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From Winter 97 issue

Let Me Check My Calendar

by Robbie Blaha, Education Specialist
and Kate Moss, Family Training Specialist, TSBVI Deafblind Outreach

One of the typical modifications recommended for many children with deafblindness is the use of some type of calendar system. While these devices are very effective, often times parents and even the professionals can be unsure about how the calendars should be used and even why the calendars are needed.

What is a calendar system?

The term "calendar system" typically brings a device: a dayrunner, a wall calendar, a van Dijk calendar box. A device or time piece is an important part of any calendar. Using a calendar program with a child also supports the development of communication, provides emotional support and power, as well as, teaches abstract time concepts and vocabulary.

Why use a calendar system?

There are a number of reasons a calendar system is often recommended for a child with deafblindness. The calendar system provides emotional support to the child in the following ways:

Another very important reason a calendar is used is that it helps in the development of communication skills in the following ways:

A calendar is also invaluable in developing time concepts because:

Before you begin a calendar

Before you begin a calendar system, a student's individualized communication program must be in place, that is, appropriate goals and objectives must be determined. If you aren't clear about what you want the child to do (i.e., request, reject, initiate a conversation, use object cues, etc.) you cannot develop a calendar dialogue, pick appropriate symbols, etc.

Activity routines must also be developed so that you have something to represent in the calendar. Don't start a calendar until these two things are in place.

When these two things are done, the time frame must be selected that is appropriate to represent to the child. Although there are five time frames typically used in calendar systems this article will look at only two of these which are called "anticipation calendars" and "daily calendars".


The child who uses an anticipation calendar

You would begin with an "anticipation" level calendar if a child is demonstrating only a very basic understanding of the activities which you want to represent in the anticipation calendar. The following are traits typical of a child at this level of calendar usage:

Designing the time piece

The child at the anticipatory level has a past that consists of the activity he has just completed. His future is the activity about to take place. You will need a container (the time piece) to represent both the future and past activity. It is important to make these two containers different from each other (i.e., a green bowl for the future, and a red plastic basket for the past).

Selecting symbols for the anticipation calendar

It is important to select an object which the child has consistently responded to or correctly used in a favorite activity. The child must have had a meaningful experience with this object in the context of an activity before he can recognize it out of context (i.e., in the calendar system).

It is helpful to select an object for the calendar that is only used in that specific activity. For example, a child might use a small plastic cup in snack time, lunch time, while brushing his teeth, and during water play. Using this cup as a symbol for water play may be confusing to the child. Each activity must be represented by an object that is unique to that activity.

Developing the calendar routine

Interacting with the child through his calendar becomes a routine in itself. These are some considerations for developing this "calendar routine" :

Basically the flow of the calendar routine is this: present the object to the child; perform an action with the object; proceed immediately to the activity; and when the activity is completed; let the child drop the object in the finished basket.

Expanding the anticipation calendar

The time piece can be altered to depict an expanded future and accommodate a pair of objects by dividing it in half. Several symbols can be placed on a shelf. As a rule, the activity on the left is done first since left to right is a common format for calendars.

Increasing distance in time and space between the presentation of the object and the activity can stretch the student's attending abilities, expand his concept of "future", and make the object symbol more representational. For example if you are currently presenting the object in the future basket when he is one foot away from where the activity takes place, does he seem to understand it when you present it at a distance of 3-4 feet away from activity?


The child who uses a daily calendar

Most of the time a child will start with an anticipation calendar and then move to the next level which is the daily calendar. However, some children may be able to go directly to a daily calendar system. Looking for evidence of the following traits in the child's interactions will help you make this decision.

Calendar design

The calendar design has to teach the child that each section represents a piece of time. The divisions between sections must be very clear to the child visually and tactually. The design also has to represent time in a sequence. This activity happens first, this activity happens next, and so on. A variety of materials can be used to make these calendars: coffee cans, a slotted box, plastic baskets hooked together, etc. as long as they represent these two features. Just be sure that they are stable and don't move. The design needs to be sturdy and stable so that the child will not destroy it when he explores the calendar.

As a rule of thumb, the child should be able to easily feel the entire length of the calendar by placing her left hand on one end and her right hand on the other end. Calendars that are too long can be very confusing to the child. The individual sections of the calendar should also be a little larger than the child's hand.

The calendar needs a way to show "past." This can be done either with a "finished" basket or a clothe drape over a section. It can also be helpful to highlight the "present" activity by placing a piece of red tape in front of the current section, marking it tactually, etc. The "future" is represented by the slots to the right of the present activity marker.

As each routine is completed the child will pull a drape over the section of the calendar containing the symbol for that activity or place it in a "finished" basket.

