Functional skills refer to the skills that students learn that provide them with the opportunity to work, play, socialize, and take care of personal needs to the highest level possible. When a student has developmental delays in addition to a visual impairment or has multiple disabilities, they will typically follow a modified curriculum.
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By: Carmen Willings
Updated November 4, 2017
Functional skills refer to the skills that students learn that provide them with the opportunity to work, play, socialize, and take care of personal needs to the highest level possible. When a student has developmental delays in addition to a visual impairment or has multiple disabilities, they will typically follow a modified curriculum. The curriculum should help ensure that students with significant cognitive disabilities are provided with multiple ways to learn and demonstrate knowledge. Students’ needs and abilities will generally vary greatly within the classroom designed for students with multiple disabilities.
Students who are blind or visually impaired, require adaptations to the curriculum that address their unique learning needs but this is especially true for students with multiple disabilities. All students with disabilities, and especially those who are blind or visually impaired, will need concrete experiences, unifying experiences and opportunities to learn by doing within a natural setting. The majority of students with multiple disabilities will need more time than sighted peers to acquire developmental skills. Students with visual impairments will need particular assistance with those skills acquired primarily through vision.
It is important to provide instruction that is developmentally appropriate and age appropriate. Using real materials is a way to make instruction more age appropriate for older students. For example, a 13-year-old student may be functioning at an 8-month-old developmental level, but it is hardly appropriate to provide them with an infant/toddler toy to entertain themselves. It is much more appropriate to locate materials that have similar features the student is interested in, but are age appropriate. It is also important when developing lessons and activities, to asses the student's unique needs and incorporates their IEP goals and objectives naturally and systematically throughout the day. Setting up stations will help encourage exploration and active participation in classroom activities. This is because students will know where they can find activity areas and materials.
It is ideal to teach skills with natural and familiar environments or settings where the student can anticipate activities naturally. Teaching the skills within the environments where the skills will be used is critical as many students with multiple disabilities are not able to generalize skills across environments. The activities will be much more meaningful when they are practiced within natural contexts.
For students with cognitive disabilities, provide simple, clear verbal directions and break tasks down into parts that can be easily accomplished. Simplify tasks by reducing the number of steps, using backward chaining, spiraling, and plenty of modeling and cues. If necessary, physically guide the student through the task and then gradually fade support.
As students become successful, you can then begin adding steps to the task. Select the activities based on skills the student needs to work on, but also be sure to make it fun and allow students to be successful. Simplify the language that you use with students. Short phrases repeated in a rhythmic cadence or sung to a familiar tune can be effective for communicating directions.
Learning activities should be meaningful to the student and be relevant to their world. Different approaches will need to be used for all areas of the curriculum. It is ideal to teach skills that are functional. Consider the functionality of the skill and focus on those that will lead to the greatest independence possible. Students can and should still be exposed to print and/or braille when at all possible, but a focus should be on the environmental print/braille that the student will need and will encounter.
Learning activities should be developed to accommodate differences in abilities and interests. Use positive reinforcements. For students with ADHD, provide a consistent environment to learn rules and self-control. Be specific about behaviors that are acceptable and unacceptable. Concentrate on "catching the student being good." Reward with praise, privilege or stickers/stamps.
Communication-Rich Environment and Functional Literacy
All students need to be provided with an opportunity to be as literate as they are capable. Current legislation and research indicate that teachers must teach every student to read. Beginning reading instruction continues to be necessary for older students with developmental disabilities. The "No Child Left Behind Act" clearly states that all students must receive this instruction throughout their academic careers.
It is important as the student advances in years to think about transitioning the focus to functional skills and functional literacy. For an older student who is still reading at an emergent or beginning reading level, the focus should be on learning environmental print or label associations that is functional and will assist them in becoming as independent as possible. For students unable to learn environmental print, a means of communication is important. Read more on creating communication symbols on the Individual Schedules and Communication Cards page.
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