Social Skills and the Expanded Core Curriculum: An Essential Education Component or Afterthought?

A suspicious, “Who are you?” was the question I encountered when I first entered the door. I had called ahead, so the teacher knew I was coming. Then I came in person to introduce myself to the special education teacher and then observe the new student. The student had a take-charge voice, and was already a handful for the engaging, resourceful special education team, even though he had been there for less than ten days.  I made some informal observations about the student’s use of vision, interacting with the student exclusively, during which time the student was more pleasant and involved, especially when the digital tablet was part of the observation.  The teacher and I compared notes and discussed the best time for the 30-day IEP, and I made a memo to myself to use the Social Skills Assessment Tool  by Koenig & Holbrook, 2000 upon my next visit.

Professionals and families can work together to incorporate social skills as part of the Expanded Core Curriculum, working within the IEP goals. 

money-counting goal may need low vision technology as part of accessibility services

This student had a money-counting goal, so I was preparing to put that into the students’ plan as a Visual Impairment Teacher (TVI), but my time with him was shorter than I expected; the student had to move again.  The extra challenge to obtaining the help of families can include working with students whose parental rights are handled by the system representative rather than the parent, as the case may be regarding this student in discussion.  It is a small wonder that he had a “take charge” attitude and asked quickly, “Who are you?” because his social interactions with others had to do with feeling secure and safe, and getting to that feeling swiftly. 

            Money-counting and the social skills to use resources such as money are part of the Expanded Core Curriculum, a series of skills that should be taught to individuals with low vision or blindness. The Expanded Core Curriculum has nine components that offer answers to the questions of living: How Do I Get Around and Do Stuff? – Independent Living, Sensory Efficiency, Orientation and Mobility, Compensatory Access; How to I Communicate and Get Stuff? – Assistive Technology, Social Interaction, Recreation and Leisure; and What Kind of Stuff Should I Do Now? – Career Education and Self-Determination.  The American Foundation for the Blind has resources that can be downloaded into large print and also downloaded into a Braille-embosser-ready format for Social Skills , which is a useful beginning for the TVI. How to impart these skills to families? Well, it is not enough for family members to spend a day wearing a blindfold.

So for all the fans attempting the #Birdboxchallenge, please let me repeat: it is not enough to spend a day wearing a blindfold. In order to grow in knowledge about living with low vision or blindness, a dedicated team of specialists work together to individualize a plan for accessibility for the individual.

person wearing sleepshades receives change from barista
It helps to inform service providers about your specific needs in low vision or blindness. Even if the service is just a latte.

The TVI can present a workshop for elementary peers and parents in order to introduce them to the tools that can build understanding as well as inform them about the special training that children need “to do everything that sighted people do, just differently. ” -Abdelnour, 2002 Organizations such as CTEBVI,, NOAH,  Braille Institute, and present workshops to the community about such training.To get back to that same young man’s money-counting goal, perhaps the motivation of being able to count out money and buy his own, say, specialty drink at a coffee shop, can move him from the Level 1 of social skills to Level 2, from mere Self-Identity and Social Awareness molding his Behavioral Social Skills to Awareness of Other People’s Needs and Strategies for Positive Interactions leading to Interactive Social Skills – skills listed by Koenig & Holbrook, 2000.  The cues needed for determining a reasonable wait time for service, counting and handling money, communicating with the barista, and interpreting other social encounters in the situation are complex skills.  These skills would be introduced within safe role-play, further discussed with teacher modeled and student-developed social stories, and developed by keeping high expectations rather than low expectations for the student with visual impairment.