Remember that the calendar needs to be set up in a consistent place so the child can easily locate it. This device is a large part of his communication system and he needs to be able to get to it when he has something to say.

Selecting symbols for the daily calendar

Kids who are using these calendars may be using objects, parts of objects, pictures, tactual symbols, print symbols, or some combination of these forms. These will be presented in conjunction with sign, speech, and/or touch cue depending on their individual communication IEP. For students using signs, and/or speech you will need to tie time vocabulary to the device. For example, when you pull the cloth flap over a completed activity symbol you could sign the word "finished". When you reference the present activity you would use the vocabulary "now". Vocabulary for "future" activities would be "wait" or "later."

Once these signs or words are mastered additional vocabulary can be introduced. It is important to think about the vocabulary you want to introduce and be consistent. For students who sign I would use "past" and "future." For students who are verbal you may consider other standard time concepts such as "yesterday", "Wednesday", etc., but avoid clever terms like "hump day".

Calendar dialogue

Remember,the calendar should improve interactions between you and the child, so don't do all the talking. Build in opportunities for the child to take a turn. Respond to the child's lead by observing what he seems to find interesting or motivating in the symbol. Make comments by acting out motions you make with the object, pointing out characteristics of the object such as texture or shape, or confirming what the child tells you about the object (e.g., "Yes, stir with the spoon.")

Designing the calendar routine

Basic Skills for Community Living published by TSBVI offers the following regarding routines:

"The routine for the daily calendar should be done in the same consistent manner each time. An example of a routine might be:

(Levack, et al, 1994)

Expanding the calendar

When the student understands the calendar routine, you can begin to expand its use in dialoging with the student. What follows are some strategies you may want to try:

Calendar systems are incredibly beneficial to children with deafblindness or who are visually and multiply disabled. However, to be effective,they must be matched to the student, designed appropriately, and used effectively. You may contact TSBVI Outreach if you need some help in setting up your calendar or using it correctly with your child or student. We can also be of assistance if your child is ready to use a more advanced calendar system.

References and Resources

Bates, E., Camaioni, L., & Volterra, V. (1975). The acquisition of performatives prior to speech. Merril-Palmer Quarterly, 21, 3, 205-226.

Blaha, R., & Rudin, D. (1981). Teaching time concepts through the use of concrete calendars. Unpublished.

Bloom, L., & Lahey, M. (1978). Language development and language disorders. New York: Wiley and Sons.

Flavel, J. (1985). Cognitive development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Levack, N., Hauser, S., Newton, L. and Stephenson, P. (Eds.) (1994). Basic skills for Community Living: a curriculum for students with visual impairments and multiple disabilities. Austin, TX: Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired, 290.

Newman, S. E., & Hall, A. D. (1988). Ease of learning braille and Fishburne alphabets. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 82, 4, 148-149.

Prelanguage curriculum guide for the multihandicapped. (1979). Colorado springs, CO: Colorado School for the Deaf Blind.

Ratner, N., & Bruner, J. (1977). Games, Social exchanges and the acquisition of language. Journal of Child Language, 5, 391-401.

Rowland, C., & Schweigert, P. (1990). Tangible symbol systems: Symbolic communication for individuals with multisensory impairments. Tuscon, AZ: Communication Skill Builders.

Shafrath, M. R. (1986). An alternative to braille labeling. Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 80, 10, 935-956.

Sopers, M. R. (1971). The deaf-blind child. Institut Voor Doven, Sint Michielsgestel, Holland.

Sternber, L., Battle, C., & Hill, J. (1980). Prelanguage communication programming for the severely and profoundly handicapped. Journal of the Association of the Severely Handicapped, 5, 3, 224-233.

Stillman, R., & Battle, C. (1984). Developing prelanguage communication in the severely handicapped: An interpretation of the van Dijk method. Seminars in Speech and Language, 5, 3, 159-169.

Stillman, R., & Battle, C. (1987). Promoting preverbal communication exchanges. Presentation made at the Second Annual Statewide Deaf-Blind Multiply-Handicapped Conference, Austin, TX.

Writer, J. (1987). A movement-based approach to the education of students who are sensory-impaired multihandicapped. In L. Goetz (ed.) Innovative program design for individuals with dual sensory impairments. Baltimore: Paul Brooke.

van Dijk, J. (1966). The first steps of the deaf-blind child towards language. The Education of the Blind, 112-j115.

van Dijk, J. (1968). The non-verbal child and his world: His outgrowth toward the world of symbols. Verzamelde Studies I Institut Voor Doven, Sint Michielsgestel, Holland.

van Dijk, J. (1986). An educational curriculum for the deaf-blind multihandicapped persons. In D. Ellis (Ed.) Sensory impairments in mentally handicapped people. London: Croom-Helm, Ltd.

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