6:21 PM

A Teachers Guide to Adoption



Biased class assignments - and how to fix them
Try this test. Put yourself in grade 2 ... how would you "draw your family tree" or "write down your family origins" or "relate shared memories of times spent with grandparents", if you were:
* A child of divorced parents, living with a parent and a step parent.
* A foster child, with biological parents and a series of foster parents.
* A child adopted from an orphanage in China.
Some children will find it tough to do class assignments because their families are a lot more complicated than mom-dad-and-two-kids. That's not the kids' fault -- it's the teaching system which is biased toward traditional views and insensitive to the complexity of family life (see Module 1, Many Ways to Make a Family).
Teachers who base assignments on the traditional family are harming students who don't fit the traditional mould -- those kids are going to feel out of place, even excluded.
Does your ministry of education trumpet the importance of an "inclusive curriculum"? Then the curriculum must include the experience of all children, not just those from traditional families.
You can make lessons inclusive without sacrificing the educational goal. The general solution is to broaden lesson plans to include everyone. But exactly how do you do that? Here are specific examples of how to fix the bias in class assignments.
"Draw your family tree"
The bias: The usual printed family tree has blanks for one mother and one father and their ancestors, but no space for foster, adoptive or step parents and their ancestors. How can a child leave out part of the family? This can be a real source of inner turmoil.
The fix: Since some children have grown on two or more trees, redraw the standard family tree diagram to accommodate the diversity in family structure. Try the Rooted Tree: birth ancestors are roots growing downward; branches show foster, adoptive or step parents and their ancestors. Other improvements are the Family Bush, Orchard, or Forest, with family members growing side by side. The Loving Tree has the child in the trunk and heart-shaped fruit representing all the family members the child knows of, without regard to time or place.
Or abandon the tree metaphor and try the Self Wheel (child at the centre, relatives surround in nested circles), or My Home (house frame with people inside), or a genealogical chart with symbols for people and lines showing relationships. Children could brainstorm a list of different family types. Offer them a variety of "trees", or let them invent their own diagram.
In a creative art project, students could portray their family and what it means to them, in drawing, painting, colouring or sculpture, then use the finished art to discuss the different ways families are formed. Point out that, worldwide, few children grow up in nuclear families. Cover extended, foster, adoptive, step and single-parent families.
You don't need to avoid the family tree assignment -- it's an opportunity for a lesson in the varieties of family structure (see Module 1, Many Ways to Make a Family).
"Bring in your baby picture"
The bias: Asking for baby photos excludes those who may not have any -- for example, some foster, adopted or immigrant children. They are going to feel left out. If the object is to match the photo with the child today, children who are a visible minority are eliminated early from the fun.
The fix: Reach the same educational goal, for everyone in the class, by broadening the assignment. To illustrate growth and change, bring a picture when the child was younger or smaller, or follow the growth of a baby chick after hatching. To describe a child, bring in something else which tells us more about her -- a book, a trophy, a pet. To test reasoning ability (guess who this is?), bring a picture of someone we all know; or, describe someone with three clues, adding one at a time until someone guesses correctly.
"Write the story of your life"
The bias: Writing a life story or family history is possible only for children who know their family roots. Children adopted from abroad may know nothing of their previous life. A child of a bitter divorce, or a child abused in a series of foster homes, faces a conflict: screen out painful memories, or be honest?
The fix: Exercise those writing skills with less painful alternatives: write a biography of a historical figure in the first person; write about an event in your life; recount a favourite experience in school.
"Tell the story of your family"
The bias: The goal may be to build self-esteem. This could backfire for a foster or adopted child who feels more and more different from the others as she hears her classmates' family stories.
The fix: Let students tell their story by bringing in pets, sports uniforms, hobbies.
"Celebrate your mother or father"
The bias: A Mother's Day or Father's Day project could be difficult for children with single, divorced or widowed parents, or two sets of parents.
The fix: Broaden the project to honour any woman or man the child knows. Celebrate Family Day to honour people who take care of you. Celebrate Caring Day with themes like "thanking someone who cares for us" or "expressing concern for others". Make gifts or cards for someone the child cares about.
"Trace the genetic origins of your eye colour"
The bias: This assumes children are genetically related to their parents or know the genetic facts of their birth parents. Children who don't have this information can't do an assignment on inherited traits, and are made to feel different. It stresses biological connections, when some children might not have any connections with their birth parents.
The fix: Teach genetics with less personal examples.
____________________________
With input from Adoption and the Schools: Resources for Parents and Teachers, by FAIR, Families Adopting in Response, Box 51436, Palo Alto CA 94303, 650-856-3513, info@fairfamilies.org, www.fairfamilies.org.
As a teacher, you need to get comfortable with the language of adoption. You have to be ready for children (and adults) who use inappropriate language ... the ones who ask questions like "Why did her mother give her away?" or "Who is her real mother?"
The joyful side of adoption is tempered by the fact that adoption involves loss. Adoptees live with the painful fact that their birthparents could not (or would not) care for them. It is hard to speak of these things to very young children. Yet, as significant adults in a child's life, teachers must at times enter the child's world to help her cope with difficult feelings and to feel positive about who she is.
The language we use is important, since the way we speak of sensitive topics models confidence and courage on the one hand, or shame and fear on the other ...
It's not a disability
You can join a family by way of birth or by adoption. The fact of adoption says nothing about an adopted child herself ... adoption is a way of arriving in a family, not a medical condition or a disability. It's a one-time event, so you would say "Maria was adopted", not "Maria is adopted."
Birth or adoption: either way of joining a family is perfectly acceptable. Adoption builds healthy, happy families -- parent and child are linked by law and by love.
Sometimes it's not relevant
In the world at large it's usually not relevant to refer to a child as an "adopted child". A news report, for example, should use "adopted" ("Sean's adopted child ... ") only to distinguish from a child by birth, if that is relevant to the story. Mentioning the fact of a child's adoption when it is irrelevant implies there is something wrong with the lack of a blood connection.
In the school setting -- talking about family, for example -- the topic of adoption naturally arises, and fits right into classroom discussion.
It's no secret
Terms with a negative connotation often stem from the secrecy that used to surround adoption, but no longer does. When people use the emotion-laden and negative words of the past ("give away" a child, "unwed mother") they create conflict and diminish self-esteem in adopted children.
Avoid terms like "real" or "natural" mother, which imply the existence of an "unreal" or "unnatural" mother. Similarly, prefer "birth father", not "natural father". However, usage does vary; some advocates promote the terms "natural mother" (Canadian Council of Natural Mothers) and "first mother".
Here are some terms people will unthinkingly use, and the preferred term.



