It’s been awhile….

So it’s been a while since we posted anything. Alex hasn’t had any real medical dramas recently (yay). He had his grommets redone two weeks ago, and we are now suffering through another ear infection (sigh) but otherwise things are good. He has an MRI Tuesday next week so the tension level here at Tann HQ will be running a little high for a while, hopefully all will be well (touch wood), we’ll let you know.

I was recently asked to write a piece for Alex’s school – a note to new student’s parents – and since I’m not sure where/when/if it will ever be printed I thought I’d share it here. Hopefully it will give you an insight as to why we send Alex to a school which is an hour’s drive away, they really are worth it!


When you get told your child has a permanent visual impairment it’s a pretty horrible day. All your half formed ideas of what their future is going to be like are shattered, and the ones which replace it, at least initially, are pretty dispiriting. It’s a perfectly normal thing to try and hang on to your originial ideas, amend them a bit perhaps, but still try and keep your child’s experiences as close to “normal” as possible, they can still make friends, dream of what they want to do when they grow up and they can still go to a “normal” school.

When we were told our son Alex was permanently and completely blind, I was hopeful that he could still go to our local primary school. He had managed at kindy perfectly well, he had an SSO (school support officer) to help him move around, so why wouldn’t it be a great idea for him to go to the school the kindy was attached to? Well, it turns out there are a lot of really good reasons why S.A.S.V.I was a much better option than our local mainstream school.

The first thing to note here is that S.A.S.V.I isn’t a ‘special’ school. It is a specialist school. Students at S.A.S.V.I are taught the same curriculum as the children in mainstream schools, it’s just that it’s either in braille or large print, and the delivery of the curriculum is adjusted to accommodate non visual learning.

The thing is, sending a visually impaired child to a mainstream school doesn’t keep that child’s life closer to “normal” it actually reinforces their difference. They will, in the nicest and most well meaning of ways, be reminded all day every day that they are not like the other kids. The other children will have to be reminded they need to take special care not to jostle or run into your child, that your child can’t see like them, that you can’t just make physical gestures – you have to speak for them to know you are there. Being visually impaired is isolating enough without being constantly told you are different to everyone else.
In addition, again in the most well meaning of ways, both adults and children try to help a visually impaired child, finding the toy they want for them, picking up an item which has been dropped, telling them things they could (with a bit of effort) have found out for themselves. This sort of help decreases the motivation towards independence, after all, why would you try to do something difficult if everyone around you is willing to do it for you?

At S.A.S.V.I all the children have some level of visual impairment. Not being able to see is the norm. They don’t develop the mindset of ‘I’m different’, they are just at school, doing school stuff, hanging out with their classmates on equal terms. The teachers make sure that all the children under their care develop their independence, encouraging them always to do as much as is possible for themselves.

If your child is, like mine, learning using braille, then attending S.A.S.V.I is even more beneficial. A teacher in a mainstream school is not in any way expected to know braille. Even with the best will in the world, trying to adapt your teaching to suit a visually impaired (VI) child, teach them a very complex system of communication whilst at the same time trying to learn it yourself AND still teach the other 30 children in your classroom is an almost impossible task. The teachers at S.A.S.V.I already know braille in all its twists and intricacies. They know how to adjust their teaching to suit VI children. They know already what they can realistically expect from VI children (quite a lot) and how support them without doing everything for them.

One of the other great benefits of attending S.A.S.V.I is the Independent Living Skills (ILS) subject. Sighted children generally do not need to be specifically taught things like how to chop and grate or how to spread butter on bread or how to stir a bowl of ingredients so that everything stays in the bowl. They learn by watching – usually at home – and then practice what they have seen. You only really realise how much kids pick up by watching you do things when you suddenly have to explicitly teach them all these skills. The school, in association with Guide Dogs Australia, also teach Orientation and Mobility, how to navigate using the sounds around them, or by trailing their fingers along the wall or by using a cane or hundreds of other techniques. The aim of all this is to create independent adults, providing VI children with the tools they will need to live on their own, just as any other child would aim to do.

There is something called the rule of expectations – what others expect of us is what we try to achieve. If you are told you will perform badly on a maths test because it’s hard then you probably will. However the reverse is also true, if you are told you can be great, do anything you set your mind to, succeed against all odds, then you probably will.

As parents we want to do what is best for our kids, we love the little rascals after all, and all the staff at S.A.S.V.I are there to help us give our kids the support and high expectations they need to be anything they want to be.

“Those who believe in our ability do more than stimulate us. They create for us an atmosphere in which it becomes easier to succeed.” – John H Spalding