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PARENTS’ NETWORK LETTER

November 2022

Editor: RETHA STASSEN

Contact details: E-mail: retha.work@gmail.com Cell no/SMS/WhatsApp: 082-442-0467

Dear parents, teachers, and other interested persons

All of us are probably amazed at the speed with which 2022 flew. We wish you a peaceful, meaningful holiday season and we hold thumbs for all the learners who will be writing exams.

Please contact us for feedback or suggestions for future issues. Kindly distribute this publication to any person/s who might benefit and send addresses of possible new subscribers to the editor. All versions of the Parents’ Network Letters since 2014, as well as an index of articles for easy reference, are available on http://blindsa.org.za/publications/. Thanks to Nokuzola Nges-Mavubengwana, this network letter is translated into Xhosa since August 2021 and BlindSA also converts it to audio format. Please let us know if there is a need for translation into other languages. We also remind you about the dedicated BlindSA webpage about early childhood development at https://blindsa.org.za/early-childhood-development/.

In this issue: There are some helpful tips for teaching ADL (activities of daily living) to children with blindness or multiple disabilities. Five learning styles are explained, and a teacher give excellent examples of ways to enhance early literacy skills for children with communication challenges. Lastly there are practical tips for the learners who will complete their schooling and try to find jobs.

“A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person

with a certain set of attitudes.” – Hugh Downs, Veteran Journalist

Developing Self-Care Skills in Children with Disabilities

Amber Bobnar

Editor’s note: The article was slightly shortened. Links to products are available on the website from which this article was taken – see resource below. More tips and information about ADL is available on https://blindsa.org.za/2022/03/25/helping-my-visually-impaired-child-to-develop/

Most children naturally develop basic self-care skills as they grow and explore the world around them. However, for children with disabilities, this process can be more challenging. While it can be tempting to do things for your child, especially when you see them struggling with a task, it’s important to allow your child to be as independent as possible.

Self-care skills are important for every child to learn, but they can be especially empowering for children with disabilities. By teaching your child how to care for themselves, you’re helping them to gain independence and confidence.

What are Examples of Self-Care Skills?

Four basic categories of everyday life skills, sometimes referred to as activities of daily living (ADLs), are considered a part of self-care:

Hygiene

Personal hygiene is defined as good health habits that help maintain cleanliness and protect against infection and illness. Children typically learn hygiene skills through modelling and instruction from parents and caregivers. It’s important to start teaching hygiene skills early, as kids are more likely to develop good hygiene habits if they learn them at a young age.

Some basic hygiene skills that children should be taught include washing their hands properly, brushing their teeth, bathing independently, and covering their mouths when they sneeze or cough. It’s also helpful to provide simple explanations of why certain hygiene behaviours are important, like explaining that hand washing can help prevent the spread of germs.

Dressing

Dressing is an essential life skill that helps children develop self-sufficiency and confidence. Learning to dress and undress not only builds independence but also gives your child a sense of personality as they develop preferences for certain colours, textures, or styles. Dressing is also an important social indicator as kids create their own style and learn to fit in with friends at school.

Toileting

Potty training is a basic self-care task that causes anxiety for most parents, but parents of young children with special needs can find toileting especially difficult. Learning to use the bathroom without assistance is a huge skill and a big first step toward independence. There are many factors involved in potty training a special needs child, from recognizing and communicating the need to go to the bathroom to independently standing to pull up pants. Any skills mastered while potty training is an accomplishment worth celebrating!

Feeding

Self-feeding is another basic self-care skill that can boost a child’s confidence and independence. Self-feeding can also help children develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

As children age, self-feeding skills will include using different utensils, cutting food independently, making simple meals, and even packing their own lunch box for school.

Why might children with disabilities struggle with self-care skills?

All kids are different and develop at their own pace, but this is even more true for those with special needs. Depending on your child’s specific diagnoses and challenges, some aspects of self-help skills may be easy and others much harder to achieve.

Fine and Gross Motor Limitations

Many children with special needs and disabilities have problems with fine and gross motor development. This can impede their ability to perform everyday tasks like brushing their teeth or buttoning their shirt.

Fine motor skills involve the use of small muscles, such as those in the hands and fingers, to perform tasks like writing or picking up small objects. Gross motor skills involve the use of large muscles, such as those in the legs and arms, to perform tasks such as standing, walking, or running.

Sensory Processing Difficulties

Many children with special needs experience difficulties with sensory processing. This refers to the ability to take in, organize, and respond to information from the senses. For some children, this can mean that they are over-sensitive to certain stimuli, while others may be under-sensitive.

As a result, children with sensory processing issues often have trouble with daily living activities like eating, dressing, or bathing. In addition, they may be easily distracted or have difficulty paying attention, making it harder to learn new skills.

Limited Motor Planning

Children with special needs may also have difficulty with motor planning, meaning that they have trouble figuring out how to move their bodies to complete an action. This can be due to a number of factors, including muscle weakness, poor coordination, brain disorders, and sensory processing issues.

For example, a child with limited motor planning might have trouble putting on a shirt or bringing a spoon to their mouth because they find it challenging to plan out the specific movements necessary to complete the action. While all children go through a period of development where they are learning how to control their own bodies, children with special needs often have greater difficulty with this process.

Low Motivation

We might not want to admit it, but sometimes our kids with disabilities aren’t advancing in their development because we do too much for them. It’s often easier for us parents to just put on our children’s shoes, get them dressed, and feed them ourselves. And the reverse of this equation is that it’s also easier for our children to let us do things for them. Take a step back when you can and see if your child can find more motivation to learn important skills. They may surprise you!

At What Age Should My Child Master Self-Care Skills?

All children develop independence at their own rate, but it’s also good to know when kids should generally achieve self-care skills and reach their developmental milestones. According to the Centre for Speech, Language, Occupational Therapy, and Applied Behaviour Analysis, between the ages of 18 months and 8 years, parents should see significant advances in self-care skills.