Although it is useful for teachers to have a curriculum for learning social skills similar to curriculum for learning Braille literacy or integrated mathematics, it should be noted that students are not a blank slate to be written on.  The earlier mentioned resources are not meant to give the teacher license to talk endlessly.  As the movie director Theodore Melfi commented in his approach to directing actors, “The actors come to the set with a lot. …They rarely come empty…a great director learns restraint and is able to analyze each actor and determine what each actor needs,” from an article by Fisher, April 2017. According to Britcher, beginning lesson plan development for reading with an interest inventory is a strategy that “may spark students’ interest.”  Feb 2009  Britcher wrote about motivating students to read, and I would like to put forward that social skills are in effect the way that students with visual impairment would “read” a situation.

As another author, Compton-Lily (2009) described the disconnect, there is a failure to “link” the processing of a given material to the “comprehensive understanding of the varied resources that children bring to classrooms.  Low expectations foster a sense of learned helplessness, according to a study by Head in 1992.  Instead of reading the website resource about social skills aloud to the student, or generating it in large print, the TVI needs to coach the general education teacher, the special education teacher, and the Visual Impairment staff members such as the paraprofessionals to guiding the student on opening the website or document and reading portions on a refreshable Braille display, or, guiding the student to use the magnification and text-to-speech features to access the information. Make sure that there is time and a purpose to the lesson, so the student can relate personally with high interest to the social skill being taught.

Likewise, having high standards, and making a realistic link of their abilities with the effort that they put into a task, such as social skills, according to Head, “will enable them to develop a more accurate perception of what they are able or unable to do and why.”

            A favorite resource that I encouraged the students to refer to for Expanded Core Curriculum was the website for the former Junior Blind of America, which still serves the community by the name Wayfinder Family Services or, with the page on Interacting with Individuals Who are Blind.   I invited the students to review the material and comment on the bulleted list about interaction.  The comment that had the greatest impact on me was this comment, that the student wished her friends and family knew that she really wanted them to explain her visual impairment when they first introduce her to someone else.

Explaining the visual impairment when being introduced would cut down the confusion for the new person in explaining the way she has to do things.  Of course, this type of introduction should be done with the permission of the individual. To foster responsibility in explaining this type of introduction, the TVI could discuss and engage in role playing activities so that the student can speak up during introductions and become self-aware and objective in discussing the behaviors that come with low vision or blindness, such as viewing the cell phone at close range and struggling with eye contact.

The existing programming of the secondary school provides opportunities for social skills, as the student need to prepare for presentations, advocate for their visual impairment needs, and participate in field trips that venture outside of the school setting.  According to Koenig and Holbrook, the TVI and Orientation and Mobility teacher can work closely to coordinate purposeful plans, setting aside time to practice posture, gestures, and appropriate facial expressions that pertain to the activity, then setting aside time to evaluate the acceptable level of these behaviors after the activity.

I hope that the next TVI who works with this young man likewise will take the time for a teachable moment, and gently guide the student into introducing himself, with a friendly, “How are you?” rather than a defensive “Who are you?”  It may take the recruitment of trusted peers and adult role models to participate in the Social Skills Intervention Strategies by Koenig & Holbrook, and the investment would be well worth it to give the student a feeling of safety and confidence to last a lifetime.


Social skills are needed to buy a specialty drink.

Have you tried the Birdboxchallenge?  What types of training did you undergo before putting on the sleepshades or blindfolds? Leave a comment!

Special Education Journey, Pack Your Bags for the Visual Impairment Journey

As an aspiring Education Specialist, what would you pack for your special education journey? Time, flexibility, some running shoes, and some therapeutic scents, just for starters.  I make these suggestions as my special education journey has taken me on the path onward through a pursuit of a Visual Impairment credential.

If you could pack time in a bottle, then that’s the first item you need to put in your bag for the Special Education journey that specializes in Visual Impairment.  My application for California State University Los Angeles began as a non-matriculated student, therefore the funds came out of pocket until I could apply for through FAFSA.  To become a matriculated student, forms and applications are due six to four months ahead of the semester.  When I started, I only had a few days to enroll for classes, I had to attain the professor’s signature to enroll, and all because I did not enroll ahead of time.  I was hired as a Teacher for students with Visual Impairment on the basis of my Education Specialist Preliminary Credential, with a Waiver for Visual Impairment, so I had to hurry and enroll once the job started.

