“What’s LIKE Got to Do With Learning: Using a Child’s Preferences”

“Understanding what MOTIVATES a child can make or break an instructional program…”
-Charity Rowland

Whether a child likes or prefers a certain toy may not seem all that important to you. Who’s got time to play when there are all those IEP goals to work on?

But–suppose one of his IEP goals is: “Take five steps with his walker.” What might happen if you put his favorite toy on a table where he can see it? Now he has a reason to move: to get to that toy and spin it.

IEP goal accomplished! He takes five steps without falling to the floor in a tantrum. With repetition, the concept of “walking” is linked to the enjoyment of playing with the preferred toy.

Getting started:

  • Ask family members what their child does at home. How does she interact with household objects, siblings, pets, grandparents, friends? What does she spend time doing alone?
  • Just as important, what objects or activities does he dislike?
  • List the people, activities or objects on a “Likes/Dislikes” form to make sure you’ve asked about a variety of categories (not just foods or toys, for example).
  • Think about how to use the child’s preferences in his daily schedule and routines. (Don’t forget to build in some fun, too. Children with deaf-blindness need down time!)
  • If the student only likes toys with a certain quality, introduce one new thing. For example, if the child only likes soft cloth diapers, sew a jingle bell on one for her to discover.
  • Use likes and dislikes for matching or sorting. Example: place three stuffed animals (child’s like) in a box. Add a metal bowl (child’s dislike). The child can take out the stuffed animals and leave the bowl. This is also a great way to start conversations. Start using the phrase with the child, “You like ____,” or, “You don’t like ___.”
  • If the child enjoys a certain action such as bouncing or jumping, consider how that movement can be used to work toward accomplishing an objective such as counting: 1, 2, 3.
  • See More Info to learn more about assessing a child’s areas of ability.

Family Input



Getting to Goals

Ask his family or others who know him best what he does at home. Try introducing – at his pace – a variety of actions, people, and objects. Here are some suggestions:• Consider the size, temperature, texture, function, sound, sight, taste, smell, and movement in the activities, actions, or items you offer.• Observe how the student uses his senses. Which sensory channel(s) does he rely on the most: vision, hearing, touch, smell, taste, or movement such as spinning, swinging, tapping a hand.

• When observing the student, watch for behavior that may show a LIKE or DISLIKE of the object, action, or activity introduced to him:

Change in breathing
Slight body movements
Muscle tension changes
More or louder vocalizations
Mouth opening or closing

Can he move his head, lips, a finger or a toe?
If the student constantly whines or frowns to show displeasure or discomfort, does that stop when presented with something novel, for example, a warm neck wrap? a resonant drum?
Start a list. Keep data on how often you’ve presented the activity, action, or item, and the student’s responses to each. Watch for very subtle responses (such as those listed in FAQ #1).

For a variety of reasons, children with significant disabilities sometimes recoil from touch or dislike exploring through touch. They may have experienced frequent hospital visits and have come to connect new people with painful procedures. It takes time to build trust. Here are some approaches that may help establish trust with a child with significant disabilities. The result will be a student who is more willing to accept touch and use touch for exploring:• Tap the student on the shoulder and say hello before trying to move the student’s hands, feet, or body.• Provide consistent opportunities rather than forcing participation.

• Use a Hand Under Hand approach (your hands under his) to introduce new things.

• What about temperature? Does he prefer warmth? If so, try warming a washcloth, neck pack, or other object in the microwave and see if that makes it less aversive.

• Ask the person who has the most positive interactions with this student how they help the student accept objects or actions. With permission, videotape these positive interactions and observe carefully.

• Set up a schedule and follow it consistently so that the student can anticipate what will happen next.

Some students have been moved through the day with little meaningful interaction or decision-making power. What may work for nursing care does not work for learning and can create what’s called “learned helplessness.” If this has happened with your student, your job is to be consistent, persistent, and kind as you offer continued opportunities for meaningful learning. These “opportunities” may include things like “wait time,” or use of a Resonance Board or adapted Little Room. Here are some suggestions and things to keep in mind:• Have you tried Hand Under Hand to develop a shared focus of attention?• Watch for subtle changes in the student: body tension, breathing rate, or turning her head from the item or action. (See FAQ #1 and #2.)