The chart below will let you know if your child is displaying self-care difficulties and what areas you need to focus on:

Age Hygiene Dressing Toileting Feeding
18 months Following simple directions to hold out arm or leg when dressing Showing discomfort when wet, sitting on the potty with supervision Finger feeding small bites and drinking from sippy-cup
2 years Washing hands and brushing teeth with assistance Removing socks, pants, shirts without fasteners Needs help getting to the potty, but having fewer accidents Eating with a spoon, drinking with a straw
3 years Hand washing independently, washing face Dressing with assistance, unzipping zippers, fastening large buttons Mostly independent on the potty, may need help with wiping and dressing Stabbing food with a fork
4 years Brushing teeth, washing face, brushing hair independently Dressing and undressing independently Fully potty trained Mostly feeding independently, needs help cutting food
5 years Needs help bathing picking out clothes, tying knots and laces Cutting food with a knife
8 years Bathing fully independently Preparing simple meals, packing lunch boxes independently

 7 Tips for Promoting Self-Care Skills for Children with Disabilities

Give lots of opportunities to practice self-care tasks

When teaching your child self-care skills, it’s essential to provide them plenty of opportunities to practice the new tasks they are learning. At-home or school-based therapy sessions allocate time with a professional to go over skills, but actually performing a task in real-life conditions is very different. For example, when my son was working on his walking skills, he would walk back and forth in his physical therapy sessions, but this didn’t really hold much meaning for him. Having him walk from his bedroom to the dining room for breakfast, on the other hand, was much more meaningful and motivating.

Try to create a daily routine or schedule that allows lots of extra time to work on self-care. If you’re focusing on hygiene, be sure to give yourself extra time in the bathroom for hand washing or cleaning teeth so your child can do as much independently as possible without feeling rushed.

Follow routines and a daily schedule

Speaking of routines, stick to them! Create a visual or tactile schedule for your child to follow so they know what to expect and, most importantly, what tasks they will have to complete on their own. As your child becomes more independent, the goal is that they will be able to consult the calendar themselves and finish tasks without being asked.

We’ve used object calendars with my son for years now, and they are great accessible tools to establish the routine for the day. Object calendars use real objects to represent tasks or activities, like a toothbrush to represent teeth cleaning or a cup to represent drinking. These objects are glued to small cardboard rectangles that can be stuck to a larger board with velcro.

You can also add large print or braille to the objects if your child is learning to read. You can make these yourself or use the Standardized Tactile Augmentative Communication Symbols Kit (STACS) From APH, which are easier to use and standardized.

Break down a task into simpler and easier parts

Breaking down a task into simpler and easier parts can make big life skills seem less overwhelming. Occupational therapists will often suggest forward chaining or backward chaining, referring to the process of breaking up a task into small parts, then teaching the easiest part first.

For example, instead of teaching your child to brush their teeth all at once, you could break this up into

  • holding a toothbrush,
  • wetting the toothbrush,
  • squeezing toothpaste onto the toothbrush,
  • moving the toothbrush in a circular motion on the teeth.

These skills build in complexity, so this is considered forward chaining, where each skill gets more difficult and builds toward completing the task.

Some tasks begin with more refined physical control required, then build to easier movements, so in that case, you would utilize backward chaining and teach the last step first.

Utilize adaptive equipment when possible

There are a number of products designed to help people with disabilities complete basic self-care tasks. From adaptive utensils to three-sided toothbrushes, if it can make life easier, use it!

If your child is struggling to perform a particular task or is having difficulty tolerating certain seams or textures, there’s a pretty good chance someone has created a product to help solve that problem. Check out this list of our favourite tools for teaching self-care skills!

Have necessary materials available during daily tasks

If your child is practicing a new skill, make sure that they have everything they need within reach. For example, if they are learning to brush their teeth independently, set a small toothbrush caddy on the bathroom sink with their toothbrush and toothpaste together. Make things as easy for your child as you can! If they often knock things over while performing a task, opt for containers with Suction cups or magnets or add velcro to objects so they stay in place and are easily accessible.

Promote independence with simple materials

Who says pants need to have buttons? Or that socks need to go in a certain direction? Kids thrive on success, so make achieving success easier by choosing simpler options. We opt for elastic pants that can be easily pulled on and off and skip the buttons and zippers altogether. Seamless socks are never on backward, and round bristle hairbrushes are always held in the correct orientation. As your child masters each skill, you can move on to more complex tools, but start simple and celebrate the successes!

Seek help from special needs therapists

Sometimes extra practice at home can only get you so far. Look at your child’s Individual Educational Plan and see if you can add more hours with an occupational therapist in order to work on more self-care skills.

RESOURCE

https://www.wonderbaby.org/articles/self-care-skills?utm_source=WonderBaby.org+Newsletter&utm_campaign=5fd5dfca22-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2022_09_20_01_30&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_dd1cd011f8-5fd5dfca22-428438333

Accessibility in Education and Learning Styles

By Linda Sanabria

There are approximately 61 million adults in the United States who are living with a disability. Of those 61 million, many are not receiving the quality education that they deserve. We review accessible education and learning styles.

What is accessible education?

“Accessible education” (also known as “accessible learning”) is “the process of designing courses and developing a teaching style to meet the needs of people from a variety of backgrounds, abilities, and learning styles.” Accessible education follows similar principles of web accessibility and other access-related standards and guidelines – maintain consistency, ensure effective communication, provide course-related materials in formats that can be understood, etc.

Essentially, poorly designed environments negatively impact accessibility and the student’s ability to learn.

Advocates of accessible education argue that the burden of equitable learning should be on those responsible for providing education rather than students. While most students with disabilities are very aware of their responsibilities to coordinate accommodations through their Disability Resource Office or Disability Services Office, Accessible education is a high-level approach to ensure equal access across the board. Think of it as Universal Design for education purposes, where creating accessible course content is a step towards improved access to learning for all students.

Obstacles impacting accessibility

Millions of Americans face barriers to accessible education. Those barriers can include speaking English as their second language (this includes students who speak ASL as their first language), a need for accessing course materials in braille, or having a learning style that requires a variety of classroom instruction. For example, students with dyslexia may benefit from audible learning materials. Students with ADHD may perform better if they have quiet places to learn, and persons with learning disabilities may comprehend the content better in specialized learning programs, experience greater success testing with additional time, or retain information better when education materials in alternative formats are provided, etc.