Watch your language
Avoid this
Prefer this
Why
Real parent
Birthparent, biological parent (birthfather, birthmother, birthdad, birthmum)
Are there "imaginary" parents? Adoptive parents are just as real as biological parents.
Natural parent
Birthparent; biological mother; woman who gave birth
Lack of a blood link does not make an adoptive parent less of a parent.
Natural child
Birth child, biological child
Ditto. And are there "artificial" children?
Your own child (vs. an adopted child)
Birth child, biological child
All your children are your own, adopted or not. Genetic relationships are not stronger than adoptive ones.
Illegitimate
Born to unmarried parents
Circumstances of birth should not stigmatize a child.
Unwed mother
Birthmother, birthmum
"Unwed" or "unmarried" is a moral judgment.
Give up, give away, surrender, relinquish, adopt out, put up for adoption
Place for adoption, or (better) choose adoption, make an adoption plan
Birthmothers love their children but can't raise them. They choose what is best for their child and stay in touch with them after the adoption ("open adoption").
Keep the baby
Parent the baby
"She decided to parent the baby rather than choose adoption."
Foreign adoption
International, intercountry adoption
Some say "foreign" has negative connotations.
Hard-to-place child
Special needs child
Less damaging to the child's self-esteem.
Adopt-a-road, adopt-a-park, etc.
Sponsor-a-park, befriend-a-park
"Adopt-a-" programs misuse "adopt" as a marketing ploy to raise money. They deform the meaning of adoption and diminish its worth.
____________________
RESOURCES
Speaking Positively: An Information Sheet about Adoption Language and Adopt-a-Confusion, by Pat Johnston, Perspectives Press, Box 90318, Indianapolis IN 46290-0318, 317-872-3055, www.perspectivespress.com

 
 
 
 
