When you have a child with special needs, you do everything within your power to help your son or daughter fulfill his or her potential. You become an expert on the diagnosis. You turn into an advocate for the best education and services.

But what does your child really need?

For kids with sensory disabilities such as blindness, low vision and deafblindness, there’s a resource that – paired with good communication between you and your child’s service providers – can help. The Expanded Core Curriculum (ECC) is a foundational, essential curriculum that educators have relied upon for decades. It complements common core academics and addresses learning that children with blindness may otherwise miss out on.

Just what could your child be missing? Imagine a typical classroom. Most feature a mix of laptops, textbooks, white boards, pencils and paper. But kids with sensory disabilities can’t easily access information in visual formats. Materials must be adapted into braille, audio or large print, depending on your child’s needs. You’ll also want to consider assistive technology like braille notetakers or audio screen readers.

But adapting classroom materials is only half the challenge. Kids with blindness, low vision and deafblindness can’t observe nonverbal cues and social interaction between teachers and fellow students. This incidental learning is a critical part of every child’s development.

So how can you ensure your child’s education addresses this lack of incidental learning? Enter the ECC, which is made up of nine components that target critical life skills every child needs:

Compensatory Access – Learning how to acquire, share and process information without sight or with severely limited vision.

Sensory Efficiency – Using all senses to access information and communication in an efficient manner.

Assistive Technology – Leveraging technology, such as screen-reading software and refreshable braille keyboards, to support outgoing and incoming communication.

Orientation and Mobility – Navigating independently and safely by understanding orientation (knowing one’s position relative to other people, objects and places) and mobility (getting from place to place safely and efficiently).

Social Interaction – Learning how to behave in social situations without the benefit of nonverbal cues.

Recreation and Leisure – Participating in physical activity and learning how to plan for and incorporate social and leisure time in one’s schedule.

Independent Living – Taking care of oneself as independently as possible, including a broad range of activities such as eating and dressing to money management and household operation.

Self-Determination – Learning how to advocate for one’s own needs.

Career Education – Developing the skills and knowledge needed for success in employment.

Now think about those categories as a checklist. If your child has an Individualized Educational Program (IEP), does it address all nine areas? If there are gaps, those may be areas you want to address with your child’s educator or district. It could be time to reevaluate the services your child receives, or consider filling those gaps with supplemental courses or services. If you’re trying to decide between public school or private school, use your checklist to ask your district official or admissions officer how each of the ECC elements are integrated into that school’s education.

Schools or districts that are new to teaching students with sensory disabilities can also use the ECC to evaluate the completeness of the education offered to such students. Ultimately, the ECC should be embraced as a resource for the full team of family members, educators and administration, for as effective a partnership as possible.

Perkins School for the Blind offers a continuum of specialized education programs on its campus and in public schools for children with blindness, low vision and deafblindness, including those with additional disabilities. As the first school for the blind in the U.S., Perkins has been teaching the ECC concepts since its founding in 1829, and is today a national and international leader in the field. perkins.org/ecc.