Counseling is an important service offered to all students, but this intervention is of special significance for the child with vision impairment. As the school counselor, you may at first be intimidated by the idea of working with children with some unique needs.  This chapter is intended to offer ideas and suggestions in the hope that your counseling experience will be helpful for your student and professionally satisfying for you.

In counseling the student with vision impairment it is essential to see the child as an individual first. So, just as a counselor would assess any student referred for services, consideration would be given to chronological age, developmental level, academic and social strengths and problem areas, family situation, emotional functioning, cultural identification, and any other factors that may be affecting the child.  At the same time, an awareness of the impact of the student’s disability is maintained as the total picture is put together.

After getting to know the student and situation, it is important to analyze the presenting problem. Do not assume the vision impairment is the most immediate concern (Yuker, 1994). Remember, this student is probably more like fellow classmates than different. The disability will of course need to be discussed, but so will other issues.  The ability to understand class assignments and the impact of the peer group on social functioning may be the most immediate concerns.

An important factor to consider in the counseling situation is your own theoretical perspective. How are you most comfortable working? Have you been most successful with behavioral interventions using contingency contracts? Do you like to approach problems in a more cognitive manner, asking students to monitor their own “self talk?” Is “reality therapy” usually your first choice for teens? Are you most comfortable using the medium of play to explore problems with younger children? The approach with which you have had the most success is the one you should consider first.

In addition to theoretical perspective, you will want to consider modality. Would the problem be best addressed with the child and yourself alone, or is this an issue with which the family could provide important support? Is this a social skill that a group of classmates also need to address? Or is this a problem specific to those with vision impairments, and others with similar concerns could be especially helpful?

After assessing the problem and your approach, there are a number of issues that should be considered, unique first to the child with any type of disability, and a second group that are specific to the child with vision impairment. First, it is important to consider the child’s self-concept in relation to the vision impairment. Olkin (1999) places individuals with a disability on a continuum that includes (1) those who do not consider themselves disabled, (2) those who identify as a person with a disability, and (3) those who view themselves as a part of the “disability community” and actively work for “disability rights.”  Children whose parents are non-disabled are typically taught to act as “normal” as possible and identify with the non-disabled (Olkin, 1999). While this may encourage behaviors that promote acceptance by the majority culture, it can also create serious self- esteem issues for the child who observes some differences from peers.

Another reality that needs to be considered in counseling children with disabilities in general is the likelihood of additional environmental issues. Students with disabilities are more likely than non-disabled students to have more and longer hospitalizations, doctor visits, and school absences. Emotional and behavioral problems are more likely (Olkin, 1999). There is evidence that children with disabilities are at a higher risk for all types of abuse (Westcott & Jones, 1999). Additionally, families of children with disabilities are subject to more disruptions, for example moving, financial problems, separation, or divorce of parents (Olkin, 1999).

In counseling, keeping a systems focus is important. The child with a disability must function simultaneously in a classroom, a school, a family, and a community. Attitudes of others in your school toward the student with a disability are critical. School-wide efforts to incorporate all students into the school environment are important. Encouraging interactions between the student with a disability and non-disabled students is of critical importance for the positive adjustment of the student with a vision impairment, so the “big picture” should be an important focus of your work.

In addition to the general guidelines offered for working with the student with a disability, there are some unique considerations for counseling an individual with vision impairment. A summary of factors that should be considered is offered here with some specific suggestions for the school counselor that you may find helpful.