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Fall 2006 Table of Contents
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It Takes a Team to Teach Independent Living Skills

By Eva LaVigne, Education Specialist and Kate Moss, Statewide Staff Development Coordinator, TSBVI

Abstract: The first in a series of four articles discussing the importance of teaming to teach independent living skills to students with visual impairment.

Key Words: Programming, visually impaired, blind, deafblind, independent living skills, teaming, Expanded Core Curriculum

Editor's Note: This is the first article in a series about the importance of teaching independent living skills, including specific strategies for parents and teachers. We are very interested in hearing from our readers about their experiences (both successes and challenges) in teaching these skills to students with visual impairments and deafblindness. Please send your documentation forms; ideas for teaming and identifying/teaching skills; and successes working on daily living skills to Kate at <katemoss@tsbvi.edu>.

Unless you are an unusually rich and spoiled prince or princess, there are some things you need to learn to do for yourself, or at least be able to manage for yourself, if you want to be a part of mainstream life. If you are visually impaired, learning to do some of these basic things requires systematic instruction. The "National Agenda for the Education of Children and Youths with Visual Impairments, Including Those with Multiple Disabilities" lists nine areas as part of an expanded core curriculum that is needed for any student with visual impairments. These areas are: compensatory or functional academic skills (reading, writing, math, etc.); orientation and mobility; social interaction skills; recreation and leisure skills; career education; technology; self-determination; visual efficiency skills; and independent living skills. It defines independent living skills as "all the tasks and functions persons perform, in accordance with their abilities, in order to lead lives as independently as possible. These curricular needs are varied, as they include skills in personal hygiene, food preparation, money management, time monitoring, organization, etc." (Hatlen, 1996)

Almost no one would dispute the necessity of learning independent living skills. The reality of teaching these skills in current school environments, where great emphasis is placed on academic subjects, is that too often many of these skills are "introduced as splinter skills, appearing in learning material, disappearing, and then reappearing." (Hatlen, 1996) Systematic instruction in independent living skills often seems an unachievable goal. The `when' and `where', not to mention the `how', of instruction is a real challenge for VI professionals, most carry big caseloads, who must provide instruction in less than ideal environments on typical school campuses. Still, these skills can and must be taught. To do it well, we think it requires a team.

Who's On the Team?

Ideally a team is made up of the student, the student's family, and the VI professionals (TVI, COM, Rehabilitation Teacher). Depending on the individual situation, special and regular educators may also play an important team role. The student and family are key players since they need to be able to identify priority skills areas, and commit energy to practicing skills daily in real-life settings. The VI professionals need to carve out time for individual instruction with the student, and/or coordinate with other educators and professionals to see that skills are taught using appropriate adaptive techniques. The regular and special educators need to make sure that learned skills are applied in all school settings, and give necessary feedback about the student's progress to the student, family, and VI professionals.

What Does the Team Do?

Determine priority areas

The first task for the team is to determine priority areas for instruction. What are the skills that are most important for the student to learn at any point in time? To a large degree, only the family and the student can say. Each family has its own dynamic. If you don't believe us, just tune in to an episode or two of Wife Swap. In one family it may be very important for the children to participate in a variety of chores and take care of many of their own basic needs such as making a snack, choosing their clothing, grooming and dressing themselves, and keeping their things organized. In other families, there may not be as much emphasis placed on younger family members doing these things. Unless the family supports the instruction that takes place at school, the student with visual impairments probably won't be highly motivated, or get enough practice or praise to achieve real levels of independence in a particular skill.

Evaluate

Once priority areas are identified, the VI professionals should see that there is a thorough evaluation of the student's current skills. That way the team can find an appropriate starting point, and guide the development of skills along a continuum. For example, you wouldn't start out having the child learn to button his shirt if he didn't have the necessary fine motor skills or he couldn't yet take off his shirt. There are a variety of assessment tools available. Some of these include assessments/checklists found in: Independent Living Skills: A Curriculum with Adaptations for Students with Visual Impairments (Loumiet and Levack, 1993); Basic Skills for Community Living: A Curriculum for Students with Visual Impairments and Multiple Disabilities (Levak et al, 1996); "Student Performance Indicators (SPI)" developed by Region 13 ESC <http://www.tsbvi.edu/Education/spi.rtf>; Addressing Unique Educational Needs of Individuals with Disabilities: An Outcome Based Approach (Frey et al, 1991); or Functional Skills Screening Inventory (Becker et al, 1984).