MODULE FIVE
 
How to introduce adoption in elementary school
As an elementary school teacher, you nurture your students' growth. Bringing adoption into the classroom and treating it as one of many possible life experiences will benefit both adopted children and their classmates.
It would be wise to assume you do have adopted children in your class and to prepare for adoption questions when they arise.
Here are some ways to include adoption in everyday teaching situations.
Pre-school
When you talk about babies and families, use the words adoption or adopted occasionally. Read stories which mention adoption. According to the interests of the children, you might start a role-play game about going to the airport to meet a brother or sister adopted from abroad, or preparing the house for the arrival of an adopted child.
Early elementary
In discussing types of families, don't forget non-traditional families (see Module 1, Many Ways to Make a Family), including adoptive families. If a student has a baby born into his family, mention that some children join their families through adoption. This may prompt a child to say, "I was adopted" and you can extend the discussion. Note that a child's adoption story is her personal story, for her to tell, or not, as she wishes.
Watch the language you use. There is no such thing as a "natural" mother (or an "unnatural" one!). You should say birth mother (or birth mum) and adoptive mother (see Module 4, Teaching the Language of Adoption).
If a student's family are adopting a child, it's a prime opportunity to talk about the process and the happiness involved in the child's arrival.
Another opportunity is November, National Adoption Month. Display artwork from a family tree project. Consider discussing adoption, reading an adoption story or inviting an adopted adult or adoptive parent to visit the class. Children at this age may feel comfortable sharing their adoption story with their parent present.
You will have to judge, if possible, how receptive the class might be to a child's adoption story. Guard against the child becoming the object of teasing and handle it as you would any teasing.
A variety of books for reading to the class are available (see Module 9, Adoption Resources). Some make adoption the main theme; others treat it simply in passing.
Later elementary
During these years, and in secondary school, students want to fit in, to be like everyone else. Adopted children are aware they are in the minority, that most kids are brought up by the parents who gave birth to them. They are unlikely to want to give adoption presentations or be singled out.
The family tree assignment (see Module 3, Biased Class Assignments) could offer the adopted child a chance to deepen her understanding of the place of adoption in her life.
With input from the FAIR Manual, Vol. 1

Notes about Elora’s adoption
Elora was adopted from Wenzhou, China at the age of 18 months.  She previously lived in an orphanage.  She had a nanny who cared for her and 10 other babies; Elora sometimes refers to her as Nanny or Mama.  We have contact with Nanny and a good long distance relationship with her.  Elora has an amazing memory and remembers quite a bit of her orphanage time.  She also has behaviours and anxiety surrounding that time.  Lack of adequate amounts of food and nurturing lead Elora to come to us with the development of a 6 month old, but she quickly caught up and thrived and you will find she is mostly age appropriate now.  However she is still triggered by things that revolve around food and adult attention.  She is a warrior and learned from an early age how to ensure her own survival.  You will find her to be very stressed when hungry and also that food is something she seeks to self sooth.  Likewise she is very focused on acquiring the love and attention of all adults in her life.  In the orphanage being the favorite of the room ensured your survival.  She tends to find other peers to be a threat to her at times in securing these two vital resources, we are continually trying to encourage her to develop better, more meaningful peer relationships.
Orphanage life was lacking stimulation and paired with her visual needs she developed some amount of sensory processing disorder. 

Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), exists when sensory signals are either not detected or don't get organized into appropriate responses. Pioneering occupational therapist, educational psychologist, and neuroscientist A. Jean Ayres, PhD, likened SPD to a neurological "traffic jam" that prevents certain parts of the brain from receiving the information needed to interpret sensory information correctly. A person with SPD finds it difficult to process and act upon information received through the senses, which creates challenges in performing countless everyday tasks. Motor clumsiness, behavioral problems, anxiety, depression, school failure, and many other problems may impact those who do not have effective treatment.