What’s important is that education systems have built-in flexibility to adapt to a student’s needs and learning styles.

Understanding learning styles

A learning style is a preferential way in which a student absorbs, comprehends, and retains information. Examples of learning styles include visual or spatial, auditory, verbal, and kinaesthetic. It’s possible to have multiple learning styles, and learning styles are neither static nor fixed.

Visual (spatial) learning

Visual learners best retain information when “colour, layout, maps, and images are used to drive a message.” Visual learners also have a good spatial sense.

There are a few techniques that can be implemented to help improve a visual learner’s accessibility to educational materials and ability to retain information. To help a visual learner, use mind maps with colours and pictures to replace text, incorporate different colour-coordinated pens when relaying information, create diagrams, and ask a visual learner to use visualization to picture a concept with their mind.

Visual learners comprehend information best by seeing and benefit from writing down the notes that they hear during a lecture so that they can visualize the information later.

Auditory learning

Auditory learners have a heightened sense of pitch and rhythm and like to work with sound and music. They learn best when listening, repeating things out loud, asking questions, and participating.

Improve accessibility for auditory learners by incorporating sound, rhythm, and music in their learning, or creating mnemonics or acrostics to the tune of a jingle or a part of a song.

Verbal learning

Verbal learners find it easiest to express themselves with both the written and spoken word and know the meaning of many words.

A few tricks to improve accessibility for verbal learners is to try techniques that involve speaking and writing (such as using recordings or talking oneself through procedures), role-playing, reading content aloud in a varied tone instead of a monotonous one, or creating a short script.

Kinaesthetic Learning Style

Kinaesthetic learners mainly use their sense of touch to intake information about the world around them. They usually prefer to engage in physical activities.

Educators can improve accessibility for kinaesthetic learners by incorporating touch, action, movement, and hands-on work for their learning activities, using physical objects as much as possible, encouraging flashcards to help memorize information, or finding ways to act out the material that they are learning.

Virtual simulators and interactive study devices are more helpful for kinaesthetic learners.

Learning styles and online education

Some students with disabilities may face significant challenges as a result of online learning. While visual learners may enjoy e-learning due to online curriculums providing visual information such as graphs, videos, and presentations, kinaesthetic learners, on the other hand, may struggle with online learning due to a lack of engagement. Then again, online learning can give the kinaesthetic learner a chance to move around freely during the lectures, which could potentially improve their ability to retain information. Auditory learners can excel in an online learning environment due to its emphasis on listening, but only if distractions are kept to a minimum.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the importance of learning styles may be secondary to accessible education. However, having an awareness of a students’ learning style, coupled with an emphasis on creating accessible education for all, educators can improve the likelihood that students will have the ability to successfully comprehend the information provided and obtain the education they need to live an independent life.

RESOURCE

https://www.accessibility.com/blog/how-learning-styles-impact-accessibility-in-education

Early Literacy Ideas for Students with Multiple Disabilities

by: Derya Uyar

I am a teacher at a school for the blind in Turkey and all of the students in my classroom have multiple disabilities (MDVI). They are between 12 and 15 years old, and all of them have challenges with communication, which has led to behaviour issues. I spent a year in the Educational Leadership Program at Perkins School for the Blind, where I learned many strategies that I am now trying with my students. At first the other teachers in the school doubted that these methods would work, but now many of them are using the same materials and ideas with their students too. I have seen real improvements already in just a few months!

Using Tactile Symbols Throughout the Day

Because the students are non-verbal or are just beginning to speak, I started by setting up a tactile symbol system for them. They can use the symbols to request something or to anticipate what activity will happen next. Whenever possible I tried to select objects that are part of an actual activity, such as bells for music or the top of a soap dispenser for going to the toilet. The objects or partial objects are mounted on cardboard, with a solid white background. Each card is labelled with print and braille, in addition to the object symbol. After a very short time the students have learned to associate these object symbols with activities throughout the day.

Board of tactile symbols Name symbols

Name Symbols

In addition to setting up tactile symbols for routine activities, we also have tactile symbol cards for each person. I observed each child, as well as the teachers, to see what was distinctive about them, so that I could choose a symbol that is associated with them. Sometimes this was easy. For example (photo above right), Esra wears glasses, so having a pair of glasses became her symbol. Another girl, Sara, always wears a beaded bracelet, so that became her name symbol. We use these name symbols to label each person’s chair or desk, as well as their shelf and locker. We also use the symbols when we write stories.

Establishing Predictable Routines

Every day when the students come into the classroom, the first thing they do is to review their schedule, which is a tactile calendar system. We then have morning meeting to talk about the events of the day, the weather, and who is here that day.

Setting Up Daily Calendars with Tactile Symbols

Each student has an individual calendar to let him or her know what activities will take place on any given day. These are kept in a predictable place, so that the student can locate their schedule and consult it throughout the day. Once an activity has been completed, they place the symbol card into a “finished” box to indicate that they are done. The example below shows a spoon for eating, a Lego for games, toilet paper for toilet, and a piece of fabric similar to her mother’s bag for “mom” or going home.

Tactile schedule Photo and tactile symbol cards for backpack

Labelling the Environment with Tactile Symbols

We use the tactile and photo symbols to label various locations in the environment. For example, in the photo (above right) we label the lockers where students keep their backpacks. In the photo on the right, we label the craft area with a glue stick. Having these places labelled promotes independence among the students and they are now able to go to a given location for an activity.

A glue stick on the back of the chair tells students where to sit for art projects A blue koosh ball on the back of the chair is the symbol for a particular student. Tactile symbol on chair

Each student’s chair is also labelled with his or her own tactile symbol. Again, having a predictable location and system enables students to be more independent.

Creating Tactile Books About Real Experiences

In the past these students had not been included in literacy activities, as it was believed that they were not able to learn braille. By using real objects and tactile symbols, paired with print and braille, we have started to create simple books about familiar objects and events.

