Instructional Approaches and Learning Theory

Educators use various approaches for teaching students who have multiple disabilities. This section features links to current teaching methods: the Van Dijk and the Active Learning Approaches, as well as important information for creating environments that enhance learning.

Van Dijk Approach

An Educational Curriculum for Deaf-Blind Multi-Handicapped Persons
National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness
Dr. Jan van Dijk describes his educational approach, including the topics of attachment and the development of communication.

Overview of the van Dijk Curricular Approach
National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness
Dr. Stephanie MacFarland, who specializes in training teachers of students with multiple disabilities, outlines van Dijk's learning theory for children who are deafblind.

The Work of Jan van Dijk, a webcast series
Perkins eLearning, Perkins School for the Blind
This tutorial presents 2 webcast interviews with Dr. van Dijk, in which he explains and demonstrates his educational theories. Continuing education credits are available.

Active Learning Approach

Active Learning Training Events
Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired (TSBVI)
TSBVI will offer a series of webinars focusing on Active Learning during the 2013-14 school year. Information on joining this study group can be found at this link.

Active Learning and the Blind, Multiply Disabled Child
Future Reflections, 23(2), Nov. 2004, National Federation of the Blind (NFB)
This is an excerpt from Dr. Lilli Nielsen's book, Early Learning Step by Step: Children with Vision Impairment and Multiple Disabilities. It outlines her Active Learning Approach and explains the importance of the learning environment.

The Active Learning Approach: Using the Resonance Board and the Little Room with Young Blind and Multiply Disabled Children
Future Reflection, 31(4), 2012, National Federation of the Blind (NFB)
Educator Gigi Newton tells a personal story of how she moved from rejecting Lilli Nielsen's Active Learning Theory to becoming a self-described "groupie" of her methods.

Connecting with Jimmy
Future Reflections, 25(2), Summer 2006, National Federation of the Blind (NFB)
Sue Elan Holmes writes "about her experience with the Little Room, and what the Active Learning approach has meant for her son, Jimmy."

Hold Everything! Twenty "Stay-Put" Play Spaces for Infants, Preschoolers and Developmentally Young Children With Sensory Impairments and Other Special Needs
Ohio Center for Deafblind Education
Authored by Kay L. Clarke of the Ohio Center for Deafblind Education, this downloadable booklet includes detailed instructions for creating structures for safe and independent play.

An Introduction to Dr. Lilli Nielsen's Active Learning
Future Reflections, 24(1), Winter/Spring 2005, National Federation of the Blind (NFB)
Stacy Shafer outlines some of Dr. Lilli Nielsen's recommendations for designing a learning environment for a child with visual impairments and multiple disabilities.

Lilli Nielsen and Active Learning
National Consortium on Deaf-Blindness(NCDB)
NCDB hosts a portal page on their website with an overview on the work of Dr. Lilli Nielsen, with links to key resources, some of which are also listed here.

LilliWorks Active Learning Foundation, of Alameda, CA, is the sole source of Active Learning equipment authorized by Dr. Lilli Nielsen in North America.

Space for Active Learning
Washington Sensory Disabilities Services
Video resources can be highly informative, especially when explaining Space for Active Learning (SAL). On this page, you'll find 3 videos demonstrating various types of SALs. (For best results, use Internet Explorer to view Videos). Be sure to also read the FAQ page offered here.

What my Daughter Taught me About Active Learning--or, Whose Goal is it Anyway?
Future Reflections, 25(1), Winter/Spring 2006, National Federation of the Blind (NFB)
Jean Bugbee shares her experiences using the Active Learning Approach with her adopted daughter, Renee.


Web-Based Organizations and Internet Resources

Conversations: A Personal Reflection About Deafblindness
Perkins eLearning Webcasts
Author/educator Barbara Miles offers strategies for making connections with students who are deafblind that replicate the elements of conversation. In a related webcast, Miles speaks specifically on Hands & Touch and the roles that hands play in conversation.

"LilliWorks" is the provider of Dr. Lilli Nielsen's specially designed Active Learning Equipment for North America, and also educates and consults on Active Learning topics.

Dr. Jan van Dijk
Features a weblog with updates on research and publications, and a forum of experts that respond to questions about education of children with deafblindness.

Sensory Activities: Experiences to Improve Communication and Literacy
Perkins eLearning Webinar
A recording of Faye Gonzalez's 2014 presentation on integrating sensory and literacy activities to improve communication skills.

Teaching Strategies for Students Who Are Visually Impaired with Additional Disabilities Including Deafblindness
Perkins eLearning Tutorial
A collection of Perkins eLearning's most popular webcasts and webinars, packaged into one self-directed learning experience. Earn 10 ACVREP Credits through the topics of CHARGE, Deafblindness, Communication, Literacy, Touch, and Vocational Readiness.

Environmental Considerations 

Assessing the Instructional Environment to Meet the Needs of Learners With Multiple Disabilities Including Students who are Deaf-Blind, Deaf-Blind Perspectives (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)
This newsletter article by Bonnie L. Utley (page 5) includes an environmental checklist, with sections on therapeutic positioning and lighting.

Creating Communication Rich Environments
California Deaf-Blind Services
Elizabeth Hartmann focuses on three main aspects of environments in this article (page 3): space, people, and time. Giving each appropriate attention "make them more conducive to meaningful communication" for children with deafblindness.

Structuring the Environment
Deafblind International
Tony Best explains the educational importance of understanding, structuring, and controlling the environment for children who are deafblind.