Independent Living Skills and the Expanded Core Curriculum
What Are Independent Living Skills (ILS)?
This area of the expanded core curriculum (ECC) is often referred to as “daily living skills” and consists of the tasks and functions people perform, in accordance with their abilities, in order to lead their lives with as much independence as possible. Independent living skills encompass many skill areas including, but not limited to, personal care (dressing, grooming, and hygiene), food preparation, clothing management (laundry, sorting, identification), money management, personal organization (materials and time management), and household maintenance.
Why Is It Important to Teach as a Specific Area?
While some of these skills are addressed briefly in the general education core curriculum, children with blindness or low vision have limited opportunities to observe adults and peers engaging in these activities. Therefore, their encounters with independent living skills may be passive, rather than active, learning opportunities. Children with blindness or low vision receive a lot of “help” from well-meaning adults and peers who take care of, as opposed to taking time to teach, self-care tasks. The result is children experience toys, books, learning materials, plates of food, etc. disappearing, and then reappearing out of nowhere.
Essentially, self-care and personal management happen to the student with blindness or low vision, rather than by the student. These children are effectively denied opportunities to learn independent living skills because they do not have enough visual access to casually observe parents and others cleaning, organizing, and engaging in a wide variety of personal management activities.
A passive and unsystematic approach to independent living skills does not prepare students who are blind or low vision for adult life. Traditional classes in home economics and family life are insufficient to meet the learning needs of most students because they assume a basic level of knowledge acquired through visual observations of adult and peer models.
Depending on the child’s residual vision, independent living skills may also require direct instruction in adapted equipment or disability-specific techniques (tactually adapted measuring tools or tactually marked appliances). While fully-sighted students acquire a multitude of skills by casually observing and interacting with their environment, children with blindness or low vision require direct sequential instruction in disability-specific tools and techniques provided by knowledgeable TVIs.
Independent living skills are critical for all students to live safely and independently as adults. What would you do if you couldn’t read important drug information on prescription bottles or package inserts? Would you feel comfortable asking strangers for help with your personal medications or those of your child?
People with vision loss are often unable to read necessary instructions supplied with medications, which can lead to taking, or giving, the wrong medication or improper dosages of medications with possibly dangerous consequences. Through direct instruction in independent living skills, persons with blindness or low vision learn strategies to make managing medications safer. As shown here, direct instruction in independent living skills increases independence.
How Do TVIs Approach Instruction?
TVIs assess a student’s level of performance across a variety of daily living tasks and routines. TVIs use assessment data, their knowledge of a student’s vision, and team/student goals to develop specific independent living skill learning goals. In addition, TVIs analyze daily tasks and routines and develop accommodations and strategies students learn and use to complete activities as independently as possible. The student’s goals will evolve and increase in complexity based on instructional progress and changing needs.
Students with blindness or low vision need explicit instruction across many areas of daily living to fully address this area of the expanded core curriculum. For example, students might be taught a variety of strategies to master cooking and safe food preparation. The TVI might tactually mark appliance controls and then show the student how to safely use an oven, microwave, and dishwasher.
Measuring devices can be labeled with braille or tactile marks so that the student can independently locate a desired tool. The TVI might also show a student how to spread condiments, use a can opener, and safely cut vegetables.
Similar strategies are used for activities such as doing laundry. Youths with visual disabilities learn ways to identify their clothing whether by attaching tactual markers or by feeling for distinctive design features.
These same students might learn basic mending skills, such as sewing on buttons using self-threading needles, as well as ironing. As students get older, they may need to learn how to apply makeup or shave using disability-specific techniques and equipment. In addition, students should learn about a variety of personal hygiene options such as different deodorants, toothpastes, face washes, and shampoos.
Another important instructional area for children who are blind or low vision is identifying and managing money. Many students learn to tactually identify coins but still need to learn techniques to keep track of bills. Strategies may include folding the bills in different ways or placing them in separate wallet compartments. In addition, TVIs teach students to write signatures, fill out checks, and possibly use a check writing guide.
In the area of time management, TVIs also teach children about time using tactile clocks and calendars as well as braille or talking watches and electronic planners. The skills mentioned here are just a few of the many that independent adults use on a daily basis in order to manage their lives.
How Can We Support Instruction in Independent Living Skills in Schools?
First, teachers, families, and administrators need to understand the importance of independent living skill instruction for students who are blind or low vision. Focusing on academics to the exclusion of everything else leaves these students without critical transition skills: being able to buy their own groceries, make their own food, or maintain their own clothing.
In essence, they will be unable to live on their own or independently obtain and maintain a job. Therefore, schools and TVIs must find ways to provide meaningful instruction in functional settings where students can work on these types of skills, whether in their own homes, in the community, or on the school campus.
Just as important as finding the time and place to teach independent living skills, TVIs need to be trained in how to assess the various self-care and personal management activities included in independent living skills.
Finally, TVIs need to be able to adapt instructional strategies and materials to meet the individual learning needs of their students who are visually impaired.