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Creating Supportive Learning Environments for Students with Both Vision Impairment and Autism

Students with both vision impairment and autism need learning environments that cater to all of their strengths and needs.

Illustration of a boy and girl putting together a four piece puzzle of the brain.

Visually impaired and blind children have a greater rate of autistic spectrum disorders (ASD) than their peers, a connection well-researched yet poorly understood. New studies, such as one 2020 Brain Sciences journal seeking to review research, have attempted to ground out exactly why this is.

In the process, those statistics have been reaffirmed time and time again; children with visual impairment are more likely to also have ASD, with the statistics higher both at the minimum level and in potential variance. As such, many visually impaired children have the added challenge, in educational settings, of managing their ASD.

Creating environments that cater to both is the question, but also one that is perhaps readily answered. See here for another Paths to Literacy article on Braille Instructions for Students with ASD.

Hybrid Learning Environments

The first concept to embrace is the hybrid working environment. This has largely come about as a symptom of the global pandemic, but is here to stay. Increasing numbers of children are being taught partly in school and partly at home.

While this comes with its own challenges, the variation in learning media provided by the hybrid learning model is understood to help children with ASD to learn more easily, as expanded on in this article.

Research published by the University of Cambridge Press indicates that a hybrid learning model, while requiring adjustments to ensure social interaction and to avoid burnout in parents, has positive outcomes for children with ASD. This approach is also helpful for children with visual impairment.

Digital Inclusivity

When it comes to visual impairment, there have obviously been huge benefits brought about by digital technology. By seamlessly integrating audio content into existing learning material, digital content often comes ready-made for use by those with sight conditions.

Advanced technology like BrailleTouch takes this to another level, and these adaptations have also been hugely helpful for children with ASD, allowing them greater flexibility with regards to their learning needs.

Unfortunately, while the technology exists, the will to implement is often absent. Accessibility is a major challenge for people trying to access the web equally – not just in the educational sphere, but everywhere online. ISEMag estimates that 98% of web content is not fully accessible. This obviously has an impact on children with ASD, too. Ensuring that technology is digitally inclusive is key; that’s true for both the devices and the software and content itself.

Promoting Proper Feedback

Both children with ASD and children with hearing impairment can lack confidence due to the impact of their condition. Indeed, a Frontiers study has highlighted the crucial importance of regular and thorough feedback, at least as it concerns teaching children with ASD.

The hybrid learning model provides ample thinking space, and sensory downtime, in order for children to process the lessons of the day and settle on effective learning. The impact of timely and effective feedback cannot be oversold; it really can have that much of an impact in helping to guide children who face the challenges of the negative impacts of their conditions.

As it happens, this sort of learning environment is already set up, in many places, for visually impaired children. A glut of research conducted in the wake of the pandemic found there were serious inequalities in the hybrid learning environment as it concerned vision impaired children; schemes such as the Perkins course, AFB advocacy and TSBVI 5 Rs have helped to bridge the gap since.

Similarly, the amendments that classrooms need to create great educational systems for these children are ones that will benefit all children. For that reason, there’s no argument as to where the next steps lie in making better learning.

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