Welcome to the website of the VU research lab 'Visual impairments'

Mentor support research project: Improving social participation and psychosocial functioning of adolescents with a visual impairment with community-based mentoring.

Young people with a visual impairment dream about their future. However, because of their impairment, some young people face difficulties regarding aspects such as finishing school, finding a job or suitable leisure activities, and building meaningful relationships. For these individuals, their social participation is at risk.

Nevertheless, there is also a group of young adults with a visual impairment that has accomplished a lot when it comes to social participation. Their experiences and life lessons can be valuable for youngsters that still have to overcome difficulties with participating in society. That is why we developed and tested a mentoring program, called Mentor Support. An intervention in which youth with a visual impairment are matched to successful and trained young adults (mentors) with or without a visual impairment.

A randomized trail design with three groups was used to study the effect of the mentoring program. Two groups of adolescents with a visual impairment between the ages of 15 and 22 were randomly assigned to a mentor aged between 22 and 44 years. Adolescents in group 1 were all assigned to a mentor with a visual impairment and adolescents in group 2 were all assigned to a mentor without a visual impairment. Adolescents in the final group were not assigned to a mentor (called the care-as-usual control group). All three groups were allow to also receive their usual care.  

During the course of one year, the mentee and mentor dyads gathered once a month in or near the hometown of the mentee. Together, they carried out activities in three life domains: school/work, leisure time and social relationships, such as going to the movies, organizing a meal for friends, and visiting a theater. Mentees were meant to have  success experiences and experience positivity during these activities and therefore improving social participation skills, while the mentor’s main task was providing guidance and giving advice, for example by modelling certain behaviors.

Results of the mentoring study
It was hypothesized that Mentor Support would improve social participation and psychosocial functioning of adolescents with a visual impairment. However, our study showed participants who received the mentoring program progressed just as much as those receiving only care-as-usual on most of the outcome variables. However, adolescents receiving support from a mentor did improve in some areas: They were more satisfied with the social support that they received and were more satisfied with their feelings of autonomy and competence (two of the three basic psychological needs of the Self-determination Theory). No differences were found between those receiving support from a mentor with or without a visual impairment. However, mentee and mentor dyads in which both had a visual impairment more often ended their mentoring relationship prematurely.

Results of additional studies
Additionally to the mentoring study also a longitudinal study was performed. In this study, 250 young people with a visual impairment were questioned through a telephone interview on their social participation and psychosocial functioning. They started participating in this study 20 years ago had measurements in 1995, 2002, 2020, and 2016. Results of this study show the importance of peer relationships for psychological wellbeing. Especially the support of peers around the age of 18 is important for preventing loneliness at a later age. The longitudinal study also showed that social skills play an important role in how people with a visual impairment will function later in life. Therefore, we suggest that providing support with forming and keeping up social relations and developing social skills is helpful for young people with a visual impairment.

Based on these different projects, we make the following 10 recommendations: 

1. View the person as a whole, do not focus only on the eyes/impairment.

2. View the family and the upbringing as a whole, because this is of influence as well.

3. Do not only focus on the now, but set long term goals as well.

4. Support youth in engaging in social relationships.

5. Support youth in how to maintain social relationships during this transition fase.

6. Give attention on how to engage in romantic relationships.

7. Stimulate the engagement in social relationships with an adult/mentor outside of the family circle.

8. This mentor/buddy does not necessarily need to have a visual impairment.

9. To stimulate inclusion, let youth participate in outdoor activities.

10. Follow our ongoing and current research under the heading: autonomie. 

If you want to read more about this research project, you can read the final publication here:

Improving social participation of adolescents with a visual impairment with community-based mentoring: results from a randomized controlled trial)

For this project we collaborated closely with Dr. Deborah Gold (https://www.balancefba.org/) as well as Dr. Janice Kupersmidt (http://irtinc.us/).

Autonomy research project: the autonomy of adolescents with a visual impairment and autonomy supporting practices of parents and professionals.

The main purpose of this research project is to gain more knowledge regarding the concept of autonomy and autonomy supportive practices for youth with visual impairments. In the first part of the study, we will try to define the concept of autonomy for young people with a visual impairment. How do young people, their parents, and professionals conceptualize the concept of autonomy? Second, we will investigate how parents of young people with a visual impairment perceive their parenting style in relation to the autonomy development of their children. Do these parents perceive their parenting style more autonomy-supportive or controlling? Do they perceive a difference in parenting style between parents of children without impairments? Which contextual factors, such as accessibility of the environment or personal factors, do they perceive as potential facilitators or risk factors of an autonomy supportive parenting style? In addition, perceptions of adolescents with a visual impairment on the topic of autonomy supportive parenting will be explored. Third, we want the explore perceptions of professionals working with youth with a visual impairment. How do they define the concept of autonomy for their clients? To what extent do they approach their clients in an autonomy supportive style? How do they perceive the parenting style of parents of children with VI? And which personal or other contextual factors do they relate as important predictors of autonomy? Which suggestions do they have for improvement of interventions for autonomy?

The main aim of this study is to explore the association between contextual factors (autonomy supportive parenting and guidance style) and autonomy of young people with VI. However, to create a broader picture of facilitators and risk factors related to achieving autonomy, also personal factors, such as characteristics of the impairment, self-esteem, and personality will be studied. These associations will be studied with the use of existing longitudinal datasets and additional questionnaires among youth with VI, their parents, and professionals working within schools and rehabilitation centers providing care to this subpopulation. These insights will also create insight in the complex process of becoming autonomous. In this research project, we also want to shed a light into the discrepancies that could exist between the autonomy of youth with VI and their sighted peers. Therefore, results on the concept of autonomy, autonomy support parenting, and autonomy support guidance of itinerant teachers in the VI-group will be compared to a reference group of youth without disabilities, their parents, and teachers. In addition, both contextual and personal factors related to autonomy will be assessed within this population.

As described above, in this research project a multiple informant method will be used. All participants will participate in qualitative focus groups and complete a digital questionnaire. The multiple informant method will create a more nuanced and complete picture of the complex concept of the process of becoming autonomous and the way parents and professionals stimulate this process.

Several questions on developing or improving interventions will be included in data collections and will be discussed with several representatives in our project committee. Results of our projects will be presented in a way that parents and professionals in education and rehabilitation can attune their support to enhance optimal autonomy, necessary for successful societal participation.

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