“As your child’s first mobility teacher, the decision to use a cane must be made by you the parents. You may come to such a decision in conjunction with the orientation and mobility specialist, or without such a professional. The point is, it should be your decision. Generally a cane will help facilitate a blind child moving shortly after he or she begins walking. I have known blind children, however, who took their first steps across a large space with a cane. In these cases, the child was ready to walk, but would not self initiate many steps across large spaces. Therefore, observe the child’s movement around the event of walking. If the cane seems to promote movement, go with it. Do posture, date, and self-assurance seem true with the cane? If yes, then it’s facilitating movement.
If the child is evaluated by an orientation and mobility professional and it is decided that he or she is not ready for a cane, and ask yourself these questions: What is my child ready for? Someone’s arm? A pre-cane device that may be more complex to handle than the simple design of a cane? The less safe and efficient movement promoted by the so-called pre cane techniques?
I believe the answers to these questions will lead most parents to the decision to take charge, purchase a cane, and get started. It may be a bit scary, and you may be a bit doubtful in the beginning, but have faith in your own intuition and in your child; you’re a team.”
A certain distance of perception is needed to activate the imaging system. For this the cane should be about as long as the child is tall. Sighted people use their eyes to scan several steps ahead.
A blind child, who has shorter arms and may move more quickly and erratically than an adult, will need a long enough cane to perceive advance information about the way ahead. This allows time for the brain to receive and process all the information it needs to make decisions on moving around.
The cane is a delicate instrument, like an antenna, and should be as light as possible. In order to be recognised and accepted by the brain as a natural perceptual extension, the cane should not be cumbersome or awkward.
Give the child all of the advantages:
A cane puts the Blind Child at an Advantage When Traveling: The use of the cane has so many functions that it places the child at a real advantage in learning about the world and in moving and traveling in it. Through everyday experiences with the cane, blind children learn through their own orientation and mobility to view themselves as independent travellers. To not get an early start on cane travel for the blind child is to place the child at a disadvantage and all of the aforementioned functions of the cane are not a possibility; instead limitations will be developed by the passive movement that following someone’s lead engenders. The child’s cognitive development, freedom of movement, and confidence to travel independently is also at risk of not developing. Make sure the blind child in your care is given all the advantages.
Benefits of starting early with a cane:
Self-directed engagement of human assistance need not impair brain development, but regular passive dependence on human assistance can impair brain development through lack of equitability and lack of self-determination. If the blind person is not directive of her interactions with the environment, whether they are guided or not, then the brain’s decision making and perceptual processes may break down.
Practically speaking, get the hands off the student, and get rid of the “good fairy”. The student should be held responsible for his own self direction. Traditionally, Students and their families were usually taught how to guide or be guided. In the mid 20th century, the idea of a blind person travelling on his own throughout the world in all areas of daily life may have been inconceivable; being guided may have been seen as the most efficient or preferred option. There is, indeed, a time and place for guiding; all blind people including the most sophisticated and experienced travellers, will choose to make active use of it as situations warrant. However, this practice has become extremely overused and is implemented in a manner that tends to place the blind student into a role of passive recipient rather than active manager or contributor. The implications of this are misunderstood from a developmental perspective. It threatens the integrity of self-directed freedom by eroding the perceptual system. Guiding is easy – too easy – at least in the short term.
Overuse of a human guide can lead to passive behaviour on behalf of the student and can teach the blind student that the functioning of blind people is best facilitated by sighted people.
“An emphasis on human guide tends to reinforce or even create an expectation on the part of the learner that the appropriate social role of a blind person is a passive one”
(Altman & Cutter, 2004, p74).
Human guiding can cause someone to be whisked through the environment without the opportunity to engage what passes by or to take their own initiative to discover. Some blind people refer to human guidance as ‘hitching a ride’ due to the impassive nature of the experience for them while being guided.
“Guiding tends to be over-used. An over-reliance on this skill with children does little to improve their confidence and independent mobility. Children who are guided everywhere don’t get the chance to practice and develop their O & M skills and can become over-dependent on others”
(Scott, 2012, p24).
Rather than focus on teaching everyone how to guide, student efficacy is quickly and dramatically improved when we focus attention on teaching how not to guide. Teach methods to allow a student to walk with someone or with a group without a need to hold on. Develop approaches to increase walking speed and improve gait pattern.
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