Some forms that you should be familiar with regarding the internship require careful timing, since these forms have specific, ironclad due dates that are set months before the internship begins.  What can make this seem difficult at times is that some forms for fieldwork are not intuitively easy to locate.  If you use the CSULA software and search engine to locate the survey or the form, then the words must be appropriate and they must be typed at the correct stage in your email or Moodle or GET.  Again, the process takes months, for example my application for fall fieldwork started in spring, with follow up in the summer (June 1, 2016). It’s called a “survey” but this form is not about preferences in customer service, it is a vital piece of information that the CCOE or Charter College of Education uses to itemize what they need regarding your TB test, your permission to work as an intern, and other requirements. The Charter College of Education is located at King Hall on California State University on the first floor.

CCOE at CalState LA can help navigate the page to locate the survey which is more than a survey.

My cohorts continued with their fieldwork part two that following spring, but I preferred to enroll for my fieldwork part two for the fall.  I had to make it a point to go to the CCOE often in order to receive coaching on where to click or tap to enroll or download the correct form, or the correct survey.  As a candidate, you receive an email on Outlook that uses the CalStateLA system, which you are advised to check “daily,” and I checked my email with my MyCalStateLA account every other day. Several steps along the way reminded me of this deadline in this fieldwork process, and I included pictures of the forms and email on this website so that they may become familiar to others. Do you want to have your VI internship with CSULA?  These are what some of the communications look like (Illustrations to follow):

You must specifically type “Special Education Programs Information and Resources” into the search engine before you can access the link for “Online Applications for Fieldwork.” Using “Fieldwork” or “Application for Fieldwork” was not as effective. I’m looking forward to being told that this step has been simplified for other students!
The CCOE will take the time to email you the link you need in order to meet the deadline, but it’s vital that you check email daily.
This is a screenshot of the results from a search using the keywords “Special Education Programs Information and Resources.” To reach the links you must use the university website.
The site administrator must give you permission for you to work with student(s) as an intern.

Pack a calendar or a great organizer and planner notebook, since time doesn’t come in a bottle.

If you could pack flexibility, then that’s the next item you need to put in your bag for Visual Impairment.  There are bumps in the road, and that’s acceptable if you can bounce back. Personally, I had different a script for this journey through special education.  My script originally was as follows: once I finished my Education Specialist Preliminary with National University, I planned to work for a few years in RSP, helping students with Mild to Moderate learning disabilities.  During that time I would post insights on National University on my website.  Eventually, maybe after two years, I would go back to school to begin my Visual Impairment credential. That would have given me time to look into options and compare.  For example, as a candidate for Visual Impairment in California I would have compared California State University Los Angeles and its  VI program with the VI program at San Francisco State University. I might have had a better time becoming a matriculated student.  I certainly had some difficult evenings, rushing to the campus after a late IEP at work, just to try and pay for my course enrollment before the payment office closed at 6 p.m.  Even though I was in a rush, I still needed two minutes to change out of my formal shoes and put on running shoes.  The campus for CalState LA spans several staircases over some hilly terrain. It was considerably a squeeze since I had to pay out of pocket as a non-matriculated student.  Although you can pay online, I was not taking any chances and had a cashier’s check issued those first three quarters, to ensure that the payment would clear.  After signing my contract, I only had a matter of days to act upon the payment and other requirements. I chose California State University Los Angeles out of necessity, since it was driving distance from my school district, and at that time I was not aware of the VI program in San Francisco.

So, add a note to pack really big rubber bands to help bounce back from suddenly changing plans, a pair of running shoes to wear on those days you must quickly get around campus, and a pleasant fragrance that will encourage you to breathe deep and keep going.

There are more items to pack as you consider your journey, so consider this an introduction as I describe the journey. I welcome your comments on what you would pack as well!