Anna Swenson Listen to Anna Swenson’s advice on the three things parents most need to know about communication skills.


Hello. My name is Anna Swenson, and I’m a teacher of students with visual impairments in the Fairfax County Schools in Fairfax, Virginia.

What are three things that you want to ensure that parents know about communication skills?

First, communication skills are part of the compensatory skills area of the expanded core curriculum. They may include braille, print, and listening skills, and they’re vitally important to all areas of both the core curriculum and the expanded core curriculum. They’re also essential for future success in higher education and on the job.

We have to remember, though, that these communications skills are not an end in themselves. When we teach children braille or how to use a magnifier to read print—to give two examples—we are teaching reading. If we do our job well, students will not only master age-appropriate literacy skills, but they will also develop a lifelong love of reading and writing.

Second, proper assessment and observation are critical in determining the best communication mode or modes for your child. As a first step, teachers of students with visual impairments conduct a literacy media assessment, which helps determine whether a child might be more efficient using a tactile or visual approach to reading.

If the child uses a visual approach, the assessment should provide data about whether he or she reads most fluently and comfortably with regular print, regular print with a magnifier or other optical device, large print, or a closed-circuit television—sometimes called a CCTV. Just as an aside, reading regular print with optical aids like a magnifier should generally be tried first, since this approach allows children to read anything in their environment. Large print and CCTVs limit children’s access to print because they are not widely available or easily portable.

Third, children may benefit from learning to use several reading media. For example, a child with low vision may use braille for language arts where a significant amount of reading is required, and large print or CCTV for math, where diagrams or long division may be easier to grasp visually. We have to remember that children’s communication needs change and regular observation and assessment are critical.