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Understanding and Advocating for the Expanded Core Curriculum

Imagine with me you’re looking into the future of your son (or daughter) who is blind or visually impaired. He’s in his early twenties and nearing the completion of his first year of employment. It isn’t his dream job, but hey, one must start somewhere. He lives downtown in an up-and-coming area, about two blocks from a bus stop, and shares a home with two friends. You had been sweating about his life post-nest, but he’s actually doing quite well.

When we look toward the future, it’s easy to see that while math and the rest of the core curriculum are necessities, equally so (and arguably more so) are the areas of the expanded core curriculum, which teach children who are blind or visually impaired to travel, work, and live as independently as possible. So today, as we’re on the brink of a new school year, I want to remind you to advocate for your child with significant vision loss to receive education in the expanded core curriculum.

Understanding the Expanded Core Curriculum

Whether your child is in a residential school for the blind, a resource room, or has an itinerant teacher of the visually impaired (meaning the teacher travels to schools within a school district), your blind or visually impaired child’s education should include the expanded core curriculum subject matter, as it (1) enables children to access the core curriculum, and (2) it teaches the concepts and skills sighted children learn incidentally (through observation).

The expanded core curriculum includes the following nine areas of focus. Click on each to explore what it is, why it’s taught, and how a teacher of students with visual impairments approaches instruction.

*Orientation and mobility skills must be taught by an orientation and mobility specialist.

The expanded core curriculum may seem enormous but understand the areas are best learned in conjunction with one another, which streamlines the learning process. Take for instance a routine trip to the grocery store that can cover most (if not all) of the expanded core curriculum. Create a grocery list (compensatory skills and assistive technology); plan the route (orientation and mobility); talk with/about the employees (career education); make choices (self-determination skills); ask for assistance (social interaction); shop for one meal’s ingredients (independent living); intentionally help your child interpret the scents and sounds you encounter (sensory efficiency); and pay (independent living skills).

Advocating for the Expanded Core Curriculum

Now, what if your child who is significantly visually impaired or blind isn’t receiving instruction in the areas of the expanded core curriculum?

Special education law states children are entitled to specially designed instruction to address the unique needs resulting from the child’s disability. With this in mind, in addition to the educational core curriculum, a child who is blind or visually impaired should receive instruction in the expanded core curriculum, which addresses the basic educational needs of a child who is blind or visually impaired in addition to providing the child with the skills to access the core curriculum.

Therefore, I recommend requesting an assessment documenting the present levels of performance within the nine domains of the expanded core curriculum. Where the educational team (including the parents) recognizes areas needing improvement, the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team can develop appropriate goals.

So, begin by knowing your rights and learn how to be an advocate for your child!

Additional Resources

Phil Hatlen's Advice on the Expanded Core Curriculum

Children with Multiple Disabilities Need the Expanded Core Curriculum, Too!

Bringing the Expanded Core Curriculum Into Your Holidays with Your Blind or Visually Impaired Child

    Equipping Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired with Outdoor Activity Skills

    Hearing shrieks of laughter and commotion outside, Jane peeked through the blinds. Ah, the neighborhood kids are playing soccer on the Biggs’ front yard. New to the street, she didn’t yet know the ages of all the children, but they looked to be between five and eight years old, similar in age to her Theo. She wondered, as she had many times before, if Theo would fit in with his peers who had typical vision. If only he could play soccer, this would be the perfect opportunity to foster friendship.

    As you may already know, Theo and others who are blind or visually impaired can indeed play soccer or other outdoor activities. With thoughtful preparation of accessible equipment and providing instruction in the movements, rules, and nuances of games, outdoor activities can be a wonderful way to not only foster friendships and social skills, but also to promote self-confidence, physical health, and recreation/leisure endeavors.

    A group of kids running outside flying a kite

    To help you equip your child with the ability to get involved in outdoor activities and games, read through the following articles and blogs:

    Work with your child’s teacher of students with visual impairments (TVI) and orientation and mobility (O&M) specialist to implement what you’ve learned. Your child absolutely can and should be given the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, participate in recreation and leisure activities, and pursue group games!

    Getting Around
    Low Vision
    Planning for the Future
    Social Life and Recreation
    Social Skills

    Empowered to Work with Your Visually Impaired Child’s Medical Professionals

    You + your child’s ophthalmologist + the pediatrician + any necessary therapists + medical specialists who manage any chronic or acute problems = your child’s robust medical professional team.

    You are a key member. Yet, it isn’t uncommon for parents to feel void of expertise and, therefore, to take a passive role or back seat in medical evaluations and interventions. I’m here to remind you that your child and his or her medical personnel need you, whether or not the need is acknowledged, as you are the expert on your child and the voice for your (young or nonverbal) child. The team needs you to remain informed, to advocate for your child’s needs, and oftentimes to educate them about blindness or a visual impairment.

