Paths to Literacy

for students who are blind or visually impaired

Instructional Strategies for Students with Multiple Disabilities

Two boys sit side by side with a book of picture symbols.

We all benefit from exposure to a variety of teaching and learning techniques when developing a set of skills.  For students with multiple disabilities, it is important to provide a range of experiences and strategies, while also trying to be consistent in the structure, materials, and vocabulary.

Language Development on the Path to Literacy

Language and literacy are closely intertwined, and the articles below offer suggestions of ways in which to support the development of language and literacy simultaneously.

Colby’s Growth to Language and Literacy: The Achievements of a Child who is Congenitally Deafblind
Susan Bruce, Amy Randall, Barbara Birge

Teaching Exceptional Children Plus: Volume 5, Issue 2, November 2008
This article tells the story of how Colby, a young boy who is congenitally deafblind, developed language and literacy. Narrative is coupled with video to illustrate how the following four instructional approaches and interventions supported his development: (1) daily schedule, (2) home-school journal, (3) experiential based literacy, and (4) child-guided instruction. Both Colby’s mother and his teachers developed individualized literacy lessons that were delivered with daily consistency. Repetition of highly interesting activities paired with consistent exposure to representations about those activities (expressed in objects, verbalizations, sign language, and braille) supported Colby to literacy. 


Talking Photo Albums
Mary Ann Demchak, Nevada Dual Sensory Impairment Project: Tips for Home or School (September 2004)
Talking photo albums can be used as a conversation aid for individuals who have limited verbal communication skills.
  They can be used as a conversation starter or a daily journal to share information about what happened at school or at home.


Making Choices

Pointing to an object or a picture to make a choice enables a child to communicate his or her wants and needs.  This ability to control one's environment is a significant step toward independence, and it is also a helpful step on the path to  literacy.  A child may be presented with actual objects representing different activities or with tangible symbols, which are three-dimensional representations that may be glued to a card.  As the child develops a deeper understanding of objects and the activities they represent, these objects or symbols can then be used in other literacy activities, such as the creation of simple books.

To learn more about Tangible Symbols, see the Perkins Webcast The Use of Tangible Symbols to Support the Development of Communication and the accompanying handout by Elizabeth Torrey or Tangible Symbol Systems Primer by Charity Rowland and Philip Schweigert.


Calendar Boxes

Young girl examines her object calendar with her teacher.For children with multiple disabilities, learning to recognize objects in their daily routines is an early step toward literacy.  Knowing that a cup is used for drinking, and that a spoon is used for eating can help a child learn to anticipate these events.  As the child becomes increasingly familiar with the objects, they can be arranged from left to right to create a schedule that the child can "read".  Through the association of real objects with familiar events, a child can begin to develop a connection between objects, symbols, and experiences. 

To learn more about Calendar Boxes or Object Calendars, see Let me Check My Calendar, by Robbie Blaha and Kate Moss, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, or Using a Schedule with Your Child from Family Connect for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments.

Collage of instructional strategies for multiple disabilities