Infusing Communication in IEPs

Books sit on a desk with and apple and ABC blocks

Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

January 6, 2020

Individualized Education Plans (IEP) define the academic focus for a student with disabilities as well as the services and supports that student will receive throughout the school year. For students with dual-sensory loss, the section that addresses communication is often the most important part of the IEP, as communication is what provides us access to social interactions, the curriculum, and the world. For the majority of students, communication is written into the IEP as a goal with corresponding objectives. However, communication in the IEP does not have to end here, rather it can be infused throughout the rest of a student’s Individualized Education Plan and day with the following tips:

Address how a student’s sensory loss impacts his or her communication

Any degree of vision or hearing impacts a students access to his or her environment, and the impact of a dual-sensory loss is even more profound. A combined vision and hearing loss may impact different areas of a student’s communication. For example, is the child only able to hear out of one ear or see when items are highly contrasted? With clear knowledge of the impact of a student’s sensory loss, you are better able to determine the areas of the IEP that can include communication.

Define the student’s preferences

Each child has the right to communicate in a way that is most comfortable for him or her, and professionals should follow the lead of the child. For example, if a child’s natural preference is to access the environment through touch (feeling objects, ect.) the educator should consider creating a communication system for the student that is rooted in touch. On the other hand, if a child’s preference appears to be using his or her vision to access the environment, the educator should consider creating a visually-based communication system and focus on ways in which the student can functionally use his or her residual vision. 

Behavior is Communication 

Behavior is communication! When a child demonstrates a certain behavior (crying, etc.) they are communicating with you. These behaviors can be shaped into more appropriate forms of communication through continued interactions. 

Embed communication into routine

There are an unlimited number of opportunities for communication to occur throughout a student’s day.  Most student’s days operate on a routine. For example, students have individual therapies, snack time, lunch, academic time, and specials such as music and art. During daily transitions, introduce each activity the same way and with consistent language (or symbols, signs, etc.). 

For instance, Emma is a student that uses a tactile communication system that consists of tactile symbols that correspond to spoken language. Every Monday and Friday at 11:00am, Emma goes to a physical therapy session in another room with the therapist. Before she leaves, Emma’s teacher tells Emma “Emma, you are going to physical therapy with Dan”. The teacher then places the symbol in a consistent space on Emma’s wheelchair tray and allows Emma to feel the symbol. When Dan comes into the room, he lets Emma know who he is and re-presents the symbol to Emma saying “Emma, we are going to physical therapy”. By embedding communication into routine, you provide the student with the opportunity to begin to anticipate and initiate their own communication. 

Additional Resources:

Developing an Effective IEP for Children with Deafblindness: A Parent Mini Guide

Expressive Communication: How Children Send Their Messages to You