University of Edinburgh

Adapting curriculum materials for VI pupils in mainstream classes: useful strategies and techniques that you can use

Presented on Wednesday 12 May 2010

Use of LVA

Alison Attwood
North Lanarkshire Council

Information on Cerebral Palsy and Visual Impairment Educational Implications

Children who have cerebral palsy often experience difficulties with their vision. This may be in relation to the processing of visual information to the brain via the visual pathways, or, in relation to the clarity of what they see (visual acuity). This will be explained in more detail below.

They may also present as having some of the following motor impairments:

  • Spasticity (Hypertonia): characteristically the child has stiff muscles resulting in limited movement abilities. The stiffness is caused both by the disrupted control from the brain, but also the developing tightness of the muscles themselves which results in the muscles and tissues becoming shorter therefore reducing the range of movement. There are degrees of stiffness, with the stiffer child having the least movement possibilities, of the affected part of their body.
  • Hypotonia: The child presents as being floppy and has difficulty even initiating a movement. It is important to note that there are degrees of floppiness, which will affect how much movement the child has and the strength of their movements.
  • Athetosis: The child is seen to move their limbs constantly not being able to stop the movement or control the direction of the movement.
  • Ataxia:  The child has jerky movements.

Depending on the degree of cerebral palsy, there may be other associated impairments. These may include: Seizures/epilepsy, Hearing Impairment, Perceptual problems, Learning difficulties, Difficulty coping with touch and movement, Communication impairment, and eating and drinking impairment.

Visual Impairment

A child with cerebral palsy may or may not have excellent visual acuities. He or she may require glasses to correct short/long sightedness or astigmatism. However, all children with CP will have difficulties in visual processing - the ability to interpret what has been seen rather than just eyesight.

There is a close relationship between visual skills and movement skills - one drives the other.  

Children with CP may have difficulties in any of the following areas:

  • Deficit of the focus mechanisms, that is, difficulty in bringing print into focus and maintaining it for any length of time. 
  • Unsteady fixation, that is, Eyes can drift slightly away from the words - there is no conscious control over these eye movements.
  • Crowding difficulties, that is, The presence of other words close to the word of interest 'crowd' the word and make it harder to see.
  • Overload, that is, Too much information presented to a child will result in 'overload' in the same way as a computer may crash if it has to cope with too much input.

A particular area of the curriculum which can prove difficult for children with CP, is mathematics. For example:

symmetry - related to visual processing.
distance/speed - perceptual difficulties.
problem solving/comprehension - visual processing and/or perceptual difficulties. 
handling money - poor sense of touch.

Helpful strategies:

  • Space - the child with CP very often has additional equipment /resources and consequently requires a well organised working area which allows him/her to be included in the group whilst at the same time allowing easy access to resources.   Clutter should be avoided and the child should be encouraged to take responsibility for this work area wherever possible.
  • Time - focussing and processing information will take longer for the child with CP and tasks should be set accordingly. eg; child may be required only to complete 2/3 of a worksheet etc, if the concept is understood.

Working with a partner during practical activities can facilitate a faster pace of work.

Helpful resources

  • Black reading marker
  • Black cards with window cut out
  • Black card with one line window
  • Good contrast is essential - use of yellow chalk, clear backgrounds
  • Sloping Board
  • Coloured acetates
  • Typing out books - double spacing, removing clutter, crowding
  • Enlarging of texts
  • Matt laminates used to reduce glare
  • Dysem mat - prevents slippage of worksheets etc.

All material used should match the needs of the child and enhance visual functioning.
If you are unsure about the best way of adapting materials to suit the VI child, please contact our service.

Our service is involved in supporting children with a visual impairment/visual processing difficulties. Children are supported within mainstream, special schools, nursery and/or at home.

If you have a child in your class whom you feel may be experiencing visual difficulties, please do not hesitate to contact us at the address above.

Alison Attwood, VI Specialist Teacher
Elaine Brackenridge, VI Specialist Teacher