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Sensory Activities: Experiences to Improve Communication and Literacy for Children with Visual and Multiple Disabilities

Hands-on ideas for pairing sensory activities with communication and literacy for children with visual impairments and multiple disabilities

student with pink shirt and pink glassesBy Faye Gonzalez, TVI & COMS

I had a dilemma over the past year in working with my students who have Visual & Multiple Disabilities (V&MD). One student in particular challenged my teaching methods. My dilemma was:

  • Sensory activities are important 
  • Communication & Literacy are important
  • Working on them all separately resulted in limited growth
  • How could I combine things to make learning more effective? 

The answer I came up with is that PAIRING sensory activities along with working on Communication and Literacy skills is more effective. In addition,  I realized that Communication and Literacy is really the SAME thing with students who have V&MD’s. Communication & Literacy will look very similar because most students who have V&MD cannot physically write, type, or spell to make words. Rather, using their communication system/symbols (whatever they may be) in a variety of ways IS Literacy for these students. 

student using symbols for literacy
Literacy can be:
  • reading a symbol from their own system receptively
  • using their symbols to make (i.e. write) lists and phrases
  • using their symbols to tell someone what to write for them
sensory box for instruments
I created a series of Sensory Boxes that have all the materials needed to easily and effectively have others (i.e. classroom aides) implement these activities on a regular basis.  Each box is theme based and contains: 
  • All sensory items needed
  • Books about the activity
  • All communication tools needed 
  • All writing tools needed

I developed my own series of sensory activities that can be used with each sensory box. Using the same materials over and over for a while in a way that fosters exploration supports the most communication and literacy growth.

1. Initial Experiences – sensory focused

  • Exploring the materials, target asking questions – what do they do
  • Explore descriptive properties, modeling & teach associated language

2. Early Activities – focus on communication

  • Using the materials for a purpose – model & assist using the nouns, verbs & adj/adv
  • Target using words they know: people, feelings, quick words 
  • Talk and/or write about the experiences – how they felt about it, who did it, what they did, etc. 

3. Extending Literacy – reading and writing

  • Reading books about the activity & using items as props – especially teacher made books using pics from early activities – this lets you tailor the language to match your students
  • Other writing – journals, letters, lists (ex – Things we Like/Don’t Like, Who Liked It, who was silly, etc. – I LOVE lists!)

4. Extending Learning – exploring & comparing 

  • Using the items in a new way (Ex – what will happen if we drop the instruments on the floor?)
  • Compare & contrast the experiences, list what was funny, awful
  • Do extension crafts & other related activities

5. Publishing – creating something to share with others 

  • Writing your own book – use pictures taken during the activities
  • Talk about the pictures & have students write their own words 
  • Have students read their own book or use the props while you read, send copies home
student exploring instruments
Exploring musical instruments
Using symbols to make a list
Using symbols to make a list
reading the book she wrote
A student reads the book she wrote

Adopting this sensory approach has made a huge difference for all of my students. For my students who use symbol systems (low or high tech), my realization that communication and literacy are actually the same thing has allowed my students to make huge gains in their ability to use their symbol systems.

Watch my webinar on this topic.

sensory activities collage

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