Using a Schedule with Your Child Who Is Visually Impaired and Has Multiple Disabilities
All of us are busy. You may use a wall calendar, day planner, daily list, or personal digital assistant (PDA) to keep track of your appointments throughout the day, week, and month. By glancing at your calendar, you’re able to see what you’ve done, what you’re planning to do next, and what comes after that. Your calendar provides structure to your time and some order to your life. For your child who has a visual impairment and multiple disabilities, using a calendar or schedule will likewise allow her to understand what she is going to do next, then after that, and then after that. This, in turn, will help her better understand the structure of the day overall and give her a sense of predictability in her life.
Your child’s calendar or schedule may use symbols—pictures or objects—to represent the activities in her day, rather than numbers and words. If she does many of the same things each day, she will learn to associate the symbol for each activity with the event. When you hand her the object or point to the picture, she will understand what is going to happen. For example, if you give her a washcloth, she will know it’s time to take her bath. Using the symbols on the calendar, she can also express to you what she’d like to do next, or she can use the symbols to have a conversation with you about her day. In these ways, a calendar promotes your child’s understanding of and participation in the events that make up her life. It gives her the ability to know what is going to happen next, a power she may not have had before, and can help her feel more in control and independent.
Setting Up a Calendar or Schedule
There are many ways to set up a calendar or schedule for your child with a visual impairment and additional disabilities. The system will be more useful and effective if the same system is used both at home and in school. Therefore members of her educational team need to decide together what type of system to set up for your child, the symbols to be used, and a procedure for using the calendar. Input from a speech-language therapist or communication specialist will be valuable, as will insight from your child’s teacher of students with visual impairments.
Among the things to consider in setting up a calendar or schedule system are these:
- What events should be shown on the calendar and what symbols should be used to represent them?
- Should real objects, partial objects, pictures of objects, print, or braille be used? Should a combination of two or more of these be used? In selecting a symbol to represent an activity, such as taking a bath, think about what symbol is meaningful to your child. A picture of a faucet may not have meaning to her unless she enjoys helping to turn on the bath water. Instead, a picture of her favorite bath toy may be more motivating to her and help her make the association that the picture on the calendar represents going upstairs to take a bath.
- Children understand real objects before they understand representations of them such as pictures, print, or braille. Discuss with other members of her educational team what level of understanding your child is at so appropriate symbols can be selected for her calendar.
- The appropriate symbols will change over time as your child learns to recognize them. For example, in the beginning, an actual spoon may be used to symbolize dinner time, then a picture of a spoon, and finally the word “dinner” in braille.
- A variety of formats or techniques can be used to create the calendar. A number of boxes placed side by side can each hold one object representing one activity in the day’s events. Or objects can be attached to a board or a chart with Velcro. Pictures can also be placed on a chart on a wall or a table using tape, Velcro, or some other kind of fastener.
How many events should be on the calendar? The number of events each child can take in at once will vary. In the beginning, three or four symbols may be all your child can absorb at one time, so you might have one calendar for before school, a different one for the time after school until dinner, and a third for after dinner until bedtime.
Where should the calendar be kept? The calendar will be most useful if it is kept in a location where it is convenient and accessible for your child. If she spends a lot of time in the living room and kitchen, then place it in one of these rooms. If she uses a wheelchair, you may want to use a portable system that is kept on her wheelchair so it is accessible no matter where she is.
What happens when an event is finished? Just as you show your child the symbol on the calendar before each event and talk about what she’ll be doing next, it is important to return to the calendar to “finish” the event once it is over. Different methods can be used to indicate that an activity is finished. You might have a basket in which your child places the symbol, or she might pull a cloth over the symbol on the calendar to show that it is done. It is important for her to return to the calendar when an event is finished and then to look to see what event comes next in order to help her develop an understanding of the day’s progression.
Many children need significant time to learn how a calendar system works. It is through repetition and experience that this learning occurs. Don’t be discouraged if it takes your child months, or even years, to fully understand the calendar system. Continued communication with other team members and periodic evaluation of the symbols being used and the routines built around their use is important.