Book about Morning Routine

Velcro is placed on the back of each item, so that as the book is read the child can find the named item and place it on the page. In these examples we use a comb, a bar of soap, and toothpaste in a book about the morning routine.

Page of tactile book

Every morning I wash my hands

Every morning I brush my teeth

Tactile Book About the Day

In this interactive book we also have Velcro on the back of each item, so that the students can find the symbol to fill in the book.

What did you do today? We had gym (sports) today

Books About Seasons

We just finished making a book about winter, with real objects related to winter attached to each page. We wrote sentences about winter in print and braille.

Winter book with glove Winter has come and the air is cold (ice cubes in baggie)  We wear warm coats (fabric swatch)

Every week we made new pages for the book and each student made his or her own page for example a piece of a sweater, an orange peel, and a stick for the month of December.

Pages about December by each student Student making page of book

RESOURCE

https://www.thesouthafrican.com/news/braille-trail-the-karoo-desert-national-botanical-garden-worcester-breaking-18-october-2022/

11 career readiness tips for people with visual impairment

Experts from Career Launch @ Perkins

Applying for a job can be a nerve-wracking experience. You’re ready to work and show off your talents. Employers are seeking candidates with the right combination of skills to bring to their teams. How can you ensure that you make the connection that will help you get the job? What does it take to prepare for the 21st-century workplace – especially if you’re blind or visually impaired?

The experts at Career Launch have some advice for building a strong foundation – of skills and confidence – that will help you get there.

1. Discover what you enjoy, and what you’re good at

We all do better when our work is interesting to us, and when it plays to our strengths. Now’s the time to do some reflection and research to see how your interests and strengths translate to career opportunities. Use this knowledge in your job search. You may not be able to get to that dream job quite yet, but you can start on a pathway that could bring you there.

2. Practice your self-advocacy skills

Throughout your working life, there will be times when you have to advocate for yourself. In some cases, this may have to do with your visual impairment – for example, you may have to advocate for better access technology in order to perform the functions of your job. In other cases, it may be for the same things your peers are after, such as a promotion or a transfer.

3. Hone your communication skills

Written and verbal communications are among the key skills employers look for. Practice now: when writing emails, keep them crisp and logical. In your verbal communications, be clear, concise, sincere and friendly. Developing these habits now will help you during internships, volunteer opportunities and in your job search.

4. Use critical thinking and problem-solving skills whenever you can

Life presents challenges big and small, all the time. Try to anticipate problems in advance. Practice relying on your own research and analysis skills to push through problems, rather than relying on others to solve them for you. And when the opportunity presents itself, try solving problems for your friends and family. It’s a great mindset to adopt.

5. Develop your office technology skills

Strong tech skills are essential for most of today’s jobs. Employers assume that people entering the workforce are already competent in common office productivity programs, including everything from email, calendar, word processing and spreadsheet applications to internet search, Google voice, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other collaboration apps. Many jobs also require employees to learn specialized programs such as customer relationship management (CRM) systems or human resources information systems (HRIS).

Good technical skills can get you hired and help you get the basics of the job done. Having great skills will make you efficient and effective – and ready to troubleshoot and learn the new software programs you’ll encounter in the workplace.

6. Become proficient in your access technology

If you will be using a screen reader, screen magnification, braille display, or other access tech when working on the computer, become as proficient as you can with it now. That way, you’ll have more time and energy to focus on the work itself once you’re on the job. Employers have expectations for productivity – so the less time you have to spend on navigating and accessing documents, the more likely you’ll be to meet those expectations.

7. Get your typing speed and accuracy up to at least 40 words per minute

It varies by job, but most employers will expect you to be able to type 40 or more words per minute. The higher your typing speed, the more jobs you will be able to qualify for. Basically, the faster and more accurately you type, the more productive you will be. And you’ll spend more of your time on the fun and valuable parts of the job: problem solving and projects.

8. Get comfortable with apps that will help you master your world

There are so many apps out there to empower and make life easier for people – of all abilities. Ride-sharing apps serve the general public but can be especially helpful when you’re blind or visually impaired. Others, such as visual interpreting apps and object identifier apps – including JAWS Convenient OCR and Voice Dream Scanner – are specifically designed to make day-to-day tasks more efficient for people with visual impairments. Take advantage of them!

Even if your goal is to work from home, learning how to use these kinds of apps will increase your independence and improve how you navigate your environment. Check out options for orientation and mobility, OCR, PDF scanning and accessible reading. As the saying goes, “There’s an app for that!”

9. Create a process for staying organized and managing your time and tasks

When you have a job, you’ll be responsible for independently managing your time and your tasks. Develop a process now for keeping a running to-do list, and practice using it to prioritize your tasks. Make it a habit to use your calendar for meetings and appointments – and make sure you’re always on time! Check your email at least twice a day and respond to all professional emails within 24 hours – even if it’s just to acknowledge receipt and let the person know when you anticipate being able to respond fully.

10. Start building your professional network

People build networks by developing authentic relationships with others, staying connected, and helping each other professionally. Make it your practice to connect on LinkedIn with people you meet – and then stay in touch. Over time, these connections can foster your career development: you’ll stay on top of job opportunities, get introductions, and receive mentoring and advice. And, ideally, you’ll be doing the same for your connections.

Aside from LinkedIn, peer networks on Facebook are another great place to make connections. Career Launchpad, a Facebook group moderated by the Career Launch team, is a safe space where people with visual impairments who are navigating the workplace can share their experiences. Come share your challenges, tips and success stories!

11. Remember to say thank you!

This advice is simple, tried and true: say thank you. It’s always important to send personalized notes or messages to express gratitude to someone for taking time out of their busy schedule to meet with you. Whether you connected with someone at a networking event, interview or somewhere you were invited to present, following up with a “thank you” goes a long way.

With these 11 tips, you’re on your way to being well-prepared for the workplace.

