By Courtney Tabor-Abbott
When a child without a visual impairment interacts with others in the home, at school, and in the community, she is constantly observing the activities of others. A young child watches the way her father makes a sandwich. She watches her friends playing volleyball at recess and is able to join in. When she goes out to a restaurant, she sees people bussing tables, preparing food, and seating guests. She is constantly learning about how the world works by watching others. For students with vision, visual observation is a key component of learning.
When a child has a visual impairment, the process is different. A child may eat the sandwich her father made her, but in order to understand how the sandwich was made or to make one herself, she will need to be taught. She may want to join her friends in a game at recess, but will need someone to take the time to explain to her how the game is played. She will enjoy a meal at a restaurant, but will not independently notice the workers there. Because students with vision impairments do not observe the world around them with their eyes, they take in information through other senses and means. Oftentimes, learning essential concepts and skills requires intentional and specific instruction in order to be absorbed and applied.
The Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) is designed for this purpose. The ECC is a curriculum developed specifically for students who are blind or visually impaired, with or without additional disabilities. Designed to accompany and extend beyond a school’s core academic curriculum, it addresses numerous skill areas in which a student who is blind or visually impaired should receive specific teaching. Teaching in the ECC covers areas such as social skills, orientation and mobility, and self-determination. Receiving instruction in areas of the ECC makes it possible for a student to access a school’s core curriculum, and gives students the skills they will need to thrive both in and out of the classroom. The ECC presents skills that should be addressed from birth, up through a child’s school age years and beyond. Skills can be addressed by any number of individuals involved in a student’s learning, including a teacher of students with vision impairments, orientation and mobility instructor, family member, or classroom teacher. The Expanded Core Curriculum contains 9 components:
Assistive technology refers to both high and low-tech devices and strategies that better enable a student to communicate, access information, or participate in activities.
Compensatory skills are the skills that a student with a vision impairment needs in order to access the core curriculum. These skills can include modes of reading and communication, accessing braille or large print, and organization/study skills.
This skill component refers to activities of daily living, including meal preparation, personal hygiene, and money skills.
Sensory efficiency refers to a student’s ability to use senses of hearing, vision, touch, smell, and taste to learn about and adapt to the world. This also includes a student’s sense of balance and awareness of where her body is in space.
This ECC component addresses interpersonal relationships, use of dialogue and conversation, understanding body language, and recognizing appropriate boundaries and social cues.
Career education involves developing career awareness, exposing potential career options, and developing work skills through various work experiences.
This refers to a student’s understanding of her environment and her ability to travel through it safely. Skills in this area may involve understanding various indoor and outdoor environments, white cane and other adaptive travel skills, and use of public transportation.
Self determination refers to a student’s ability to make choices and decisions, to utilize skills of assertiveness and self advocacy, and to practice setting and working toward personal and professional goals.
The recreation and leisure component of the ECC encourages a student to develop an understanding of various options for leisure and enjoyment so that students can make choices that fit their interests. This may involve learning about and participating in sports, music, art, or other recreational activities in a student’s community.
The Expanded Core Curriculum can be tailored to students of all ages and ability levels. Instruction in the ECC can happen during or outside of the typical school day. Some instructional activities tie specifically to one ECC component or another, as braille instruction ties to compensatory skills or participating in a work experience ties to career education. However, the ECC allows for creativity in instruction. A student learning to make a sandwich with her parents is practicing independent living skills of meal preparation and sensory efficiency as she explores the textures and smells of the food she is working with. A student learning to play a new game at recess is learning about recreation and leisure, practicing social interaction skills with her classmates, using orientation and mobility skills as she learns to move safely around the playground, and perhaps even learning about assistive technology with a ball that beeps or jingles as it is passed. When a student goes to a restaurant, she practices orientation and mobility skills as she gets safely to her seat, independent living skills as she eats her meal, and career education skills as she learns about the various workers in the restaurant and what they do. The ECC can be interwoven into many activities that students, families, and teachers do every day.
When a student leaves high school, she is expected to have a grasp of academic subjects such as Math, Science, and Language Arts. For a student who is blind or visually impaired with or without additional disabilities, learning these academic subjects would be difficult without instruction in ECC areas such as assistive technology and compensatory strategies (braille reading skills, etc.) Furthermore, having the skills to live and work as adults will also require instruction in the ECC in areas such as independent living and career education. Receiving instruction in the Expanded Core Curriculum better prepares students for a transition to adult life, whether that life involves work, post-secondary education, residential or day programming, or another path.
When we consider transition for our students from school to adult life, we often think about what they will do next. Which living option is best for her? Can she go to school? Where could she get a good job? However, we also inevitably have other questions that extend beyond what path is best. Will she be safe? Will she have friends? How can she get involved in her community? Instruction in the Expanded Core Curriculum helps to prepare a student for whatever path she takes, but it also goes beyond specific preparation for next steps. The ECC aims to ensure that a student stepping into the world of adult living has the knowledge and the skills to be confident, competent, and happy. Transition can be daunting for parents, students, and teachers alike, but students instructed in the ECC can be well-prepared for the challenges and joys that they will encounter along the way.
By Courtney Tabor-Abbott