the author of the book, Touch the Top of the World.

In this memoir, Erik recalls his struggle to push past the limits of vision loss. Weihenmayer tells his extraordinary story with humor, honesty and vivid detail. His fortitude and enthusiasm are deeply inspiring. He writes movingly of the role his family played in his battle to break through the barriers of blindness.

Erik’s extraordinary accomplishments have gained him abundant press coverage including visits to NBC’s Today Show, Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, Oprah, Good Morning America and the Tonight Show. He has been featured in Sports
Illustrated, People, Men’s Journal and on the cover of Time magazine. An ABC movie of his life is now underway.

Erik’s award-winning film, Farther Than the Eye Can See, shot in the same stunning quality HDTV format as the Star Wars prequels, is an intimate look inside one of the most successful Mount Everest expeditions ever. Bringing home Best of Festival at both the Taos Film Festival and the Montreal International Adventure Film Festival, the film beautifully captures the emotion, humor and drama of Erik’s historic ascent as well as his team’s three other remarkable ‘firsts’ on Mount Everest: the first American father/son team to summit, the oldest man to summit and the most people from one team to reach the top of Everest in a single day.

Soon after Erik climbed Mount Everest, the director of a school for the blind in Lhasa, Tibet asked him to travel – once again, half-way around the world to visit their class. “Of course,” he said. “Can I take your class climbing?” In the Fall, Erik and his team plan to lead six blind Tibetan teenagers to the Summit of Lahkpa Ri, a 23,100-foot peak on the north side of Mount Everest.

“If I can find a way to reach out across race and culture, and shatter the boundaries which have been established through generations for the disabled people of Tibet, and pass to them that same sense of joy and achievement with which I have been blessed, it will be the fulfillment of my climbing career.”

Erik continues to speak to audiences around the world on overcoming life’s challenges, the importance of teamwork and the daily struggle to pursue your dreams. Clearly, Erik’s accomplishments show that one does not have to have eyesight to have extraordinary vision.

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