Determine When Instruction and Practice Can Take Place

Some of the adaptive techniques a student may need to accomplish an independent living task have to be taught initially in a one-on-one pullout situation. Once the technique has been taught, the opportunity to practice skills usually can be embedded in activities throughout the day in a variety of school and community settings. For example, the TVI might teach the student strategies for identifying money and organizing it in a wallet during an individual lesson. The family, teachers, and paraprofessionals who interact with the student most are the ones who are most likely to support the student in practicing the skills in the cafeteria, on a field trip, at the grocery store, and at home. They are also the ones who will be most often in a position to insist that the student practice these skills in these settings. This helps the student more readily understand how that skill can make life easier and help him fit in with his peers.

Some skills, like cooking and cleaning, may be easier to teach in a home setting. If the TVI cannot regularly access a kitchen at school, perhaps a Vocational Rehabilitation Teacher from DARS Division for Blind Services (DBS) may be able to teach more advanced cooking skills in the home. However, the TVI may be able to collaborate with a home economics teacher to provide instruction during the school day. Every type of skill the student needs to learn can be taught, but some brainstorming will be needed to figure out when and where.

When it comes to practicing skills, everyone has a role to play. Family members should identify activities for practice in the home, and have the expectation that the student will be responsible for completing activities using these skills. Regular and special education teachers also need to systematically identify opportunities for skills practice within the context of the daily classroom routine. Some skills are easier than others to infuse, but with good team planning and collaboration almost any skill can be practiced multiple times every day.

If the family's priority is learning better skills for eating, evaluation might reveal that the student needs to focus on eating different food in an efficient and acceptable manner. The TVI might work with the student to teach some particular strategies, such as finding food on the plate, or using a fork to eat meat and vegetables while using a spoon for items such as pudding, ice cream, or soup. The TVI would also make sure the parents and other adults who are with the student during the rest of the day know what strategies the student needs to use. At home the parents may try introducing new foods, perhaps by having the child help to prepare the food item or by asking him to "try one bite." They might also ask the child to locate the food items on his plate before beginning to eat, and suggest which utensil to use on each one. The general education teacher might oversee the student during lunch to see how well the student can use these skills independently in the cafeteria or during snack time. If the teacher is planning a unit about a particular country, good nutrition, or plants and animals, opportunities to learn about and try new foods might be included in these units. Planning how each team member will support the goal is a very important part of the process.

Document and Share Progress

An effective team will also have a plan for documenting progress and sharing that information with other team members. The more each team player is aware of what the student can and cannot do, the better they will be able to support him/her. They can also encourage the student and help build his/her self-esteem as goals are accomplished. Some teams may want to start a journal to share progress notes. Other teams may use other types of documentation of skills such as a Skills Matrix (see example below).

Skills Matrix
Skill Lunch Science Math P.E. Home
Measure dry ingredients using a cup, half-cup, Tablespoon, teaspoon + measured sugar with tsp. + w/ Tbs. & tsp. - had trouble with 1/2 c. line   + used c. and 1/2 c. in recipe
From memory, select appropriate coins for familiar vending machine + id. quarters to purchase chips from vending machine + found quarters in change to buy coke on field trip   + 2 quarters and dime for chips - confuses nickel & quarter at coke machine
Use a brush, comb, or pick to style own hair.       - needed assistance with pocket comb + brushed hair on his own this AM

It is also powerful if the school and family can videotape examples of the student working on independent living skills. This serves to provide feedback to the whole team, and highlights successes and problems the student may be having in generalizing the skills that he/she has learned.

Teaching independent living skills may be challenging in many of our school environments, but it is also critical for our students with visual impairments. Better instruction and practice can take place if there is a team approach to planning, evaluation and, instruction.

Resources and Readings

Becker, H., Schur, S., Paoletti-Schelp, M., & Hammer, E., (1984). Functional Skills Screening Inventory, Austin, TX: Functional Resources Enterprises, Inc.

Frey, W., Lynch, L., Jakwerth, P., & Purcell, R. (1991). Addressing Unique Educational Needs of Individuals with Disabilities: An Outcome Based Approach. Lansing, MI: Disability Research Systems.

Hatlen, P. (1996). The Core Curriculum for Blind and Visually Impaired Students, Including those with Additional Disabilities. TSBVI Website, <http://www.tsbvi.edu/Education/corecurric.htm>.

Levack N., Hauser, S., Newton, L., & Stephenson, P. (Eds.). (1996). Basic Skills for Community Living: A Curriculum for Students with Visual Impairments and Multiple Disabilities. Austin, TX: TSBVI.

Loumiet, R., & Levack, N. (1993). Independent Living Skills: A Curriculum with Adaptations for Students with Visual Impairments. Austin, TX: TSBVI.

Region 13 Education Service Center. "Student Performance Indicators (SPI)". <http://www.tsbvi.edu/Education/spi.rtf>.


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