 SPD in School Age Children presents in these ways:

·        Child is overly sensitive to stimulation, overreacts to or does not like touch, noise, smells, etc.
·        Child is easily distracted in the classroom, often out of his/her seat, fidgety.
·        Child is easily overwhelmed at the playground, during recess and in class.
·        Child is slow to perform tasks.
·        Child has difficulty performing or avoids fine motor tasks such as handwriting.
·        Child appears clumsy and stumbles often, slouches in chair.
·        Child craves rough housing, tackling/wrestling games.
·        Child lacks special reasoning and the understanding of personal space
·        Child will hurt themselves and others by touching too firmly or running into others and objects
·        Child is slow to learn new activities.
·        Child is in constant motion.
·        Child has difficulty learning new motor tasks and prefers sedentary activities.
·        Child has difficulty making friends (overly aggressive or passive/ withdrawn).
·        Child ‘gets stuck' on tasks and has difficulty changing to another task.
·        Child confuses similar sounding words, misinterprets questions or requests.
·        Child has difficulty reading, especially aloud.
·        Child stumbles over words; speech lacks fluency, and rhythm is hesitant.

We find the best thing for Elora is routines, structure and when her SPD gets really aggravated a chance to leave the room and find some sensory deprivation (quiet, dim lights). And also what is often referred to as “heavy work”, give her a task that requires her to use her energy and strength to positive use.  For example: lift all the chairs onto the desks to help the cleaning staff, carry in the groceries.  Trampolines and anything that involves rocking or bouncing have also been effective for us.
Adoption is a very joyous time for us, her parents but from Elora’s perspective it was a time of profound loss.  She has lots of sadness about the loss of her birth parents and Nanny.  She is often triggered by changes in routine and having new people in her life as well as saying goodbye to people.  These changes create a high level of anxiety for her.  Her birthday, adoption day, Mother’s day and other holidays have also been triggers in the past.  Elora knows her own adoption story but we prefer to keep most of the details private, although it is her story and she may choose to share it with you or other children in the class.  The information we have shared here is sensitive and of course confidential, we only hope to help you to better understand the roots of many of her behaviours so that you can appreciate her truly.  She is our hero, a survivor and a true miracle. J

6:12 PM

Teachers Guide to Albinisim



**** I did not write this, but unfortunately I have lost the orriginal source, I would be happy to credit the author if they contact me***

