Family consultation competencies for educators of the visually impaired
Interest in the psychosocial wellbeing of the visually impaired has existed for years as a nebulous and undefined goal of educational programs for children. Yet there is a dearth of systematic inquiry into the influence of teachers on social and emotional development of children and families. The purpose of this study was therefore to develop a foundation of knowledge relating to the role of specialist teachers in addressing the affective adjustment needs of visually impaired children and their families. Drawing upon the theories and intervention practices commonly used in the human service professions, 59 family consultation competencies were identified and grouped into four major knowledge areas, namely affective adjustment to blindness, principles and processes of change, interpersonal communication skills, and specific intervention strategies. This research was exploratory and descriptive in nature, utilizing a semistructured interview format to produce data for both numerical and qualitative analysis. A 3-part questionnaire was administered orally to a sample of 20 certified and fulltime employed teachers of the visually impaired who were working in one of five major service delivery systems found in the Greater Northeast. Participating teachers reported a range of 13.5 to 38.6% of their professional time spent in consultative interactions with teachers, parents, administrators, and related service providers, as compared to a range of 15 to 50% of time given to direct student instruction and assessment. Furthermore, regardless of situational differences in educational and occupational backgrounds, teachers perceived the process skills of interpersonal communication and relationship-building as necessary competencies in their ability to meet vision-specific psychosocial needs of visually impaired children and their families. Variables which were considered by practitioners to influence their proficiency in providing consultative services included the nature and degree of professional preparation, trial and error experience, and interpersonal style or personality. In summary, 49 of the original family consultation competencies presented in this survey were confirmed by participating teachers to be necessary, relevant, and appropriate to their professional responsibilities as educators of the visually impaired.