Skip to Content


This Mattered to Me

"Teaching Strategies of the van Dijk Curricular Approach," by Stephanie Z. C. MacFarland, published in the May-June 1995 Special Issue on Deaf-Blindness of the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, Volume 89, Number 3, pp. 222-228.

Recommended by Rosanne K. Silberman

Print edition page number(s) 444-445

The series editor of "This Mattered to Me" is Stuart H. Wittenstein, Ed.D., superintendent of the California School for the Blind.

When Dr. MacFarland's article appeared in the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB) in 1995, I was ecstatic that she presented Dr. van Dijk's theories and curricular approach for learners with deaf-blindness in such a comprehensive, concise, and lucid manner. I had met Dr. van Dijk in the 1970s, had attended several workshops he conducted in the United States, and had read many of his writings that had originated in the Netherlands. Until Dr. MacFarland's outstanding article was published in JVIB, no single piece of writing existed that clearly explained Dr. van Dijk's theoretical principles and provided concrete instructional strategies that would be beneficial to educators of learners with dual sensory impairments across the world.

This article MATTERED TO ME, because the author based it on her actual experiences observing Dutch educators who were trained in Dr. van Dijk's theories and curricular approach. At that time, Dr. van Dijk was the director of the deaf-blind program at the St. Raphaƫl School in Sint Michielsgestel, the Netherlands. Dr. MacFarland was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and spent a year in the Netherlands doing research for her doctorate under Dr. van Dijk's mentorship. The article MATTERS TO ME now, because I was fortunate to visit the deaf-blind Program in the Netherlands twice during the present decade, and Dr. MacFarland's article further confirmed the validity of the principles and strategies I observed during my travels.

Practical application of theory-driven strategies

This article should MATTER TO YOU, especially if you work with learners with multiple impairments. It is replete with examples of the practical application of Dr. van Dijk's theory-driven strategies. This practical information alone warrants the article being preserved digitally for posterity in JVIB Online. The strategies outlined in this article can be used as guidelines for providing appropriate instruction and are aligned with the highest level of "promising practices" that we educators try to attain in the field today, such as augmentative and alternative communication, positive behavioral interventions and supports for challenging behaviors. This article is also a valuable required resource for the students in my program at Hunter College, and my students have observed their mentor teachers using the suggested strategies during their student teaching experience.

Dr. van Dijk's curricular approach provides us with a starting point for implementing systematic teaching approaches to enhance interactions, communication, conceptualization, and meaningful activities for learners with deaf-blindness in a variety of placements (such as at home, at school, and in the community). Although it was originally written for those who work with individuals with deaf-blindness, I feel that the information included in the article has much wider applicability for use with learners with other multiple disabilities including autism, cognitive disabilities, and severe challenging behaviors. The article should be required reading for university students and new teachers of learners with multiple disabilities, as well as for seasoned professionals who are working with different populations from those with whom they were trained, related services professionals, parents, and paraeducators.

Still relevant 15 years after publication

Despite having been published 15 years ago, the article is cited frequently in the current literature. It continues to be relevant, because its principles are congruent with recent advancements in neuroscience relating to the limbic system in the brain and current research conducted by Dr. van Dijk related to specific parts of this system (van Dijk, Nelson, de Kort, Fellinger, & van Dijk, 2010). He revisits the principles of nurturance and resonance, and describes the importance of attachment and establishing trust between the student and the teacher or caregiver. His findings, based on numerous evaluations of the emotional behavior of learners with multiple impairments, provide further documentation of his earlier theories.

In summary, this article MATTERS TO ALL OF US who passionately quest to improve the quality of life for children and youths with sensory impairments and other multiple disabilities. Stephanie and Jan, you MATTER TO ME. You both have inspired me to use these principles as a base to help my Hunter College students problem solve and find more options for educating this diverse population.

I want to thank Stephanie for writing this article describing Jan's theories and his curricular approach for creating functional strategies based on his model. I want to thank you, Jan, for continually revisiting your original principles and conducting studies on children with these complex challenges in order to teach professionals and families how to create environments where all children can find enjoyment and security in their lives.

On the web
The classic article relating to this commentary is available free to subscribers at JVIB Online: <>. Nonsubscribers may purchase a copy of the article from the JVIB Classics area of AFB's ePublications web site: <>.


van Dijk, J., Nelson, C., de Kort, A., Fellinger, J., & van Dijk, R. (2010). Let's talk limbic. [CD-ROM]. Netherlands: Aapnootmuis.

Rosanne K. Silberman, Ed.D., professor of special education and coordinator, Programs in Blindness and Visual Impairment and Severe Disabilities Including Deafblindness, Department of Special Education, School of Education, Hunter College, City University of New York, 695 Park Avenue, W916, New York, NY 10065; e-mail: <>.

Previous Article | Next Article | Table of Contents

There are 0 comments on this article.

Post a Comment

The Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness (JVIB)--the international, interdisciplinary journal of record on blindness and visual impairment that publishes research and practice
and serves as a forum for the exchange of ideas, airing of controversies, and discussion of issues--is copyright Copyright © 2017 American Foundation for the Blind. All rights reserved.


If you would like to give us feedback, please contact us at


services iconComment on JVIB Articles

Sign in to use the new comment-on-this-article feature!

services iconAdvertising

Low Vision Simulators Plus VSRT (Pepper) Test LUV Reading Workbook

New! Orientation and Mobility Techniques, Second Edition

Foundations of Education, Third Edition

College Bound: A Guide for Students with Visual Impairments, 2nd Edition

Learn NVDA