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Prepared by Evelyn P. Kelso, M.A., Educational Consultant, ATECH/ASSETT, New Hampshire
Reprinted with permission from in touch, Summer 2002, the Newsletter of the New England Center Deafblind Project

Children with deafblindness or multiple disabilities tend to experience the world as it exists within their immediate reach (Miles, 2000). Many of these children may have some residual vision and/or hearing. However, the combination of this dual sensory impairment limits the extent of interaction they have with people, access to information about events and objects at a distance, incidental learning acquired just by seeing and hearing, and development of meaningful concepts about home, school, and community. School teams must assess these children differently from other students to effectively address their unique learning needs.

Successful assessments should include:


  • Incorporate active family involvement throughout the assessment process.
  • Interview the family regarding their priorities, immediate goals, and long term dreams.
  • Include family input in planning assessment activities.
  • Use family members to facilitate some assessment activities, as they are familiar and trusted by the child.
  • Give attention to any family concerns that remain following assessment.


  • Assessment of the child across natural settings (i.e. home, classroom).
  • Selection of a variety of familiar, everyday activities where different skills can be assessed.
  • Use of a transdisciplinary team approach in which educational team members share knowledge from their areas of expertise for other team members to incorporate in their practice.
  • Follow-up team assessment by using information to plan the educational program.
  • Focus IEP goals and short-term objectives on behavioral skills to be developed or expanded.
  • Conduct ongoing assessment throughout the school year, with changes to the IEP made as the child masters critical skills (short-term objectives).


  • Base interactions on data in most recent vision and hearing reports. Select toys or other objects that use the child's preferred colors, textures, and sounds. Present the objects in the positions where the child has the best vision and hearing. After the child is engaged, move the toys to varying positions to assess any response.
  • Use the child's current communication program if one exists. Interpret the child's changes in behavior as communication, and prolong the exchange to learn more about how the child communicates.
  • Select a single team member to act as activity facilitator to decrease the number of people with whom the child will interact.
  • Choose activities based on family routines.
  • Include components that apply to classroom instruction and appropriate age level activities.
  • Ask the child to make choices, follow steps in a routine, or indicate what comes next in an activity.
  • Embed critical skills within activities to assess the child's level of understanding and response. Does the child initiate activity? What level of support or prompts are needed? What is the child's response if the routine is changed or sabotaged? What kind of choice-making is shown?
  • Create a report in which team members contribute to one comprehensive final document based on areas assessed. The report should include ideas for planning and educational programming.


  • Social/Communication: (Vocalizations, gestures, eye gaze, changes in movement, alertness, verbalizations, signing.) What methods does the child use for receptive and/or expressive communication? How does the child use these? How does the child respond to the assessment facilitator, parent, peer? i.e. cues, verbal requests, pauses for turn-taking.
  • Sensory/Motor: What are the child's likes/dislikes? tolerance for different types of sensory input? willingness to explore new, unfamiliar sensory input? How does muscle tone affect the child's ability to participate in activities? (Motor planning? Stamina? Reach and grasp?) What supports and physical modifications are used and what are the results of each? What positioning works best for stabilization, comfort and greatest range of motion?
  • Functional Vision: Does the child appear to have useful remaining vision? What focusing and tracking patterns are present? How does the child use near vision? distance vision? What is observed about the visual field—use of central or peripheral viewing? Do visual fields appear to be intact? Does the child look at an object while interacting with it or look away, and then act? Does the child show color preferences? preference for movement rather than still objects? Are eyeglasses or low vision aids recommended? tolerated? in use? What is the child's preferred learning mode: visual, auditory, or tactual?
  • Functional Hearing: Is the child aware of sound? Does s/he alert to sound, orient to sound, localize sound, isolate a specific sound in the presence of other sounds? Does the child respond to a selected sound among other sounds? Does the child appear to use hearing to respond during the assessment—to voice? music? speech? Are hearing aids recommended? tolerated? in use?

All of these areas need to be assessed because they are interrelated in their influence on the child's ability to make sense of the world. Accurate functional data on vision and hearing is particularly critical since it is the combined effect of the dual sensory impairment that requires instructional approaches differing from either vision or hearing strategies. Only when the child is assessed in settings where s/he is familiar with the facilitators, routines, and materials will s/he have the opportunity to respond in a way that gives a true indication of developmental/cognitive level. The child will demonstrate competencies and areas where skills are emerging or as yet undeveloped. The more accurate the assessment of the child, the more effective will be the next steps toward greater meaning and participation at home, school and in the community.

Miles, B. (2000) Overview of Deaf-Blindness, DBLink, Revised July 2000.

This article was prepared as a partial requirement of the New England Center Deafblind Project/Summer Institute 2001. The information compiled here represents an outline of the information presented by Dr. Jennifer Grisham-Brown (University of Kentucky), Patty Mason (South Shore Educational Collaborative), Debbie Gleason (Perkins School for the Blind), Vicki Wilson (Perkins), and Darick Wright (Perkins).