• Know the student’s temperament. Some people are easy going and “go with the flow.” Some are “feisty” and protest often. Others may be less outwardly expressive, yet actually are enjoying an activity, action or object.

• A combination of strategies can allow a student to move from passive to active, from protesting to tolerating, and eventually to active participation. This process may take weeks, months or years, so keep data on each small success.

Always continue to search for more experiences and objects that will broaden a student’s interests and become “likes.” Keep in mind:• What qualities does the electric toothbrush have that might lead to other LIKES? For example, make a smoothie with a blender and let him feel the vibrations of the motor. Try a small electric fan, one that is safe for exploring fingers. Or try a battery-operated pillow.• Allow the electric toothbrush to be used as part of concept building. For example, make a box of related things – other toothbrushes, toothpaste – plus one thing that doesn’t belong. As the student does this activity, allow a certain amount of time for him to play with the favorite toothbrush. (Set a timer.)

• Allow time for him to use the toothbrush when it is appropriate – for example, after lunch for toothbrushing.


First Things First: Early Communication for the Pre-Symbolic Child with Severe Disabilities

by Charity Rowland, Ph.D., and Philip Schweigert, M.Ed.
See also www.designtolearn.com

Develop a Routine that Incorporates One of Your Student’s “Likes”

Texas School for the Blind & Visually Impaired
Deafblind Outreach

Enriching Interactions with Children who Have Multiple Impairments Including Visual Impairment

By Sara Kitchen, Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired Outreach
(Educational consultant for students with visual impairment)

The Path to Symbolism


The Passive or Protesting Child

By Kathee Scoggin

“We can’t get him to DO anything.”

“We spend most of the day calming her down from tantrums that disrupt the whole class.”

If either of these sound familiar, consider that:

  • 90% of learning depends on vision and hearing.
  • Classrooms rarely allow enough time for a child with dual sensory loss to catch on to transitions, or to expectations related to an activity.
  • People give deaf-blind children information in very different ways.

Lack of connection and consistency can lead children to develop a passive or protesting attitude toward just about everything.

  • Passive: The class moves around her, but she’s not learning.
  • Protesting: The day is spent in a cycle of tantrums and calming.

A combination of strategies can allow a student to move from passive to active, from protesting to tolerating, and eventually, to learning. These strategies include:

  • Using Child Preferences
  • Wait Time
  • Hand Under Hand
  • Consistent Routines
  • Active Learning

Using a Child’s Preferences to Level the Playing Field for Assessment

By Kathee Scoggin

When informally assessing a child’s abilities, use something you know the child likes. He’s more likely to be interested and motivated. When using items unfamiliar to the child, the tester is no longer assessing the skill or knowledge, but how quickly the child can use both his intact and impacted senses (vision and hearing) to figure out what the object is and what to do with it.

(A reminder: generalizing from one setting to another can be a real challenge. Children with deaf-blindness have gaps in their concept development of things as familiar as cold, soft, long, longer.)

In order for the child to demonstrate what she knows, the assessment must include things she knows and likes. If she has a dog at home and loves dogs, does she know about feeding the dog? Does she know that dogs have eyes, ears, nose and mouth, just like people? The child has developed at least one concept around whatever she likes or dislikes. It might be a basic concept of “spin,” or “dog,” or “battery.” She may know that her favorite song is fast and another song is slow. Using concepts she already has as a bridge to new concepts leads to more meaningful and effective learning.

We can learn a lot about a child’s skills and cognition by watching how she engages with something or someone she knows and enjoys. We need to watch how she solves simple problems.

“Understanding a child’s interests and preferences is key to the assessment of his competencies…”

– Charity Rowland, Assessing Communication and Learning in Young Children Who are Deafblind or Who Have Multiple Disabilities