ECC at Perkins: Mastering the skills of everyday life

Independent living skills allow students like Brian to accomplish essential daily tasks, including cooking, cleaning and looking good

Brian uses an electric razor to shave

Secondary student Brian uses an electric razor to shave. It's one of many everyday tasks children and young adults who are blind must be explicitly taught.

May 16, 2016

It’s a daily grooming task most men do without thinking. But it’s more difficult when you can’t see the face you’re shaving.

That’s why Secondary Program student Brian, 20, is standing at the sink in his bathroom. He’s practicing shaving while independent living skills teacher Kathy Bull looks on. It’s one of a multitude of skills – from cooking to cleaning – Brian must learn to become a self-sufficient adult.

“If you can take care of yourself, and your home, and make food, you’re just going to feel like a competent person,” says Bull. “And that makes you feel confident.”

Brian shares a room with another student in Keller-Sullivan Cottage, on the campus of Perkins School for the Blind. Living in the cottage allows him to practice household skills in a natural setting. Folding laundry. Setting a table. Using a microwave. Making a bed. Washing dishes. Vacuuming the floor.

Because children who are blind can’t learn the same way sighted children do – through casual observation at home – many everyday tasks must be explicitly taught. Independent living is one of nine blindness-specific Expanded Core Curriculum skills taught at Perkins.

Bull, a home and personal management teacher, works with several other instructors in rotating shifts at Keller-Sullivan Cottage. They’re part of the flow of Brian’s daily life, available to teach, problem-solve and motivate.

“We observe the student, and see where they are with their skills,” Bull says. “Through observing, you’re likely to notice a skill they’re ready to learn, and that would be helpful for them to know. For example, making a snack, which students are usually highly motivated about. You try to choose a recipe that they like. So, in that way, it can be a nice collaboration.”

Learning to shave was a collaborative effort for Brian.

Occupational Therapist Alexandra LaVoie taught Brain how to shave and developed a shaving checklist, with specific steps to follow. Assistant Coordinator of Residential Living Anita Goncalves helped Brian carry the skill over from class to daily life.

Using a checklist is a common technique when teaching independent living, says Bull, because it allows every instructor to teach the skill the same way.

“A challenge for us is to be in good communication about what we’re teaching and how we’re teaching it,” she says. “Once a student has a system that works, we try to create steps (on a checklist), which you can then give to the other people. It’s a team effort.”

For Brian, the checklist starts with applying pre-shave lotion. He splashes on Lectric Shave, which has a mild evergreen aroma.

He then uses his electric razor to shave one area of his face at a time. Right side, in circles. Middle, paying special attention to his upper lip. Left side, up to his ear.

He rubs his chin to check if he missed anything. The razor buzzes again for a quick touch-up.

Brian rubs his face one final time and smiles. “Oh yeah,” he says. “It looks good!”

The Expanded Core Curriculum is designed specifically for students with visual impairment. It covers everything from using technology to independent living to socializing with peers – knowledge most sighted children acquire by observing everyday life. The ECC gives students who are blind a toolbox of crucial skills they need to succeed at school, in social situations, at home and on the job.


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