Using a Schedule with Your Child Who Is Blind or Low Vision and Has Multiple Disabilities

All of us are busy. You may use a wall calendar, day planner, daily list, or personal digital assistant (PDA) to keep track of your appointments throughout the day, week, and month. By glancing at your calendar, you can see what you’ve done, what you’re planning to do next, and what comes after that. Your calendar provides structure to your time and some order to your life. For your child who has an eye condition and complex needs, using a calendar or schedule will likewise allow your child to understand what happening next, then after that, and then after that. This, in turn, will provide a better understanding of the structure of the day overall and provide a sense of predictability.

Your child’s calendar or schedule might use symbols, like pictures or objects, instead of numbers and words. With a routine involving similar daily activities, your child will start associating each symbol with its corresponding event. Handing them the object or indicating the picture will clarify what’s next. This kind of calendar enhances your child’s grasp of and engagement in daily life events. It empowers them with foreknowledge of upcoming activities, a sense of control they might not have experienced before, fostering independence.

Setting Up a Calendar or Schedule

Setting up a calendar or schedule for your child with an eye condition and additional disabilities involves various methods. For effectiveness, use the same system at home and school. The educational team should collaboratively decide on the system type, symbols, and usage procedure. Input from a speech-language therapist or communication specialist is valuable. Also, your child’s Teacher of the Visually Impaired (TVI) can provide crucial insights.

How to Pick Objects to Represent

Should real objects, partial objects, pictures of objects, print, or braille be used? Should a combination of two or more of these be used? When choosing a symbol for an activity like taking a bath, consider what resonates with your child. A faucet picture might not mean much unless they like turning on the water. A picture of their favorite bath toy could be more effective, signaling bath time upstairs.

Children first grasp real objects before understanding their representations like pictures, print, or braille. Consult the educational team to gauge your child’s comprehension level, ensuring symbol choices for their calendar are suitable.

Symbols will evolve as your child’s recognition grows. Initially, a real spoon might indicate dinner. Later, a picture of a spoon and ultimately, “dinner” in braille could be used.

For the calendar, various formats are possible. Use boxes side by side, each with an object for a day’s activity. Attach objects to a board or chart with Velcro. Or, use tape or Velcro to stick pictures on a wall chart or table.

How Many Events

The number of events each child can take in at once will vary. In the beginning, three or four symbols may be all your child can absorb at one time, so you might have one calendar for before school, a different one for the time after school until dinner, and a third for after dinner until bedtime.

Where to Keep?

Where should the calendar be kept? The calendar will be most useful if it is kept in a location where it is convenient and accessible for your child. If she spends a lot of time in the living room and kitchen, then place it in one of these rooms. If she uses a wheelchair, you may want to use a portable system that is kept on her wheelchair so it is accessible no matter where she is.

Finished Events

Just as you show your child the symbol on the calendar before each event and talk about what she’ll be doing next, it is important to return to the calendar to “finish” the event once it is over. Different methods can be used to indicate that an activity is finished. You might have a basket in which your child places the symbol, or she might pull a cloth over the symbol on the calendar to show that it is done. It is important for her to return to the calendar when an event is finished and then to look to see what event comes next in order to help her develop an understanding of the day’s progression.

Many children need significant time to learn how a calendar system works. It is through repetition and experience that this learning occurs. Don’t be discouraged if it takes your child months, or even years, to fully understand the calendar system. Continued communication with other team members and periodic evaluation of the symbols being used and the routines built around their use is important.