RESOURCE

https://www.perkins.org/11-career-readiness-tips-for-people-with-visual-impairment/#main

PARENTS’ NETWORK LETTER

November 2022

Editor: RETHA STASSEN

Contact details: E-mail: retha.work@gmail.com Cell no/SMS/WhatsApp: 082-442-0467

Dear parents, teachers, and other interested persons

All of us are probably amazed at the speed with which 2022 flew. We wish you a peaceful, meaningful holiday season and we hold thumbs for all the learners who will be writing exams.

Please contact us for feedback or suggestions for future issues. Kindly distribute this publication to any person/s who might benefit and send addresses of possible new subscribers to the editor. All versions of the Parents’ Network Letters since 2014, as well as an index of articles for easy reference, are available on http://blindsa.org.za/publications/. Thanks to Nokuzola Nges-Mavubengwana, this network letter is translated into Xhosa since August 2021 and BlindSA also converts it to audio format. Please let us know if there is a need for translation into other languages. We also remind you about the dedicated BlindSA webpage about early childhood development at https://blindsa.org.za/early-childhood-development/.

In this issue: There are some helpful tips for teaching ADL (activities of daily living) to children with blindness or multiple disabilities. Five learning styles are explained, and a teacher give excellent examples of ways to enhance early literacy skills for children with communication challenges. Lastly there are practical tips for the learners who will complete their schooling and try to find jobs.

“A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person

with a certain set of attitudes.” – Hugh Downs, Veteran Journalist

Developing Self-Care Skills in Children with Disabilities

Amber Bobnar

Editor’s note: The article was slightly shortened. Links to products are available on the website from which this article was taken – see resource below. More tips and information about ADL is available on https://blindsa.org.za/2022/03/25/helping-my-visually-impaired-child-to-develop/

Most children naturally develop basic self-care skills as they grow and explore the world around them. However, for children with disabilities, this process can be more challenging. While it can be tempting to do things for your child, especially when you see them struggling with a task, it’s important to allow your child to be as independent as possible.

Self-care skills are important for every child to learn, but they can be especially empowering for children with disabilities. By teaching your child how to care for themselves, you’re helping them to gain independence and confidence.

What are Examples of Self-Care Skills?

Four basic categories of everyday life skills, sometimes referred to as activities of daily living (ADLs), are considered a part of self-care:

Hygiene

Personal hygiene is defined as good health habits that help maintain cleanliness and protect against infection and illness. Children typically learn hygiene skills through modelling and instruction from parents and caregivers. It’s important to start teaching hygiene skills early, as kids are more likely to develop good hygiene habits if they learn them at a young age.

Some basic hygiene skills that children should be taught include washing their hands properly, brushing their teeth, bathing independently, and covering their mouths when they sneeze or cough. It’s also helpful to provide simple explanations of why certain hygiene behaviours are important, like explaining that hand washing can help prevent the spread of germs.

Dressing

Dressing is an essential life skill that helps children develop self-sufficiency and confidence. Learning to dress and undress not only builds independence but also gives your child a sense of personality as they develop preferences for certain colours, textures, or styles. Dressing is also an important social indicator as kids create their own style and learn to fit in with friends at school.

Toileting

Potty training is a basic self-care task that causes anxiety for most parents, but parents of young children with special needs can find toileting especially difficult. Learning to use the bathroom without assistance is a huge skill and a big first step toward independence. There are many factors involved in potty training a special needs child, from recognizing and communicating the need to go to the bathroom to independently standing to pull up pants. Any skills mastered while potty training is an accomplishment worth celebrating!

Feeding

Self-feeding is another basic self-care skill that can boost a child’s confidence and independence. Self-feeding can also help children develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

As children age, self-feeding skills will include using different utensils, cutting food independently, making simple meals, and even packing their own lunch box for school.

Why might children with disabilities struggle with self-care skills?

All kids are different and develop at their own pace, but this is even more true for those with special needs. Depending on your child’s specific diagnoses and challenges, some aspects of self-help skills may be easy and others much harder to achieve.

Fine and Gross Motor Limitations

Many children with special needs and disabilities have problems with fine and gross motor development. This can impede their ability to perform everyday tasks like brushing their teeth or buttoning their shirt.

Fine motor skills involve the use of small muscles, such as those in the hands and fingers, to perform tasks like writing or picking up small objects. Gross motor skills involve the use of large muscles, such as those in the legs and arms, to perform tasks such as standing, walking, or running.

Sensory Processing Difficulties

Many children with special needs experience difficulties with sensory processing. This refers to the ability to take in, organize, and respond to information from the senses. For some children, this can mean that they are over-sensitive to certain stimuli, while others may be under-sensitive.

As a result, children with sensory processing issues often have trouble with daily living activities like eating, dressing, or bathing. In addition, they may be easily distracted or have difficulty paying attention, making it harder to learn new skills.

Limited Motor Planning

Children with special needs may also have difficulty with motor planning, meaning that they have trouble figuring out how to move their bodies to complete an action. This can be due to a number of factors, including muscle weakness, poor coordination, brain disorders, and sensory processing issues.

For example, a child with limited motor planning might have trouble putting on a shirt or bringing a spoon to their mouth because they find it challenging to plan out the specific movements necessary to complete the action. While all children go through a period of development where they are learning how to control their own bodies, children with special needs often have greater difficulty with this process.

Low Motivation

We might not want to admit it, but sometimes our kids with disabilities aren’t advancing in their development because we do too much for them. It’s often easier for us parents to just put on our children’s shoes, get them dressed, and feed them ourselves. And the reverse of this equation is that it’s also easier for our children to let us do things for them. Take a step back when you can and see if your child can find more motivation to learn important skills. They may surprise you!

At What Age Should My Child Master Self-Care Skills?

All children develop independence at their own rate, but it’s also good to know when kids should generally achieve self-care skills and reach their developmental milestones. According to the Centre for Speech, Language, Occupational Therapy, and Applied Behaviour Analysis, between the ages of 18 months and 8 years, parents should see significant advances in self-care skills.