    Remain Informed

    If you suspect your child may have a visual impairment or if your child has received a diagnosis of an eye condition, you’ll want to confidently seek answers to lingering questions such as, "What can my child see, How can I manage the eye condition, What services does my child need now, and What questions should I ask the doctor?"

    Serving as a roadmap for remaining informed as you work with medical professionals is the FamilyConnect resource, "Working with the Medical Professionals When Your Child Is Blind or Visually Impaired." I encourage you to read the collection of articles, giving you information needed to advocate for your child.


    As you interact with your child and notice any possible need for medical intervention, it is you who seeks medical expertise and requests evaluations. You are your child’s advocate for medical services.

    Emily Coleman gives you a peek into obtaining and declining therapy for her son, Eddie, who is blind with additional disabilities, in the blog post, "Growing Up in Therapy."


    Oftentimes your child will receive medical services from a professional who is unfamiliar with blindness. It is then you will briefly educate the professional in order for your child to be most comfortable and to be treated with utmost dignity.

    To help you consider what needs to be communicated with medical providers, read "5 Tips for Medically Treating a Child Who Is Blind."

    So yes, parents and key family members, you are an integral part of your child’s medical team. Remain informed, advocate, and educate.

    Additional Resources

    The Green Button: A Lesson in Hospital Advocacy Learned from My Sister Who Is Blind, Mayra's Story

    ADA Checklist: Health Care Facilities and Service Providers

    Labs and Crocodiles

    Fostering Strong, Healthy Bonds Between Siblings When One Child Has a Visual Impairment

    Families who have a child who is blind or visually impaired spend much time and energy teaching concepts which would otherwise be learned incidentally, demonstrating self-care and home management skills, addressing accessibility concerns, visiting specialists, attending educational planning meetings, and responding to questions of passersby and family members. Siblings can feel forgotten. Siblings can feel bitter. Siblings can feel jealous. Siblings can feel afraid. Siblings can feel embarrassed.

    In an effort to address these and other potential feelings of siblings and to share how to encourage healthy relationships between siblings, I have gathered FamilyConnect resources on the topic.

    Here you’ll find lessons learned from Emily Coleman, mom of three: two daughters and son, Eddie, who is visually impaired and has autism:

    Emily Coleman's children standing together outside, prepared to head off to school

    Here you’ll find additional tips on proactively addressing the concerns of siblings:

    What additional suggestions do you have for our community? How have you encouraged healthy family dynamics? We’d love to hear.

    Additional Resources

    Tough Questions

    Meet Families Just Like Yours—Families with Children Who Are Blind or Visually Impaired

    Autism Awareness Month: Could My Blind Child Have Autism?

    We welcome April with open arms, for not only is it one month closer to warmth (finally), but it’s also Autism Awareness Month. Many of you have children who are blind or visually impaired who have been diagnosed with autism, and many others have children who are blind or visually impaired whom you question if have autism. This month—and truthfully, every month—we celebrate these children.

    Shared Attributes

    As you likely already know, children who are born blind or significantly visually impaired often share some attributes with children who have autism. Consider the following:

    • Self-stimulating behavior such as rocking, nail biting, eye pressing, or picking
    • Avoiding eye contact/inability to hold eye contact
    • Sensory seeking/avoiding
    • Difficulty engaging socially
    • Echolalia, or repeating what was heard

    These attributes do not represent every child who is blind or every child who has autism, but they are commonly found in both groups of children, often manifesting for different reasons.

    Does My Child Have Autism?

    If your son or daughter who is blind or visually impaired has many of these overlapping attributes and any delayed communication development, it can be challenging to determine if he or she is on the autism spectrum.

    I encourage you to not fixate on whether or not the label fits but on seeking interventions that support your child’s current and future independence and community involvement.

    After wrestling with the appropriateness of an autism diagnosis for her son, Eddie, Emily Coleman recognized with a pediatrician’s help that Eddie would benefit from interventions available to children who have autism, regardless of if the diagnosis fit. Read how she embraced Eddie’s diagnosis of autism in addition to his diagnosis of a visual impairment in the blog post, "Autism Awareness Month: The Child Versus the Label."

    Telesupport Group

    If you would like to speak with other families who have a child with blindness and autism, or a possible diagnosis of autism, learn about a telesupport group available to you in the blog post, "Children with Autism and Blindness: Misunderstood, Mislabeled, and Misdiagnosed."

    Let’s celebrate and support our children!

    Additional Resources

    World Autism Awareness Day: What I Love and Hate About Autism

    Multiple Disabilities: When a Blind Child Has Other Disabilities

    Could My Visually Impaired Clients Be On The Autism Spectrum?

    Autism Spectrum Disorders
    Planning for the Future