$1.25M Grant Awarded to TTU College of Education

Dec 13, 2019

Thirty teachers from four states years will earn their master’s degrees thanks to scholarships from a $1.25 million grant awarded to Texas Tech’s College of Education.  The five-year grant targets a shortage of specialists who work with children with visual impairments due to brain injuries or disorders.

The teachers will provide services to those in rural, remote and high-need areas in Texas, Montana, Idaho and Wyoming.

The grant was awarded to the college’s Virginia Murray Sowell Center for Research and Education in Sensory Disabilities to deal with a shortage of those trained to help school children with learning challenges due to neurological visual impairments, known as NVI.

“There are many parents of children with neurological visual impairment that have cried out for teachers of children with visual impairment that have already been trained at universities that the existing curriculum, and this has been over the past 3-5 years, that the parents’ voices really been heard. And saying we’ve always had information infused into our curriculum about working with children with cortical visual impairment and neurological visual impairment, and so we have heard the cry. In our particular instance, we thought it was very important to include a specific course on neurological visual impairment.”

That’s Nora Griffin-Shirley, director of the Sowell Center and co-principal investigator on the grant project. She says providing the training to the teacher specialists isn’t a cure for those with NVI.

Griffin-Shirley says vision damage from injury or disorder doesn’t hold back students intellectually.

“No, it’s not going to be 20/20 vision with a normal visual field of 180 degrees, no. But they could function at a very high level once they’re learning how to use their vision better to do any type of task, reading or pre-literacy skills, reading print.”

Griffin-Shirley says vision damage from injury or disorder doesn’t hold back students intellectually.

“We’re looking at the person’s functionality and what is the cause of it and then is there an intellectual disability or not, and there may not be. If there’s not an intellectual disability then they’re going to be a person that has average or above average intelligence with a visual problem that they’re learning how to cope with using a variety of strategies.”

NVI is broken into three categories: cortical visual impairment, or CVI, delayed visual maturation, and cortical blindness. Griffin-Shirley says statistics show that as many as 40 percent of children with visual impairments have CVI, and 10 percent of children with developmental disabilities have it too.

“It can be caused by having a baby who’s premature, strokes, soldiers that are coming back after they’ve been in IED and had a concussion. So many different types of causes, lack of oxygen to the brain.”

Medical advances have led to better care for premature infants and greater survival rates from traumatic injury are contributors to an increasing number of brain-injured children with visual impairments who need services.

The grant initiative is called Project INVITE, which stands for Interdisciplinary Neurological Visual Impairment Teaching Experts.

During a 30-month program, scholars will receive specialized training to help children with NVI make improvements in learning and developmental outcomes or successfully transition to post-secondary education and the workforce.

The program will be delivered in a hybrid format that includes distance education and face-to-face instruction.

Improving students’ ability to use what vision they do have is the overall goal in helping them.

“It is as if they’re not recognizing objects, people, visually. They can be taught how to use their vision better, and also adults can be taught how to use their vision better, and that’s why we’re training teachers of students with visual impairment and orientation mobility specialists to work specifically with children with neurological visual impairment, ie cortical visual impairment.