The chart below will let you know if your child is displaying self-care difficulties and what areas you need to focus on:

Age Hygiene Dressing Toileting Feeding
18 months Following simple directions to hold out arm or leg when dressing Showing discomfort when wet, sitting on the potty with supervision Finger feeding small bites and drinking from sippy-cup
2 years Washing hands and brushing teeth with assistance Removing socks, pants, shirts without fasteners Needs help getting to the potty, but having fewer accidents Eating with a spoon, drinking with a straw
3 years Hand washing independently, washing face Dressing with assistance, unzipping zippers, fastening large buttons Mostly independent on the potty, may need help with wiping and dressing Stabbing food with a fork
4 years Brushing teeth, washing face, brushing hair independently Dressing and undressing independently Fully potty trained Mostly feeding independently, needs help cutting food
5 years Needs help bathing picking out clothes, tying knots and laces Cutting food with a knife
8 years Bathing fully independently Preparing simple meals, packing lunch boxes independently

 7 Tips for Promoting Self-Care Skills for Children with Disabilities

Give lots of opportunities to practice self-care tasks

When teaching your child self-care skills, it’s essential to provide them plenty of opportunities to practice the new tasks they are learning. At-home or school-based therapy sessions allocate time with a professional to go over skills, but actually performing a task in real-life conditions is very different. For example, when my son was working on his walking skills, he would walk back and forth in his physical therapy sessions, but this didn’t really hold much meaning for him. Having him walk from his bedroom to the dining room for breakfast, on the other hand, was much more meaningful and motivating.

Try to create a daily routine or schedule that allows lots of extra time to work on self-care. If you’re focusing on hygiene, be sure to give yourself extra time in the bathroom for hand washing or cleaning teeth so your child can do as much independently as possible without feeling rushed.

Follow routines and a daily schedule

Speaking of routines, stick to them! Create a visual or tactile schedule for your child to follow so they know what to expect and, most importantly, what tasks they will have to complete on their own. As your child becomes more independent, the goal is that they will be able to consult the calendar themselves and finish tasks without being asked.

We’ve used object calendars with my son for years now, and they are great accessible tools to establish the routine for the day. Object calendars use real objects to represent tasks or activities, like a toothbrush to represent teeth cleaning or a cup to represent drinking. These objects are glued to small cardboard rectangles that can be stuck to a larger board with velcro.

You can also add large print or braille to the objects if your child is learning to read. You can make these yourself or use the Standardized Tactile Augmentative Communication Symbols Kit (STACS) From APH, which are easier to use and standardized.

Break down a task into simpler and easier parts

Breaking down a task into simpler and easier parts can make big life skills seem less overwhelming. Occupational therapists will often suggest forward chaining or backward chaining, referring to the process of breaking up a task into small parts, then teaching the easiest part first.

For example, instead of teaching your child to brush their teeth all at once, you could break this up into

  • holding a toothbrush,
  • wetting the toothbrush,
  • squeezing toothpaste onto the toothbrush,
  • moving the toothbrush in a circular motion on the teeth.

These skills build in complexity, so this is considered forward chaining, where each skill gets more difficult and builds toward completing the task.

Some tasks begin with more refined physical control required, then build to easier movements, so in that case, you would utilize backward chaining and teach the last step first.

Utilize adaptive equipment when possible

There are a number of products designed to help people with disabilities complete basic self-care tasks. From adaptive utensils to three-sided toothbrushes, if it can make life easier, use it!

If your child is struggling to perform a particular task or is having difficulty tolerating certain seams or textures, there’s a pretty good chance someone has created a product to help solve that problem. Check out this list of our favourite tools for teaching self-care skills!

Have necessary materials available during daily tasks

If your child is practicing a new skill, make sure that they have everything they need within reach. For example, if they are learning to brush their teeth independently, set a small toothbrush caddy on the bathroom sink with their toothbrush and toothpaste together. Make things as easy for your child as you can! If they often knock things over while performing a task, opt for containers with Suction cups or magnets or add velcro to objects so they stay in place and are easily accessible.

Promote independence with simple materials

Who says pants need to have buttons? Or that socks need to go in a certain direction? Kids thrive on success, so make achieving success easier by choosing simpler options. We opt for elastic pants that can be easily pulled on and off and skip the buttons and zippers altogether. Seamless socks are never on backward, and round bristle hairbrushes are always held in the correct orientation. As your child masters each skill, you can move on to more complex tools, but start simple and celebrate the successes!

Seek help from special needs therapists

Sometimes extra practice at home can only get you so far. Look at your child’s Individual Educational Plan and see if you can add more hours with an occupational therapist in order to work on more self-care skills.

RESOURCE

https://www.wonderbaby.org/articles/self-care-skills?utm_source=WonderBaby.org+Newsletter&utm_campaign=5fd5dfca22-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2022_09_20_01_30&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_dd1cd011f8-5fd5dfca22-428438333

Accessibility in Education and Learning Styles

By Linda Sanabria

There are approximately 61 million adults in the United States who are living with a disability. Of those 61 million, many are not receiving the quality education that they deserve. We review accessible education and learning styles.

What is accessible education?

“Accessible education” (also known as “accessible learning”) is “the process of designing courses and developing a teaching style to meet the needs of people from a variety of backgrounds, abilities, and learning styles.” Accessible education follows similar principles of web accessibility and other access-related standards and guidelines – maintain consistency, ensure effective communication, provide course-related materials in formats that can be understood, etc.

Essentially, poorly designed environments negatively impact accessibility and the student’s ability to learn.

Advocates of accessible education argue that the burden of equitable learning should be on those responsible for providing education rather than students. While most students with disabilities are very aware of their responsibilities to coordinate accommodations through their Disability Resource Office or Disability Services Office, Accessible education is a high-level approach to ensure equal access across the board. Think of it as Universal Design for education purposes, where creating accessible course content is a step towards improved access to learning for all students.

Obstacles impacting accessibility

Millions of Americans face barriers to accessible education. Those barriers can include speaking English as their second language (this includes students who speak ASL as their first language), a need for accessing course materials in braille, or having a learning style that requires a variety of classroom instruction. For example, students with dyslexia may benefit from audible learning materials. Students with ADHD may perform better if they have quiet places to learn, and persons with learning disabilities may comprehend the content better in specialized learning programs, experience greater success testing with additional time, or retain information better when education materials in alternative formats are provided, etc.

