To celebrate Deafblind Awareness Week, our Seashell Sensory team have crafted a series of blogs, delving into different aspects of understanding and supporting someone with deafblindness.

This blog, written by MSI Teacher, Claire Harrison explains the benefits of using Calendar Systems to support deafblind learners to develop communication, provide emotional support and power, as well as teaching abstract time concepts and vocabulary. Claire has a background in teaching and has 20 years of experience understanding Multi-Sensory Impairments.

“Calendar systems are a series of items, placed in a particular order to physically represent events or activities that will be happening over the course of time. Depending on the individual’s needs, this can be from picture or symbol cards displayed on a Velcro board, to objects of reference placed in baskets.

Calendar systems can be a great tool to help MSI learners develop communication skills about mutually understood topics and events that have happened in the past or will happen in the future. When used effectively, calendar systems help provide emotional support to deafblind learners, as they can anticipate activities that are going to happen, whether that is a feeling of excitement ahead of an activity that they particularly enjoy, or easing anxiety and stress by preparing for a change in routine. This system also empowers learners to participate in decision making, and make choices about what happens during their day.

The key to a successful calendar system is using objects that are meaningful to the deafblind learner – this is not a ‘one size fits all’ process! Objects or symbols must be used consistently in connection to the activities they resemble in order for the deafblind learner to distinguish their meaning. The objects used can be real objects specifically used in the activity such as a shopping bag to go shopping or more abstract objects, such as the handle of a shopping bag that is held when shopping.   

Consistency is also key with the presentation of objects to the learner – divisions between each activity need to be clear and represented in a sequence from left to right e.g. first it is bike, then it is drink and so on. It also needs to represent the past by putting objects into a ‘finish’ box and represent the future showing objects to the right of the present object. This system can provide a clear way to represent the passage of time and aid more advanced time vocabulary such as ‘morning’, ‘afternoon’, ‘day’, ‘night’, ‘wait’ and ‘later’.

The calendar schedule needs to be easily accessible by the deafblind learner so they can use it as a communication tool. Once understood, it can be extended by increasing the number of activities discussed at one time, however it is important not to make the calendar system longer than the learners arm span so they can access it easily. After an extended period, choices can be developed so the learner can choose a preferred activity and place this on their schedule.

An example of the impact a calendar system can have is with student, Aidan – who has recently been introduced to a ‘now and next’ system using baskets. He clearly understands that the baskets are used to indicate which activities are upcoming and is beginning to understand the left to right system. He is also learning that he must complete the first activity before the second, with some prompting and support from staff.

Prior to the introduction of this system, Aidan found it hard to accept that he had to wait for an activity to start, but he is now able to transition to, attend to and complete the ‘now’ activity before the ‘next’ activity – even where the second activity is something very motivating…such as dinner!

Aidan is also beginning to use his objects of reference in conjunction with the baskets to communicate timetable preferences to staff. Recently when he was shown his swimming wetsuit as the ‘now’ activity, Aidan took the wetsuit and put it back in his swimming bag and pushed the bag away to show that he didn’t want the activity. Staff then offered Aidan a choice of his swimming object of reference or his ‘desk work’ object of reference to clarify what he was communicating. Aidan took the desk work object of reference and, with support, put this in the ‘now’ basket. He then independently transitioned to his workstation and engaged well in his chosen change of timetable.”