Deafblind Awareness Week: Calendar Systems

A calendar system provides a way to support DB learners to develop communication, provide emotional support and power, as well as teaching abstract time concepts and vocabulary.

The objects used in the calendar system must be meaningful to the DB learner in the context of the activities and they need to consistently respond to them before they can be used out of context in a calendar schedule. The objects used can be real objects specifically used in the activity such as a shopping bag to go shopping or more abstract objects, which would have limited physical connection to what they represent such as part of the shopping bag e.g. the handle that is held when shopping.    

The use of calendar systems can provide emotional support to the DB learner giving them security knowing what is happening next. They can anticipate activities that are going to happen and feel excited when an activity happens that they enjoy such as going swimming. Calendar systems can inform DB learners of a change in routine easing anxiety and stress and it allows them to participate in decisions about what happens during their day.

Developing communication skills talking about events that have happened in the past or will happen in the future. Developing conversations about mutually understood topics.

A calendar system provides a clear way to represent the passage of time and aids more advanced time vocabulary such as ‘morning’, ‘afternoon’, ‘day’, ‘night’, ‘wait’, ‘later’.

The divisions between each activity need to be clear and are 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.

The calendar schedule needs to be easily accessible by the DB learner so they can use it as a communication tool.  They have the opportunity to say something such as talking about something they really enjoyed in an activity or if they are feeling anxious and don’t feel that they can participate in an activity and choose to place it in the finish box. 

It is important to use the calendar system using a clear routine so the DB learner knows what to expect. Once it is understood, the calendar system can be extended by increasing the number of activities discussed at one time. 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.

Aidan 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 and 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 if he had seen or requested using another OR 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 ORs in conjunction with the baskets to communicate timetable preferences to staff, recently 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 OR or his ‘desk work’ OR to clarify what he was communicating, Aidan took the desk work OR 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.