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Students with Significant Cognitive Disabilities and Dual Sensory Loss: NCDB/ATLAS Report

Beginning in 2020, NCDB and Accessible Teaching, Learning, and Assessment Systems (ATLAS) began working together to identify characteristics of students who are deaf-blind and have significant cognitive disabilities, using data gathered by both projects. To date, this has resulted in the publication of an extensive technical report in 2021, and the first two of what will be a series of briefs based on the report in 2022.

Main Report

This 163-page report fills a profound gap in our knowledge of school-age students who are deaf-blind and have significant cognitive disabilities.

[The February 2023 update incorporates corrections made to the text on pages 7, 81, 96, 101, and 112 associated with tables 4.15 and 5.2.]

Young boy smiling.
Paul sitting on his mom's lap.


Brief 1 – Identification

This brief provides details about students with known and suspected dual sensory loss, as well as recommendations for identification, and implications for instruction.

Brief 2 – CVI vs. Other Visual Impairments

This brief provides important information about the differences between students with significant cognitive disabilities who have cortical visual impairment and those who have other types of visual impairment.

Report Details

The report is based on an analysis of information on students eligible for statewide alternate assessments from the following two key datasets:

  • The National Child Count of Children and Youth Who Are Deaf-Blind – Demographic and other characteristics of children served by state deaf-blind projects
  • The First Contact Survey – Teacher-reported characteristics and skills of their students with significant cognitive disabilities enrolled to take the Dynamic Learning Maps® alternate assessments

The First Contact information uses the term dual sensory loss rather than deaf-blindness.

The report analyzes information from the two datasets where they overlap and, perhaps more significantly, provides statistics in areas where research has historically been quite limited, including

  • Receptive and expressive communication skills
  • Hand use
  • Attention to instruction
  • Academic skills in reading, writing, math, and science

The findings indicate that students who are deaf-blind face significant challenges in these areas. 

The report also includes information on the characteristics of students with cortical visual impairment (CVI), a condition that affects many students who are deaf-blind.

The findings provide essential information to help educators, technical assistance providers, researchers, and policymakers better understand the disparities faced by this population of students and address how to identify them as early as possible and provide instruction and services that promote their learning, skill development, and access to the general education curriculum.

A woman and a young girl who is deaf-blind sit facing each other at a table on which there is an open book. The girl has her left hand on top of the woman's right hand.