Maybe you’re reading this because you have a child with low vision in your classroom, maybe you’re expecting a low vision child in a few years, maybe it’s not something you’ve ever experienced.
There are plenty of other resources for you regarding IEPs, Braille instruction etc. and I don’t know anywhere near enough about those areas to write. I am more interested in writing about the every day, the day to day experience of having a student with albinism (SWA) in your class.
The condition of albinism isn’t like any other low vision condition, so your student can’t just be treated as a generic LVS. (not that any child should!). Albinism is kind of unique, even to the point where if you had five people with albinism together in a room, you and they would be surprised at the variations in their abilities and non-abilities. Each would probably have different visual acuity (the reading given by optometrists), some would wear glasses, some not. Some would use a cane, have a guide dog, or see unaided. Some need sunglasses inside, some can walk outside without sunglasses and a hat. All need sunblock, and all need some exemptions or accommodations.
Most IEP providers have very little understanding of albinism, unfortunately, which can complicate issues. That’s not their fault. Most opthalmologists and optometrists can go their whole career and not have a patient with albinism, because only 1/17 000 people are affected.  So how are you, without ophthalmic experience supposed to know what to do? You aren’t, so relax.
The parents will hopefully have good advice and care from a vision point of view, use their knowledge; please don’t underestimate them, and please don’t assume your local education office knows more than they do. Researchers are finding out new things about albinism all the time; the parents are most likely to be researching just as diligently, and there are so many conditions your local education office are expected to know about….. So, about parents? Trust them.
The SWA is usually fiercely independent, stubborn and intelligent. You will likely have some fireworks from time to time, maybe over misunderstandings on either side, and I’m hoping to help diffuse some or give you some forewarning. The main thing I strongly recommend is to encourage their independence. Don’t pander to them. Unless there are intellectual or other issues, a child with albinism can participate in class activities as much as other children, and should be simply expected to do so, within some boundaries. As an adult with albinism, I can tell you their skulls are as tough, their muscles as firm and their wits as quick as any other student, and making too many allowances for them doesn’t  create the independent, spirited adult they can become.
They need sun protection. The skin of a child with albinism is very fair. White, yes, but with a tinge of pink or yellow. Because albinism presents as a lack of pigment, the skin of a child with the condition won’t tan, it will burn. Getting burnt a couple of times doesn’t ‘toughen them up’ nor does it make the skin respond differently over time. They will just keep getting burnt, and the angry red of their skin will bring with it pain and discomfort, sometimes severe.
Sunblock before leaving home will protect most people without albinism for a day, but in the case of your SWA , it should be reapplied regularly. For short outside breaks, you wouldn’t generally need to cover the hands and feet in sunblock, but be guided by the parents, as they have set protocols for their child and family. Definitely for longer outside breaks or field trips, constant reapplication needs to happen. It is common on a hot summer day between 10am – 3pm, to reapply sunblock every 15 minutes. This isn’t an affectation or helicopter parenting. This is what their skin needs for protection. Melanin changes normal skin colour when sun touched, your SWA has no melanin.
The sun doesn’t only hurt their skin though. The eyes of your SWA are greatly affected by and sensitive to light. You might find you have to put your hand over your eyes sometimes when the sun is bright. Or you may have experienced driving into sun rise or set, when the sun can cause near blindness? In a child with albinism it can be like this under a fluoro light, let alone sunshine. The iris of a SWA is often blue – violet colored (not red!) but the inside of the eye is also pale! so the effect of bright light is often similar to putting a bright torch right by your own eye; it can cause total ‘washout’ or ‘whiteout’ making just the act of seeing difficult.
Because the interior of the eye is pale, sunlight or light isn’t absorbed into the retina etc like in a normal eye, it can ‘bounce off’ the white color. This can cause physical eye pain in some, and result in a headache in many.
Inside, often a cap is best, as this eliminates the light just over the eyes from overhead lighting, whereas outside, a brimmed hat offers this plus sun protection for the ears and neck. The best outside protection is a hat and wraparound polarizing sunglasses. Even normal sunglasses frames have small gaps where light can get through, but it depends on the effect sunshine has on the individual SWA. As mentioned, this varies from person to person, with some people needing complete eye glare coverage from infancy, others not affected until adulthood and beyond.
If its a school sports day, the SWA should still attend but be aware they will need shade, at least access to shade, and while they will hate you for reminding them about their sunblock, they need to reapply it. As if their brimmed hat and sunglasses doesn’t set them apart enough, the continually using sunblock adds to their equation, so they could be embarrassed angry and frustrated. Remember, it’s not aimed at you, it’s at their lot in life, and we all struggle with what complicates our progression and acceptance amongst peers
So you can see these children’s condition makes it imperative they have hats, sunblock and sunglasses.
If your school’s rules don’t support hats and sunblock for students, I suggest they soon will. Work with the parents so they don’t see this as a battle in having their child’s needs met. It’s not only their child being protected, it’s every fair skinned child and teacher in the system.
