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Musically Talented, Visually Impaired
Q: Our son is seven and has been visually impaired (legally blind) since birth. He taught himself to play classical piano by ear when he was four. How do we find the best school for his impairment and the best way to develop his talent?
A: If your son has been legally blind since birth, state and federal laws require that an individualized education program (IEP) be formulated by the school district to guide the instruction he receives. The development of an IEP follows a comprehensive assessment of the child that involves the parent, the regular and special education teachers, a psychologist or other assessment person, and others.
A comprehensive assessment should identify that your son has an exceptional talent in music, which might qualify him for a program for the musically talented. If no such program exists within his school, he can nevertheless receive services that build on his strengths in music.
A talent specialist or the school's gifted-and-talented program coordinator should be included in the development of his IEP. Exceptional talents or abilities compensate for disabilities in another area. Building on your child's strengths helps to ensure his interest in education and to motivate him for advanced study. Children such as your son may be "dually-identified" by the school; that is, they may receive services both for their disability and for their talents.
On a personal note, I have a relative who has been legally blind since birth. He is now a professor of linguistics at a major research university. He holds a doctorate and has lived and worked all over the world. With the appropriate support, the sky can be the limit for your son.
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Rita Culross is Associate Dean, College of Education, and Adjunct Professor of Psychology and Curriculum and Instruction at Louisiana State University. Culross has served as the consulting school psychologist for a public school elementary gifted program, and has written a book and several journal articles on gifted education.