All of us wish to live productive and meaningful lives. Spending time with friends and people we care about, participating in community activities, and feeling positive about our contributions to society are values that people around the world share, regardless of whether or not they have a disability.
Individuals with visual impairments are no exception, and developing the skills to live as independently as possible is something that should be incorporated into a child’s life and educational program as early as possible.
Independent Living Skills refer to all aspects of what is necessary for an individual to do outside of school or work, including:
The development of these skills begins at birth, as a baby participates in mealtime, bath, getting changes, and getting dressed. At each stage, new skills are introduced (many of these through the Expanded Core Curriculum). Students should be encouraged to be as independent as possible and to participate as actively as possible in all routine events, so that these skills can develop in the natural context with repeated practice in the environment.
Partial participation and differentiated learning are crucial concepts in the classroom. Not every student will be able to perform every task independently, but that does not mean that she should not be included. For example, on a shopping trip, one student may have enough vision to be able to match labels on boxes or canned goods, while another student may be using a calculator to keep track of expenses, while another practices motor skills by pushing the shopping cart.
Most of us learn best when we perform meaningful tasks in the context of the routine, and this daily repetition is often a helpful way for students with visual impairments to practice independent living skills. Making the bed, doing laundry, answering the phone and preparing food are among the tasks that can be incorporated into the daily routine.
There is no single “correct” way to teach independent living skills, but rather it is helpful to identify which skills are needed in the environment, and then break those down into small steps. Think about the student’s current environment and the future environment and identify what skills will most likely be necessary. For example, some individuals may need to learn to travel by city bus routes, while others may need to learn how to identify different types of animals.
In addition, it is important to keep in mind an individual’s abilities. Some may need to be able to learn to use the telephone efficiently, and others may be more focused on learning to express their immediate needs and wishes. In all cases the team (including the family and the student) should meet to decide what are the most important skills to focus on, and what is the most effective way to do so.
By Charlotte Cushman