Paths to Literacy

for students who are blind or visually impaired

Using the Sensory Learning Kit in a Learning Media Assessment

By TVIs Krista Papish and Wendy Miller, with support from Cindy White-Botello
How does learning occur?  While many of us do this with very little effort, for children with visual impairments and additional disabilities it is an ongoing challenge to attend, gather, interpret and synthesize information. 
a child touching a sensory toy
Learning is a dynamic process of simultaneously gathering information, relating it to something we already know and constructing meaning. Repeated practice with the new information moves it into long term storage so the learner can use the information without much effort. 

Acquisition of Sensory Information

That very first step of learning, acquisition, occurs through sensory input and it’s crucial we understand how our students acquire that sensory information.  For students with visual impairments, the Learning Media Assessment (LMA) is an answer to that question.  It provides valuable information on the child’s use of the preferred sensory channels to promote that learning. This a challenge for our students who are at the earliest stages of communication and cognition, who might be at emergent levels of communication and literacy, and for those children who are just beginning to attend to and explore their own environment. What tool can be used to understand how these students will best access and attend to the information they need to learn? 

Using The Sensory Learning Kit (SLK) in the LMA

The Sensory Learning Kit (SLK) Guidebook and Assessments are the tools Teachers of the Visually Impaired in Iowa use to meet that need. The two manuals (SLK Assessment Manual and Routines book) developed by Millie Smith were designed, “…to provide sensory experiences that stimulate curiosity and motivate interactions that help develop skills." (M. Smith, p. 2 SLK Guidebook and Assessment Forms)
cover of SLK Routines Book from APH
This manual is available as a free download from APH. 

What is the SLK Guidebook?

The SLK Guidebook consists of five tools used sequentially to develop: 
  • Sensory Learning Summary (SLS) to understand how the child accesses information and how his/her health might impact their ability to learn. This is often overlooked or not considered but is critical in understanding what the child’s unique needs are. For example, if a child has CHARGE Syndrome, Optic Nerve Hypoplasia, or Cortical Visual Impairment there are a few conclusions we can likely draw about how their etiology impacts their learning and, not in-frequently, their behavior.  The SLS is much like a thorough file review – giving us an organizational framework for what things we need to consider in terms of the child’s health and access to information and how those things impact their child’s ability to learn.
  • Arousal State Profile (ASP) is used to understand when the child is available for instruction relative to their arousal states.  If a child is sleeping or agitated they are not as available for learning and understanding.  Supporting those alert arousal states increase the child’s availability for learning.  Sometimes educational teams need to consider how a student’s access to information and/or their overall health (etiology, overall health, medication, pain, etc.) might affect their arousal state. 
  • Sensory Response Record (SRR) assesses the students preferred topics for learning. Each sensory system (vision/hearing/touch/taste/gustatory/movement) is assessed to determine the interests of the child, and those interests will draw the child’s attention needed to learn.  The response the child gives, to each of those sensory probes, determines what the child’s preferred learning media is AND at what level the child participates with that media. That participation level will determine the instructional level. This is a very big deal! All too often we teach this population of children on topics they have no interest in or understanding of and we wonder why they are not learning/progressing. Using the topics they enjoy and teaching children on their instructional level in crucial for all kids!
  • Appetite/Aversion List (AAL) is generated from the SRR and what teams know about their student’s likes and dislikes. It is important to see this list as a work in progress. You can add new information as you learn more about the child’s interests. This list can be posted in the child’s classroom and used to make sure staff understands not only the child’s preferred topics, but also what the child does not like. Understanding student specific likes/dislikes can also help staff manage the student’s arousal states. 
  • Levels & Strategies Guide (LSG):  information gathered in the SRR is placed in the LSG to identify the child’s instructional level and their preferred (or most intact) sensory channel.  The three levels identified are:
    • Quiet Alert (or attention) the child is learning to attend and establishing a positive relationship with people during the routine.
    • Active Alert (or exploration) the child is learning to develop intentional behaviors within the routine as he develops the ability to interact with media/objects and partners
    • Partial participation (or function) the child is learning to anticipate the next step in a routine with a predictable outcome while working to participate in to his or her full potential within the routine. 
Voila – the LMA (child’s preferred sensory channel) and the instructional level!
The SLK is a systematic way to identify what things the student likes most, drawing in their attention to actively engage him/her in their own learning by systematically identifying the sensory channel(s) the student uses to access information and at what level they are able to access that information 
 woman is swinging with a child in her lap
The SLK Guidebook and Assessments are tools TVI’s and educational teams can use to “experience with the child" so we can better understand his meanings, his values, and his choices” (Jan van Dijk) and invite him/her to join us in a shared world.
Collage of SLK in an LMA


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Posted on April 10, 2017
Updated on: February 7, 2018

Previous comments for Using the Sensory Learning Kit in a Learning Media Assessment

Michelle Desjardins commented on June 2, 2017

Thank you for the comprehensive response! I truly appreciate it!
Michelle Desjardins, MS, OTR/L, CBIS

Charlotte Cushman commented on June 1, 2017

Hi Michelle,

Perkins eLearning will offer an online class this fall called Teaching Strategies for Students Who are Blind/VI with Multiple Disabilities in the Sensorimotor Stage of Development and it includes the SLK as part of the course.  You can contact them directly to find out how much detail it goes into.  

Michelle Desjardins commented on June 1, 2017

Thank you! I have heard a lot about it and was hoping that there might be an upcoming course on the research behind it and administration. If you hear of anything, please let me know!
Take care,
Michelle Desjardins

Charlotte Cushman commented on June 1, 2017

Hi Michelle,

You may wish to begin by look at the Sensory Learning Kit (SLK) itself from the APH (American Printing House for the Blind) website.  

The SLK manual is available as a free download from the APH site.

There is also a homegrown video:

as well as a video/DVD on using the SLK, which is for sale through the APH site.

There is a guidebook called SLK Routines Book.

We hope this helps you get started!

Michelle Desjardins commented on May 31, 2017

I am an OT interested in learning more about the Sensory Learning kit and work done by Miller. What is available to me at this time?