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Spring 2006 Table of Contents
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Issues in Deafblindness:  When the IEP Is Aligned with the General Curriculum

By Robbie Blaha, Deafblind Specialist, Texas Deafblind Outreach
With help from Kate Moss, Deafblind Specialist, Texas Deafblind Outreach

Abstract:  Students with deafblindness who participate in the general education curriculum face some unique challenges.  This article discusses these issues and proposes some strategies for addressing these concerns.

Key words:  Programming, deafblind, general education curriculum, intervener, concepts, IEP

Who are we talking about?

Though instruction for many students with deafblindness is focused more on life skills or functional skills, some students with deafblindness are in regular education classes or a combination of regular and resource classes. These are the students we are focusing on in this article. They are learning from the general education curriculum, and are presented the same concepts as their peers, even though they may not have the ability to deal with these concepts similarly because of the impact of their deafblindness.  Even in resource classes, which typically have fewer students and curricular content at least two years below grade level, there are some important considerations for the student with deafblindness.

Things to consider:

There are a number of considerations for students with deafblindness who are participating in the general education curriculum, even if they are working below grade level.

Access to information

“For a student with deafblindness, the combined effects of the vision and hearing loss create a barrier that significantly impedes the ability to gather information from the environment. This causes chronic difficulties with incidental learning and concept development. Students cannot learn what they do not detect, and they may be unaware of what they are missing. Access to information is a primary issue for all students with deafblindness, and should be addressed in each IEP.” (From IEP Quality Indicators for Students with Deafblindness - <http://www.tsbvi.edu/Outreach/deafblind/indicators.htm>)

Rate of instruction

In either regular education classes or in resource classes, the typical rate of instruction can occur too rapidly for the student with deafblindness to completely process it. Additional processing time is a requirement for this student to be able to gather and interpret information. For students with normal vision and hearing, this process occurs spontaneously.

Unfamiliar concepts

The Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS, comprise the state-mandated curriculum that establishes what every student, from elementary school through high school, should know and be able to do. (TEA website, 2006.)  When providing instruction related to TEKS, teachers can present information that the student with deafblindness may not have the background to understand. For example, a lesson in Texas History can cover a period of time in the 1840’s when cattle drives were common through northern

Texas. In order to find meaning in this lesson, the deafblind student needs to understand the concepts of an event occurring 160 years ago, that the map of Texas represents a state he lives in, the meaning of the word “drive” as it is used in cattle drive, and what the terms “cattle” and  “herd” mean.  He would also probably need to know why any one would want to drive cattle from one place to another.  This lesson, like most that take place in general education curriculum, would progress at an alarming rate with ever more complex information being shared, and make it very difficult for the deafblind student to keep up.

An additional problem occurs when the teacher clarifies new information being offered in a lesson by using what would be familiar examples for the typical students, but may not be for the student with deafblindness.  For instance, the science teacher presents oxidation as a “chemical change brought about by exposure to oxygen” and uses rust on an old car as an example of slow oxidation.  While the example helps the class better understand the new information, the student with deafblindness is unfamiliar with rusty cars. Rather than clarifying the new information, the example has just increased the amount of unfamiliar information the student has to juggle in the class.

Adaptations, accommodations and/or modifications cannot completely resolve these problems

The student’s IEP adaptations, accommodations and/or modifications may include large print, an FM system, frequent comprehension checks, preferential seating, reduced assignments (meaning 10 vocabulary words rather than 20) and assistance from an intervener.  While all of these are critical in assisting the student to gather information, there is still a demonstrated need for the curriculum to be modified.  The modification of the curricular content may involve reducing and prioritizing the information that the student is responsible for learning.  The goal is for the student to have the information that provides a useful working knowledge of the curricular content.

Concerns about the “other stuff” the student does not know

There is ongoing evidence that the student with deafblindness is lacking a body of information that may be considered an extension of the expanded core curriculum that is taught to students with visual impairments.

Basic environmental/cultural facts:  Other students possess an incredible amount of knowledge about their immediate environment and teen culture that would be very useful for the student with deafblindness.  The student may not know, but would benefit from knowing things like: What is a mall? Who is Lance Armstrong?  What are some popular bands/songs that teens like? How do you buy a soda at school?

Social skills that encourage good relationships: Many deafbind students miss out on basic social skills that other nondisabled students get incidentally.  Examples of these skills include such things as:  How do you greet people (peers, adults, strangers)? Where do you sit in the cafeteria if you want your peers to interact with you? How do you respond if a classmate tells you that she has been sick?

Self advocacy skills:  deafblind students need to know how to get other people’s support in gaining access to the environment and to learning.  They need specific instruction in self-advocacy.  Examples of these skills include things like: how do I explain to others how to use my fm system, or let the teacher know that he or she needs to turn the microphone on or off?  How do I ask a peer to give me sighted-guide so I can get through the crowd at the pep rally?  How do I let someone know I don’t understand the instructions on a test?

WHAT CAN GO WRONG?

There are many things that can happen to prevent the student with deafblindness from appropriately accessing the general education curriculum in these settings.  Here are some problems we often see:

What should happen?

To gain a useful bank of information from the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), there are a variety of things that should be considered. First of all, the amount of information the child will be taught needs to be reduced by prioritizing critical concepts.  Separate lesson plans need to be developed to teach underlying concepts that support learning the general curriculum.  In addition, the student must have instruction in critical concepts and skills that build relationships, independence, and an understanding of the world around them.

How do we make that happen?

1. Modify the general curriculum.

2. Select the appropriate items from the expanded core curriculum.

3. Resolve logistical considerations.

4. The IEP is written to specify how all of the above areas will be addressed and by whom.

Conclusion

A student with deafblindness who participates in the general education curriculum, either in general education classes or resources classes, has very complex challenges in accessing the curriculum and benefiting from these programs.  For the student to be successful both academically and socially, the supports provided and the content of the program need to be well orchestrated by the student’s educational team.  Providing the student with an intervener may be necessary. However, the intervener needs to be part of a coordinated team effort, and not given the total responsibility for figuring out and implementing that support for the student.  Providing support to the student in general education settings can be incredibly challenging, but if done well can lead to excellent outcomes for a student with deafblindness.

References

TEA website, 2006. TEKS and TAKS,   http://www.tea.state.tx.us/ssc/teks_and_taas/teks_and_taas.htm


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