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Ellen Davis, OT

I graduated from the UAB Low Vision program in 2009. My reason for entering the program was two-fold.

To gain immediate knowledge and skills for my current job. I work at Alabama Institute for Deaf and Blind where I provide OT services to the school age students at Alabama School for the Blind, Alabama School for the Deaf, and Helen Keller School of Alabama.

To have career options when I am too old to be crawling through tunnels and sitting on the ground with students!

More Peer Respect

I am surrounded by professionals that have years of training in sensory deficits.

Since completing the Low Vision program at UAB, I know that I have gained more respect from my peers. I often hear other staff and administration say, “This is our OT. She is an expert at working with visual problems.” But more importantly, I have been able to fill in some of the pieces of the puzzle that other professions can’t.

The VI teachers have lots of training and experience in adapting learning media and altering teaching strategies, but they need help understanding how vision impacts development of motor skills and sensory processing skills.

When I first came to AIDB, I was overwhelmed by the amount of children with severe sensory processing problems including apraxia, tactile defensiveness, gravitational insecurity, and poor body awareness. The majority of these students were visually impaired, and while there were things I could offer the students at AIDB with general OT knowledge, I knew that I needed to know more about how sensory loss affects development.

Full Understanding

The courses in the Low Vision program helped me understand the full impact of vision loss on a child’s development and how sensory processing disorder can be different for a visually impaired child than for a sighted child. The courses in the Low Vision program have provided a wide range of effective strategies, from early childhood through adulthood. Often I find myself combining and adapting strategies from the adult courses and the pediatric courses.

In addition to direct treatment and collaboration with individual teachers, I have started a weekly mentoring program for the new teachers at Helen Keller School on how vision impacts the developmental stages of a child. The meetings have helped them understand why their students struggle with particular skills and how to integrate motor activities into their academic material to promote overall development.

Seeing What Others Don’t

While I knew that I would use information from the Low Vision program at ASB and HKS, some of the most rewarding moments have come from deaf students.

One student was labeled as oppositional defiant. He is deaf, has an intellectual disability, and has ADHD which was untreated at the time I was working with him. I knew that there was something wrong with his vision because his performance on table activities was inconsistent but his communication skills were so limited that testing was almost impossible.

One day, I saw him glance down at an object and immediately recognized eccentric viewing! We scheduled an appointment with the optometrist and I described his behavior with classroom tasks. Sure enough, there was a problem with his macula.

This was also the reason he was mis-labeled as ODD…he was missing ASL signs that occur at midline! The “not” sign is under the chin, so when his teacher signed “do not ___”, he was totally missing the “not” and immediately doing what she did not want him to do.

Once we were able to educate the staff on his visual needs, his whole relationship with staff changed!