Children who are blind or visually impaired with additional disabilities often benefit from having an object calendar to help them to predict what will happen during the day. In this system, an object that is associated with an activity is used to represent that activity and when the child touches that card he or she will know that it is time for the activity. For example, a spoon might indicate that it time for lunch or a toothbrush mounted on a card will let the child know that it is time to brush teeth.
1. Be sure that the child has had repeated experience handling real objects.
2. Choose a symbol that is meaningful for the child. For example if a child has not ever touched a spoon and eats with his hands, this will not be a good symbol. For a child who eats with chopsticks, that would be a better symbol to use.
3. Refer to the object symbol during the actual activity to reinforce the meaning. In this way, the child would pick up the symbol card of the toothbrush, carry it to the sink where she will brush her teeth and then use her own toothbrush to do the actual brushing. By mounting the symbols on cards, children will begin to realize that they are symbols for communication, rather than the actual object to be used in an activity.
4. Arrange the symbols in order, similar to the way in which script is read (left to right for English). In this way, the child will "read" her schedule from left to right to find out what will happen next.
5. Once an activity has been completed, the object symbol may be placed in a "finished" box to signify that the activity is all done.
6. The object calendar should be kept where the child can find it easily and as independently as possible.
7. Symbols should be very concrete at first, and a child learns to understand their meaning, more abstract symbols can be introduced.
Object cards can also be used to express choices, to refer to something in the past, or to communicate about favorite activities.
For more information, see also:
Communication Symbols, Project Salute
Object Communication, California Deaf-Blind Services
Tangible Symbols, Perkins School for the Blind (webcast)