What’s important is that education systems have built-in flexibility to adapt to a student’s needs and learning styles.

Understanding learning styles

A learning style is a preferential way in which a student absorbs, comprehends, and retains information. Examples of learning styles include visual or spatial, auditory, verbal, and kinaesthetic. It’s possible to have multiple learning styles, and learning styles are neither static nor fixed.

Visual (spatial) learning

Visual learners best retain information when “colour, layout, maps, and images are used to drive a message.” Visual learners also have a good spatial sense.

There are a few techniques that can be implemented to help improve a visual learner’s accessibility to educational materials and ability to retain information. To help a visual learner, use mind maps with colours and pictures to replace text, incorporate different colour-coordinated pens when relaying information, create diagrams, and ask a visual learner to use visualization to picture a concept with their mind.

Visual learners comprehend information best by seeing and benefit from writing down the notes that they hear during a lecture so that they can visualize the information later.

Auditory learning

Auditory learners have a heightened sense of pitch and rhythm and like to work with sound and music. They learn best when listening, repeating things out loud, asking questions, and participating.

Improve accessibility for auditory learners by incorporating sound, rhythm, and music in their learning, or creating mnemonics or acrostics to the tune of a jingle or a part of a song.

Verbal learning

Verbal learners find it easiest to express themselves with both the written and spoken word and know the meaning of many words.

A few tricks to improve accessibility for verbal learners is to try techniques that involve speaking and writing (such as using recordings or talking oneself through procedures), role-playing, reading content aloud in a varied tone instead of a monotonous one, or creating a short script.

Kinaesthetic Learning Style

Kinaesthetic learners mainly use their sense of touch to intake information about the world around them. They usually prefer to engage in physical activities.

Educators can improve accessibility for kinaesthetic learners by incorporating touch, action, movement, and hands-on work for their learning activities, using physical objects as much as possible, encouraging flashcards to help memorize information, or finding ways to act out the material that they are learning.

Virtual simulators and interactive study devices are more helpful for kinaesthetic learners.

Learning styles and online education

Some students with disabilities may face significant challenges as a result of online learning. While visual learners may enjoy e-learning due to online curriculums providing visual information such as graphs, videos, and presentations, kinaesthetic learners, on the other hand, may struggle with online learning due to a lack of engagement. Then again, online learning can give the kinaesthetic learner a chance to move around freely during the lectures, which could potentially improve their ability to retain information. Auditory learners can excel in an online learning environment due to its emphasis on listening, but only if distractions are kept to a minimum.

Conclusion

Ultimately, the importance of learning styles may be secondary to accessible education. However, having an awareness of a students’ learning style, coupled with an emphasis on creating accessible education for all, educators can improve the likelihood that students will have the ability to successfully comprehend the information provided and obtain the education they need to live an independent life.

RESOURCE

https://www.accessibility.com/blog/how-learning-styles-impact-accessibility-in-education

Early Literacy Ideas for Students with Multiple Disabilities

by: Derya Uyar

I am a teacher at a school for the blind in Turkey and all of the students in my classroom have multiple disabilities (MDVI). They are between 12 and 15 years old, and all of them have challenges with communication, which has led to behaviour issues. I spent a year in the Educational Leadership Program at Perkins School for the Blind, where I learned many strategies that I am now trying with my students. At first the other teachers in the school doubted that these methods would work, but now many of them are using the same materials and ideas with their students too. I have seen real improvements already in just a few months!

Using Tactile Symbols Throughout the Day

Because the students are non-verbal or are just beginning to speak, I started by setting up a tactile symbol system for them. They can use the symbols to request something or to anticipate what activity will happen next. Whenever possible I tried to select objects that are part of an actual activity, such as bells for music or the top of a soap dispenser for going to the toilet. The objects or partial objects are mounted on cardboard, with a solid white background. Each card is labelled with print and braille, in addition to the object symbol. After a very short time the students have learned to associate these object symbols with activities throughout the day.

Board of tactile symbols Name symbols

Name Symbols

In addition to setting up tactile symbols for routine activities, we also have tactile symbol cards for each person. I observed each child, as well as the teachers, to see what was distinctive about them, so that I could choose a symbol that is associated with them. Sometimes this was easy. For example (photo above right), Esra wears glasses, so having a pair of glasses became her symbol. Another girl, Sara, always wears a beaded bracelet, so that became her name symbol. We use these name symbols to label each person’s chair or desk, as well as their shelf and locker. We also use the symbols when we write stories.

Establishing Predictable Routines

Every day when the students come into the classroom, the first thing they do is to review their schedule, which is a tactile calendar system. We then have morning meeting to talk about the events of the day, the weather, and who is here that day.

Setting Up Daily Calendars with Tactile Symbols

Each student has an individual calendar to let him or her know what activities will take place on any given day. These are kept in a predictable place, so that the student can locate their schedule and consult it throughout the day. Once an activity has been completed, they place the symbol card into a “finished” box to indicate that they are done. The example below shows a spoon for eating, a Lego for games, toilet paper for toilet, and a piece of fabric similar to her mother’s bag for “mom” or going home.

Tactile schedule Photo and tactile symbol cards for backpack

Labelling the Environment with Tactile Symbols

We use the tactile and photo symbols to label various locations in the environment. For example, in the photo (above right) we label the lockers where students keep their backpacks. In the photo on the right, we label the craft area with a glue stick. Having these places labelled promotes independence among the students and they are now able to go to a given location for an activity.

A glue stick on the back of the chair tells students where to sit for art projects A blue koosh ball on the back of the chair is the symbol for a particular student. Tactile symbol on chair

Each student’s chair is also labelled with his or her own tactile symbol. Again, having a predictable location and system enables students to be more independent.

Creating Tactile Books About Real Experiences

In the past these students had not been included in literacy activities, as it was believed that they were not able to learn braille. By using real objects and tactile symbols, paired with print and braille, we have started to create simple books about familiar objects and events.

