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Te Kotuituinga Mātauranga Pura o Aotearoa

Using Objects of Reference to Communicate Daily Routines


Eddie touching a towel

Figure 1 Eddie touching a towel before his swim time

Eddie is a 16 year old student with low vision, Cortical Vision Impairment and complex needs.  He is enrolled with the Correspondence School of New Zealand.

Eddie’s learning involves community activities and experiences.  Travel to and from these activities have often resulted in Eddie being upset and unsettled.

Jo Mather his Resource Teacher of Vision talks about how real objects with verbal prompts/signs have helped to settle him.  In figure 1 Eddie is touching a towel before his swim time.

What is happening now?

Eddie looking at a flashing ring

Figure 2 Eddie looking at a flashing ring

The real objects that were introduced included a towel for swimming before Eddie went swimming, looking at the horse/mane before Eddie went for a ride and looking/touching keys before a ride in the van.

Eddie appeared calmer before and after his activities throughout his day.  He also began to anticipate an activity such as smiling before he went swimming.

As Eddie is in a wheelchair, smaller more portable objects of reference were needed (that could hang at the back of his chair).  Eddie is beginning to look at, feel and associate smaller more abstract objects of reference to represent each activity.

Figure 2 shows Eddie looking at a flashing ring before activities in the sensory room.

Eddie using both his hands to paint and explore

Figure 3 Eddie using both his hands to paint and explore

Prerequisite skills

  • Visual attention, location and fixation (through visual efficiency tasks integrated into his day to day routines and objects/resources used).
  • Tactile skills (through daily activities that encourage exploring with hands).
  • Reach with hands (through motivating activities that involve hand movement).

In Figure 3 Eddie is using both his hands to paint and explore.

Possible next steps

  • Putting Eddie’s objects of reference onto a tactile timetable (generalising)
  • Adding other objects to represent  sleep time and going to the market.
  • Photographs of Eddie’s objects of reference to develop 3D to 2D association.
  • Developing Eddie’s learning into choosing one of two items, eg; swim or walk

Teaching methods and strategies

  • Presenting the object just before the activity.
  • Allowing time for Eddie to look and explore.
  • Changing the object if needed
  • Being consistent with presenting the object, verbal cue, time margin every time before the allocated activity.
  • Ensuring and coordinating the team around Eddie in using  the same cues with objects of reference.

Learning adaptations

  • Experimenting with objects to see what objects were eye catching for Eddie.
  • Holding items closely and on Eddie’s left side (best position for Eddie to locate and fix).
  • Using a multisensory approach of a verbal prompt, sign and then object of reference before activity.


  • Eddie’s mum, TA and whanau observations and knowledge of Eddie.
  • Eddie’s body language (anticipation, happiness, contentedness, involvement). Eddie is more settled in the van and has begun smiling, vocalising and kicking his feet when the piece of towel/ swim object of reference is shown/felt.
  • Eddie is due for a full assessment with the Homai National Assessment team and we are waiting to hear back about when this will be scheduled.

Professional Readings and Resources

More information

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