In Australia, most kindergartens and primary schools have a “no hat no play” policy, meaning if your child attends without a hat, they aren’t allowed out of sun protected areas. Most students are itching to be out with their friends, so generally only do this once or twice. A SWA may actually choose to stay indoors, under a verandah, a tree or similar. Just as many will want to be out in the sun playing, and classes will be outside for PE, trips and so on, so if the school recognizes the importance of sun safety, it can be to everyone’s benefit.
The Australian sun smart motto is ‘slip slop slap and wrap’ which means SLIP on a shirt, SLOP on sunscreen, SLAP on a hat, and WRAP on your sunglasses. It just so happens to be incredibly relevant for people – adults and children – with albinism.
There’s a child in your class with really blonde hair, right? And probably pale skin and blue eyes?  Okay maybe there are a couple of them. But there’s one in particular who squints, pulls things close to their face to see and maybe pushes other people out of the way to look at things?
Having a student with albinism isn’t really that hard. They are independent (sometimes incredibly so) spirited, proud, clever and capable. Unless a child has albinism plus other issues, they don’t need extra help with bathroom breaks, they don’t need extra space in the classroom and they won’t affect your ability to go on field trips etc.
So a lot of the information you may have heard about albinism or albinos may be incorrect.
There are a lot of misunderstandings and myths surrounding albinism. A lot of misinformation and a lot of guesses form some “theories”, and even ophthalmic professionals will admit they don’t know enough.
I’m hoping to show you how the student with albinism (SWA) / Person with albinism (PWA) in your care can help you blow more of these myths out of the water as you watch them grow.  This isn’t to scare you or complicate your school year. By helping your understanding of the nature of the condition, I hope to demystify it.
Looking at the student, you can see their fair skin and hair. However, perhaps surprisingly, the skin colouring isn’t the most reliable or the only way to diagnose albinism, as the vision in a person with the condition is actually also a heavily affected element.
Most people with albinism are found to have a visual acuity (the measurement to determine the ability to see detail) of at best 6/60.  This means what “normally” sighted people can see clearly at 60 metres, a person with albinism sees from only 6 metres. (6/60 – This is the visual acuity classified as “legally blind”)
And remember this is an at best reading, and doesn’t account for health, tiredness, glare or other issues. Some people with albinism have better vision than this, but it is still far from perfect. (The US equivalent is 20/60 – 20/400 with some individuals showing 20/25. The difference in the numbering is simply metric/imperial. 6 = metres, 20 = feet).
Normally with low vision and these numbers, an optometrist or ophthalmologist would prescribe corrective glasses. Sometimes with PWA they will too, but the glasses are unable to completely help with vision. Melanin, while being important in production of pigment, is also needed in the visual pathways which are forming in utero. As the fetus is unable to create melanin, the visual pathways are underdeveloped from the beginning, meaning the vision cannot be corrected. Glasses might help with clarity of some parts of “seeing” but not others.
It’s very hard to explain; a simple way of understanding this is comparing the vision to pixels (the little squares of colour) in a photo. Imagine a photo of a bus. In a photo with large pixels, nothing is clear. If you improve the pixilation, but not to full quality, the image is clearer – you can make out what it is, but not the detail. You can determine the shape of a bus, but you can’t see the lettering on the sides or the edges of windows or wheels. That’s what it’s like for the PWA, even with glasses. A PWA may see a bushy tree, but needs to get closer to differentiate clumps of leaves, even closer to see a patch of leaves and within a few centimetres to see the veins of a leaf. Spotting a bird or bird’s nest in the tree is close on impossible. Remember 6/60 – The leaf you can see clearly at 60 centimetres, our PWA  needs to be within 6 cms (or closer).
There is also a compromise in depth perception. PWA learn ways to compensate, often subconsciously.
By looking at a set of stairs, the shadows indicate a difference in height level. Without any indicator like shadows, or perhaps yellow lines or darker edges, the PWA can see the whole area as flat and may trip up, over or down stairs, which is embarrassing as well as dangerous.
Carpet edges can pose the same dilemma. Unless indicated, is the vinyl strip between two areas of carpet a step? Slightly raised, sunken or flat? You may see a PWA touch these areas with a toe or finger to feel their way. A shoelace, a block or similar on the floor can be a tripping hazard, especially if it’s the same or a similar colour to the floor.
A hint: Try looking through the clear part of a window faced envelope at your surrounds. It’s not a perfect simulation but it’s close.
So what can you expect?
The student may have a cane. This helps them negotiate their way around. The cane can give confidence in the determination of a step, a branch, pebble or person in the path ahead. Using a cane takes practice, and your SWA is using a huge array of their other senses in using a cane.
The student may have a monocular. This is almost ‘de rigueur’ for a PWA. To see the board, to see across a playground, to see a sign.. to see almost anything. Some days it will seem permanently attached to the student’s eye! Other visual aids they may use include  domes, rulers or an array of shaped magnifiers.
The student may use a CCTV, tablet or computer. Their parents aren’t rich, nor are they spoiling their child. The child is legally blind, and the parents are trying to make access to text, resources and craft activities more reachable. PWA get quite adept at using a these tools, they may surprise you.
The student may insist on sunglasses or a hat inside.  The light, be it artificial or from a window, will affect the student’s vision. The inner part of the eye is normally dark coloured and absorbs light. In PWA it is without pigment, so light coming in through the pupil and iris can affect their ability to see as it is reflected back off surfaces. It can in fact cause physical pain.
