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Summer 99 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

O&M for Preschool Children: A Developmental Approach

Adapted from a presentation by Susan S. Simmons, Ph.D.
This article first appeared in the June 1995 edition of VISIONS

A number of years ago I began referring to myself as a "Developmental O&M Specialist". I choose this term because many O&M Specialists seem to come from one of two schools of thought when providing services for young children. Since most of us were trained from the adult model, if the person does not have a background in child development the tendency is to take adult skills and try to simplify them for children.

I was a child development specialist who became an O&M. When I went through my training I couldn't help but think of ways to implement some of the techniques in a very different manner with young children. Because of this difference in background, I think in terms of child development instead of O&M development.

In the past ten years or so many people have published articles, curricula, assessment tools, as well as ideas on how to effectively work with young children who are visually impaired. I have had the wonderful opportunity to speak at numerous conferences on this topic, and I have found that discussing O&M in the context of a child's development is very well received.

It is vital that we think about O&M differently when teaching young children as opposed to adults. We need to realize that everything we do with children under five years of age is related to their understanding of space or their ability to move through space. For that matter, sighted children at this age also focus on learning about where they are in space and how to make their body move through space.

The most important factor in developing a successful O&M program for preschool children is the philosophy that independence permeates everything you do.

So, what is O&M for preschool children?

Here are a few areas not usually associated with traditional O&M:

  1. O&M is our attitudes, and the attitudes of all who come in contact with this child.
  2. O&M is our commitment to that child's independence at whatever level she is capable.
  3. O&M is the language we all use with our children and how, even subconsciously, we encourage independence.
  4. O&M is valuing the child's skills. Our values often clearly indicate that anything short of being able to see the environment is a disappointment.

A few words about canes

It is absolutely normal for all young children to want to do things for themselves. We often brag about all the things that the sighted child can do independently. It is critical to develop the same expectations and opportunities for the child who is visually impaired. The child's self-image and the attitudes of those who work with her will be greatly influenced by the O&M Specialist's attitudes and expectations, especially as they relate to the use of canes.

I get very excited about teaching cane skills. A cane can be one of the simplest tools a child uses for independent travel skills. As the child develops, so will her cane skills. As she begins to have more body control, she will exhibit more cane control, and more complex techniques can then be introduced. These decisions are made based upon the child's environmental needs as well as her emotional readiness.

In my experience, families are either very interested in their child learning to use a cane or highly resistant to the introduction of the cane. It is very important for professionals to tune into the concerns of the family. Many families may feel that a cane will bring too much attention to their child. They may find it embarrassing if people stare, watch their child, or stop and ask questions. Some parents feel that if they hold the child's hand and lead them around, other people will not notice that the child is blind or visually impaired. Although these feelings are an understandable part of the acceptance process, it is vital to work through them with the family.

Suggestions for encouraging independence in the home and classroom

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Last Revision: September 4, 2003