Supporting the ECC: What’s a Family to Do?

Authors: Christopher Tabb, Statewide Orientation and Mobility Consultant (COMS), Outreach Program, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI)

Keywords: Expanded Core Curriculum, family, transition, 18 Plus Program, EXIT Program, Texas Workforce Commission, summer transition programs, adult services, collaboration, problem-solving skills

Abstract: Christopher Tabb, Statewide Orientation and Mobility Consultant, defines the term Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) and discusses ways that families can take on an active role in supporting the development of these skills for their children with visual impairments.

What is the Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC)?

In a nutshell, the ECC is a group of skills in nine areas that young people who are blind, low vision, and deafblind need in order to be independent adults able to pursue their interests in the world. These areas are typically not taught in a formal sense to sighted individuals; they are typically learned incidentally through watching others. Many of these ECC skills are geared toward accessing information or the environment in ways that sighted peers typically do not. Here’s the list of the nine areas of the ECC: Assistive Technology, Career Education, Compensatory Skills, Independent Living Skills, Orientation and Mobility (O&M), Recreation and Leisure, Self-Determination, Sensory Efficiency, and Social Interaction Skills. Orientation and mobility skills are an example of those skills that sighted individuals typically do not need to learn. 

The ECC was established to provide instruction in areas that students who are blind or have low vision would not generally develop due to not having direct, visual access to allow them to learn incidentally. Teaching Social Interaction Skills might look like providing instruction in how to play. We typically do not “teach” children how to play, but for young people who cannot visually model what others are doing, may not see the way to join a game in action, or initiate a conversation with peers, providing deliberate “specially designed instruction” can help students develop these skills. Other areas of the ECC, such as compensatory skills (e.g. braille, listening skills) and O&M (e.g.cane skills, safe travel), may include the use of special tools and strategies. A student’s peers, siblings, teachers, and adult family members may not be aware of such specialized skills and equipment. They may all benefit from instruction in their use. You can find resources on each area of the ECC at the author’s ECC livebinder, Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) Resources

How Many Hours in the Day?

Though all students have the general curriculum to learn, students who are blind or have low vision also need to learn the skills of the ECC; unfortunately, they do not have any more than the same 24 hours in a day that their sighted peers have. This can obviously create additional stress for the students, their families, and their teachers and school district. One option that some families and students choose is to attend school longer than the typical twelve years. For some, this amounts to what is often called an 18 Plus Program. In other words, students may complete all their requirements for graduation within twelve years but may still need some instruction in the expanded core areas. It’s important to explore the 18 Plus programs offered in your local school district or at TSBVI to consider if these ECC services are needed for your student.  

There are so very many things in the ECC that translate to independence: independent living skills such as cooking, laundry, and organizational skills; assistive technology (AT) skills that might be used with less support in college or vocationally for employment; mobility skills for accessing transportation to and from work or college campuses. The EXIT (Experiences In Transition) program at TSBVI is an example of a program designed to meet some of those needs for students in this transition age. Additionally, there are transition programs offered by the Texas Workforce Commission/Vocational Rehabilitation Services (TWC/VR) to address these needs if you are over the age of 14 years old, have already signed up, and have an open active case with them. Students should also contact their TWC Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor to find out more information about the summer transition programs they offer and adult services available after graduating high school. 

There are also families and students who choose not to stay in their local special education program for additional instruction after graduation. Whatever the decision is for students, there are things that can facilitate the acquisition of skills that will allow students to reach their full potential in adult life.

What Can We Do?

Collaboration across all members of the IEP Team, in the school environment as well as at home and in the community, is one tried and true way to increase success for students. When learning opportunities are provided across settings to reinforce concepts and skills, everyone wins. This takes team communication so that everyone is working together to reinforce the skills and concepts a student needs. Sometimes this is as simple as using common language, such as everyone agreeing to use the word jacket instead of coat, wrap, or outerwear. Whatever language or concept the student is learning, everyone should use the same language when interacting with the student, making it more likely that the student can acquire the language as well as the concepts and skills associated with that language. 

There are also ways to share what is happening across environments. Using video recordings of the student is a great way to document what is working well and what is challenging. As an example, it may be that at home, a young person is able to tie their shoes with only minimal prompting, but at school, this same skill is not being observed. Videos of the successful process at home and the more challenging process at school can generate ideas on how the success at home can be generalized to the school environment. This same example can be used for demonstrating independence with travel, working with technology, setting the table, carrying out routines where the student demonstrates independence, or any number of other skills.

What If I Never Learn to Do the Things My Child Will Have to Do or Learn Them In the Ways They Will Have to Do Them?

There are many skills that students who are blind or have low vision need to learn that many of their adult family members have never tried. This may be something like taking a city bus, using a white cane for previewing the travel path, filling up a glass of water non-visually, or even putting toothpaste on a toothbrush using tactile skills. Working with your student’s Teacher of Students with Visual Impairments (TVI) and/or their Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS), you may be able to arrange some personal training time for family members to develop and master skills using a blindfold or low vision simulator. You can also practice doing some simple activities in a non-visual way based on instructions given by your student; it is an amazing experience when they get to share what they know! You might try setting the table and thinking about how you will orient yourself to each position at the table and how to keep track of where you have already been. Are there sounds that can help you, such as hearing other activities that are happening in the kitchen? These types of activities will help you learn how things can be accomplished so you will know what may be helpful for your young person when they are learning. How can you tell where the corners of the sheets are when you are making the bed? How can you tell when you have reached your house when walking around the block? Is there a unique mailbox, fence, or even an uneven sidewalk that serves as a good landmark? Your adult problem-solving skills can be a treasure trove to share with your child!

On occasion, training is offered through school districts, Education Service Centers (ESC), or TSBVI for family members to learn and develop skills they can model for young people. There are also family organizations such as the Texas Association for Parents of Children with Visual Impairments (TAPVI), Texas Parents of Blind Children (TPOBC), Family Lynx at TSBVI, and the National Parents of Blind Children (NOPBC). There are also websites such as Vision Aware, the Hadley School, and the Braille Institute that have video trainings, articles, or blog posts that provide adult examples of ways to learn independent living skills. 

Another collection of parent articles is available at Vision Impairment and Deafblind Quarterly, and there are more ideas and resources on ways for families to support O&M Growth. 

I hope this article empowers families to explore available resources in order to enhance their understanding of the concepts and skills of the Expanded Core Curriculum. Mastery of ECC skills will promote independence and confidence, and ultimately, it will help create successful young adults.

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