They may get headaches. Sometimes just the physical act of looking can hurt. If there is glare, or a lot of reading, if it’s a hot day, or the student is unwell, all can add to the stress of just seeing.
They may tilt their head or their work. Along with the low vision, PWA have ‘nystagmus’, an involuntary movement of the eyes. Without their even knowing it, their brain finds a position to hold the head to make it easier to see. This is called a ‘null point’ and means the brain has selected this position to nullify the effect of the movements.
They won’t look at you. They try to, but yet another complication is strabismus, sometimes known as ‘lazy eye’. PWA don’t have Binocular vision like the rest of the population, they have Monocular vision, so while their mono – solo – eye is working, the other is taking a break and may look totally crooked or wobbly. This isn’t controllable; the student can’t start or stop it and they’re unaware of it. So their gaze may not be directly at you, either, even though they are talking to you.
They may not respond to you, or respond inappropriately. If this is behavioural, it’s the child. However, before determining the nature of the response, it’s important to know a PWA won’t know you’re looking at them unless you say so. They can’t determine the detail of your face from where they are seated. They see your face but not where your eyes are looking, and not if you wink, smile, frown or slightly shrug a shoulder. They are unlikely to see a finger point from a distance.
How can you help?
Allow eye breaks. Eye strain is all too common, not just in PWA. Have the whole class stop every now and then and focus on the other form of viewing. ie if they’ve been working closely, have them look in the distance. If looking in the distance, have them look closer.
Allow an initiation visit. Before the first day of school, invite the child into the classroom. Let them see where your desk, their desk, the doors, the bag rack… everything… is. The child will be more confident knowing they won’t trip, walk into something or misname something in front of the class and feel embarrassment. (eg the misnaming; they may identify a picture of a ball on the classroom wall which is actually a picture of an apple. They are unable to make that distinction from their seat).
Educate the class. Have the parents come in, or have the child tell the class about how they see and albinism. Other kids can be bullies, and a child with low vision – who can’t see the prank about to be pulled, who can’t see if the other person is smiling or angry, who can be the target of a tripping hazard – is at risk. Educating the class about their vision, and that the student may need help can open discussion and have the student accepted more readily rather than the ever present “why have you got white hair?” question from each person in the class which can make the student more reclusive. Make sure other staff, including relief teachers are aware of the issues as well.
Magnify class work. Photocopy work, or print it in a larger font. At least an 18 sans serif is best. If the child has a CCTV or a computer with magnification software, utilise this. Email any work that you can, or provide it on a USB, then the student can view it at a size they find comfortable.
Expect and only accept excellence. Don’t allow the visual impairment to rule their life. They are intelligent and need to produce work at the regular standard. Obviously within reasonable boundaries, and the absence of other issues, they are as able to complete work as their peers. They may just need extra reading time in some cases. Push their own expectations without over-reaching them.
Accept their individuality. Often a PWA hones other senses to compensate for the vision. Their hearing or sense of smell may be more heightened, and they may not have the vocabulary or the knowledge to convey this, and they can appear socially awkward. (ie some children talking about the colour of an orange blossom, and the low vision child says “I smell oranges”. They appear to not follow the conversation, but as they can’t identify the blossom, they use another sense.) They will learn different ways to adapt, some will appear odd. Discuss it with their parents if you’re concerned. However, try not to see albinism as the reason behind everything. Some behaviour is just recalcitrant or the student pushing boundaries.
Verbalise. saying “it’s over there” and/or pointing means virtually nothing. The child doesn’t know and can’t see where you’re pointing. “It’s beside the red stapler on the corner of my desk” or “In the corner by the toybox” helps the student far more. Letting them know what’s happening keeps them informed. As in “Jeff has brought his turtle in for his talk this morning, would you like a closer look?” Also getting other children to reframe can help, so Jane could learn to say “We need you here at our table” rather than gesturing with her hands.
Listen to and trust their parents. What may appear to you to be helicopter parenting is the family adapting to a low vision child in their family. They know what they have been told by specialists and albinism support organisations, and how that fits into their own family. The way each family responds is different, just as each family is.
Research albinism yourself, find other teachers who have had a PWA in their classroom and network. Trust your own ability, yet never be afraid to ask. If you’re curious, other people have been too, and the parents will know or find an answer. And they’d rather you asked than assume something wrong.
Enjoy your student within the whole scope of the class. Remember their albinism doesn’t define them. They are an individual with every personality nuance possible. They can and will fall down, trip over, and make mistakes. That’s how they learn; it’s how we all do. Albinism doesn’t set them apart; it just makes them as different and unique as the other students in the class.
One last tip remember its correct to say a child with albinism not an albino.  Just as you would say a friend with cancer not a cancerous friend.  Its her medical diagnosis not her definition :)