Book about Morning Routine

Velcro is placed on the back of each item, so that as the book is read the child can find the named item and place it on the page. In these examples we use a comb, a bar of soap, and toothpaste in a book about the morning routine.

Page of tactile book

Every morning I wash my hands

Every morning I brush my teeth

Tactile Book About the Day

In this interactive book we also have Velcro on the back of each item, so that the students can find the symbol to fill in the book.

What did you do today? We had gym (sports) today

Books About Seasons

We just finished making a book about winter, with real objects related to winter attached to each page. We wrote sentences about winter in print and braille.

Winter book with glove Winter has come and the air is cold (ice cubes in baggie)  We wear warm coats (fabric swatch)

Every week we made new pages for the book and each student made his or her own page for example a piece of a sweater, an orange peel, and a stick for the month of December.

Pages about December by each student Student making page of book

RESOURCE

https://www.thesouthafrican.com/news/braille-trail-the-karoo-desert-national-botanical-garden-worcester-breaking-18-october-2022/

11 career readiness tips for people with visual impairment

Experts from Career Launch @ Perkins

Applying for a job can be a nerve-wracking experience. You’re ready to work and show off your talents. Employers are seeking candidates with the right combination of skills to bring to their teams. How can you ensure that you make the connection that will help you get the job? What does it take to prepare for the 21st-century workplace – especially if you’re blind or visually impaired?

The experts at Career Launch have some advice for building a strong foundation – of skills and confidence – that will help you get there.

1. Discover what you enjoy, and what you’re good at

We all do better when our work is interesting to us, and when it plays to our strengths. Now’s the time to do some reflection and research to see how your interests and strengths translate to career opportunities. Use this knowledge in your job search. You may not be able to get to that dream job quite yet, but you can start on a pathway that could bring you there.

2. Practice your self-advocacy skills

Throughout your working life, there will be times when you have to advocate for yourself. In some cases, this may have to do with your visual impairment – for example, you may have to advocate for better access technology in order to perform the functions of your job. In other cases, it may be for the same things your peers are after, such as a promotion or a transfer.

3. Hone your communication skills

Written and verbal communications are among the key skills employers look for. Practice now: when writing emails, keep them crisp and logical. In your verbal communications, be clear, concise, sincere and friendly. Developing these habits now will help you during internships, volunteer opportunities and in your job search.

4. Use critical thinking and problem-solving skills whenever you can

Life presents challenges big and small, all the time. Try to anticipate problems in advance. Practice relying on your own research and analysis skills to push through problems, rather than relying on others to solve them for you. And when the opportunity presents itself, try solving problems for your friends and family. It’s a great mindset to adopt.

5. Develop your office technology skills

Strong tech skills are essential for most of today’s jobs. Employers assume that people entering the workforce are already competent in common office productivity programs, including everything from email, calendar, word processing and spreadsheet applications to internet search, Google voice, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and other collaboration apps. Many jobs also require employees to learn specialized programs such as customer relationship management (CRM) systems or human resources information systems (HRIS).

Good technical skills can get you hired and help you get the basics of the job done. Having great skills will make you efficient and effective – and ready to troubleshoot and learn the new software programs you’ll encounter in the workplace.

6. Become proficient in your access technology

If you will be using a screen reader, screen magnification, braille display, or other access tech when working on the computer, become as proficient as you can with it now. That way, you’ll have more time and energy to focus on the work itself once you’re on the job. Employers have expectations for productivity – so the less time you have to spend on navigating and accessing documents, the more likely you’ll be to meet those expectations.

7. Get your typing speed and accuracy up to at least 40 words per minute

It varies by job, but most employers will expect you to be able to type 40 or more words per minute. The higher your typing speed, the more jobs you will be able to qualify for. Basically, the faster and more accurately you type, the more productive you will be. And you’ll spend more of your time on the fun and valuable parts of the job: problem solving and projects.

8. Get comfortable with apps that will help you master your world

There are so many apps out there to empower and make life easier for people – of all abilities. Ride-sharing apps serve the general public but can be especially helpful when you’re blind or visually impaired. Others, such as visual interpreting apps and object identifier apps – including JAWS Convenient OCR and Voice Dream Scanner – are specifically designed to make day-to-day tasks more efficient for people with visual impairments. Take advantage of them!

Even if your goal is to work from home, learning how to use these kinds of apps will increase your independence and improve how you navigate your environment. Check out options for orientation and mobility, OCR, PDF scanning and accessible reading. As the saying goes, “There’s an app for that!”

9. Create a process for staying organized and managing your time and tasks

When you have a job, you’ll be responsible for independently managing your time and your tasks. Develop a process now for keeping a running to-do list, and practice using it to prioritize your tasks. Make it a habit to use your calendar for meetings and appointments – and make sure you’re always on time! Check your email at least twice a day and respond to all professional emails within 24 hours – even if it’s just to acknowledge receipt and let the person know when you anticipate being able to respond fully.

10. Start building your professional network

People build networks by developing authentic relationships with others, staying connected, and helping each other professionally. Make it your practice to connect on LinkedIn with people you meet – and then stay in touch. Over time, these connections can foster your career development: you’ll stay on top of job opportunities, get introductions, and receive mentoring and advice. And, ideally, you’ll be doing the same for your connections.

Aside from LinkedIn, peer networks on Facebook are another great place to make connections. Career Launchpad, a Facebook group moderated by the Career Launch team, is a safe space where people with visual impairments who are navigating the workplace can share their experiences. Come share your challenges, tips and success stories!

11. Remember to say thank you!

This advice is simple, tried and true: say thank you. It’s always important to send personalized notes or messages to express gratitude to someone for taking time out of their busy schedule to meet with you. Whether you connected with someone at a networking event, interview or somewhere you were invited to present, following up with a “thank you” goes a long way.

With these 11 tips, you’re on your way to being well-prepared for the workplace.

RESOURCE

https://www.perkins.org/11-career-readiness-tips-for-people-with-visual-impairment/#main

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