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Literacy for Children with Combined Vision and Hearing Loss


A crucial part of providing ongoing support for literacy is finding the tools that can provide access for the student. For some students we can enhance residual vision through magnification devices, large print, filters. For students who know braille we can provide technology that allows the classroom teacher to read what the student is writing even if the teacher doesn’t read braille. For students with residual hearing, voice over and screen readers can provide access for slow or struggling readers.

Develops over time following repetition of an action or event. Awareness that things happen in a sequence and will happen again (prediction). Foundation for development of problem-solving skills.

Authentic literacy
Authentic literacy activities are those that engage the student in age-appropriate content in meaningful ways using symbols understood by the student.

Balanced literacy
Balanced literacy is a planning and instructional method where all components of literacy are interwoven. Each student is taught based on his or her unique needs and strengths as shown through data. All reading approaches are valued in balanced literacy, knowing that each learner may need a variety of strategies to become an effective reader.

Cloze procedure
A cloze test (also cloze deletion test) is an exercise, test, or assessment consisting of a portion of text with certain words removed (cloze text).

Combined vision and hearing loss
Also referred to as deaf-blindness. Approximately 10,000 children in the U.S. (birth to 21 years old), most have some residual vision and hearing, and approximately 90% have additional disabilities.

Ability to listen, speak/sign, read and write are interrelated and develop concurrently

Consistent use of literacy materials with students who are deafblind is very important. Often, when students use symbols instead of print, it is hard for everyone working with the child to be consistent in their language around those symbols. Being careful to always write the print that should be spoken for each symbol is important, but with some materials, even more detailed directions are needed.

Provide hands-on opportunities for learning, need to be from the child's perspective and use the child's preferred learning and communication method(s).

Experience stories
Experience stories are an early literacy tool that can be equally important as readers expand their literacy skills. The importance of using topics that the child has experienced and understands cannot be stressed enough.

Exploration may include any or all of these: touch, shake, bang, play with, mouth, smell, listen to, hold close to face, put on face, tap, or other actions unique to a particular child

Eye gaze
Eye contact with a person or object to signal interest in interacting.

Revisiting stories in alternate formats can help students understand the emotional concepts. Using art, puppetry and theatre can also help students better understand the emotions behind what they read.

Functional text
Opportunities to use literacy skills in the activities of life are abundant and important for students with deafblindness because they represent concepts and activities our students have directly experienced.

Incidental learning
Learning that takes place by observing and imitating people and everyday activities.

Joint attention
Two people (e.g., child and caregiver) focusing on the same object or activity, monitoring each other's attention and coordinating their responses.

Key vocabulary relevant to student
To encourage expanding literacy skills for students with deafblindness, make reading and writing meaningful by choosing vocabulary that has meaning and impact on the student's daily life. Does the student love horses? Find or create stories and introduce vocabulary about horses that can interest and have relevance to the student's experience.

Key vocabulary utilized across the curriculum
For those students with more significant sensory or intellectual challenges, choosing vocabulary that can be demonstrated or experienced through direct, hands-on activities will be important to guarantee rich literacy experiences.

Learning styles
There are 3 basic types of learning style: visual, auditory, and kinesthetic. Learning is dependent on the use of our senses to process information around us. Most people tend to favor one sense over the others and depend on it for learning even if that channel is impaired.

Literacy goals based on curriculum
It is necessary to find the essence of the curriculum standard and decide how the student will learn to perform that essence. If a standard says a student will read to obtain information, the student who is deafblind may be reading object cues instead of print, or may be reading these symbols to complete a task like making pudding instead of answering worksheet questions from a text.

Method of writing
Depending on the task and setting, children will benefit from using multiple means of writing including use of real objects, symbols, AAC devices, alternate pencils, adapted or typical keyboards, or standard technology and pencils.

Multi-sensory experiences
A child who is deaf-blind gets incomplete and inconsistent information that can lead to delays in concept development and reading comprehension. Words take on richer meaning by adding sensory experiences of touch, smell and taste.

Name sign
A unique sign, usually created by a Deaf person, used to identify a person. The sign is often related to a physical attribute.

Object permanence
A child's ability to know that objects continue to exist even though they can no longer be seen or heard (e.g., playing peek-a-boo or searching for a dropped toy).

Students who are deafblind benefit from hands-on, real life experiences to learn the power of literacy in their lives. By exploring the student’s activities at home and in school outside traditional “literacy activities,” we can demonstrate the way literacy can help students, while giving them useful practice.

Paired reading
A research-based strategy for improving fluency, where a child reads aloud to a more fluent reader or re-reads a story with someone who reads at the same level. Involves taking turns reading by sentence, paragraph, page or chapter.

Partial participation
Opportunity to participate in an activity for an individual who may not have all the skills or abilities necessary to perform independently. Uses supports and/or adaptations at points (steps) in the activity sequence the child cannot complete without assistance.

Personal identifier
An item, action, smell or attribute used to identify a person, most often used by people with limited formal methods of communication. Examples include: use of the same cologne, wearing several bangle bracelets, the length of one's hair, a particular tactual greeting.

Reading material
Literature that evokes emotion and/or delves into a variety of attitudes; social stories such as materials on puberty; newspaper articles about current events, local heroes, etc.; readers theatre, which turns text into simple plays with multiple parts for multiple readers; cartoons and graphic novels; and journals.

Response mode
Determining a student’s response mode is a crucial step in assessing what is understood. Some deaf-blind children respond through speech or sign. Others can point to pictures or tactile symbols. Some must use eye gaze or body movement and some may need an assistive technology device.

Developing literacy skills requires interaction and support from others.
Common interests provide things to read and write about. Literacy activities provide opportunities for peer interaction.

Student interest
The process of examining a student’s interests and the family’s goals to help the team decide on appropriate literacy goals can lead to rewarding literacy experiences for students who may have been frustrated by traditional literacy programs.

It is often helpful to increase supports such as models and use of symbols for functional tasks while providing fewer supports and greater access to vocabulary and alternate pencils during writing experiences that focus on self-expression.

Thematic units
Thematic units provide a teacher a way to work on big themes that are embedded in many different curricular areas. For a student who is deafblind, the chance to work on a concept in lots of areas provides a rich understanding.

The ability to visually follow moving objects horizontally, vertically, or in an oblique plane.

Trusting relationship
Requires proximity, consistency and ongoing contact. Offers a calming presence and access to people, objects and activities.

The back and forth interaction needed to have a conversation.

Visual fixation
To direct a gaze and hold an object in view.

Visual shift
Process of looking from one object to another.

Word sort
A word sort is a strategy to help introduce vocabulary words by comparing words as they fit into categories. For a student who is deafblind, the ability to see the connection of a new word to words for which they already have a conceptual understanding is really helpful.

Typical children begin writing by scribbling at a young age. A child writing with an alternate pencil or a keyboard will scribble by producing random letters. When writing with symbols or words, children will make random choices. Accept and respond to these early writing attempts just as you would for a typical child – praise them, celebrate them, and attach meaning to them.