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Fall 2009 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

By Ruth Ann Marsh, COMS, TSBVI Outreach Orientation and Mobility Consultant

Abstract: The author discusses the importance of not protecting students too much so they may have opportunities to learn to solve problems and gain independent skills.

Keywords: visually impaired, orientation and mobility, problem solving, independence

As teachers of the visually impaired (TVI) and orientation and mobility specialists (COMS), our roles are to help out students develop the skills that will enable them to be successful, not only in school but in the world outside of and beyond school. Part of the goals we have for our students is to teach the expanded core curriculum such as Braille, use of visual aides, adaptive technology, cane skills, use of public transportation, daily living skills, etc. While all of the skills are needed for success both in school and out of school, the skill that will help them the most is the ability to recognize and solve the inevitable problems that are encountered through one's life.

Most professionals in the field of visual impairment are there because they want to help their students. But what we learn early on is that helping a student sometimes means letting them learn to deal with problems without our interference and interventions to "fix things". It's not an easy thing to do - to stand back and let your students learn from their own mistakes. I, personally have had to literally bite my lip to keep from blurting out information that my student would, given ample time, figure out on her own; keep my hands clasped behind my back to keep from reaching out to physically rearrange something so that it was less of an obstacle; remind myself to wait and give her time to discover her options and then act upon them; etc. I often have invited parents to accompany us on O&M lessons, reminding them to also not interfere, so that they can see how their children are able to handle naturally occurring challenges. Often parents are amazed at what their children can do when given the opportunity.

Of course, making sure that your students are safe is always paramount, but making sure they succeed by falsely removing all or even some of the challenges actually keeps them from developing the problem-solving skills needed to become independently successful. And it ultimately has a negative effect on the self-confidence as they quickly learn that they only "succeed" when an instructor is present. They are not fooled for long.

In his best seller self-help book, The Road Less Traveled, Dr. Scott Peck begins his first chapter with the sentence, "Life is difficult." He goes on to say,

"What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one. Problems, depending on their nature, evoke in us frustration or grief or sadness or loneliness or guilt or regret or anger or fear or anxiety or anguish or despair... Yet it is in this whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning... It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually. ...when we avoid the legitimate suffering that results from dealing with problems, we also avoid the growth that problems demand from us."

None of us want our students to suffer. But dealing with frustrations, and learning that one can work through them and be a better, more capable person is a life affirming, powerful experience. Our students learn not only that they can get around physical obstacles on campus, but that through determination and persistence they can deal with similar obstacles in other environments. Our students learn how and when to be an advocate for their needs, but also how to be creative when problems need to be solved. They learn how to manage frustration and to channel that energy in constructive ways. If students were guided everywhere on campus, they would not have had the opportunity to learn and practice these problem solving skills.

Our O&M specialists, while always ensuring students' safety, have to stand back and give them the time and encouragement to work through some puzzling, frustrating experiences. But the result is young people who are developing the confidence they need to be successful when they don't have an O&M specialist along. In her article, "Frustration While Traveling", Amanda states, "I will deal with the same things for the rest of my life. I am happy that I can deal with things." A famous quote by Hodding Carter, Jr. comes to mind: "There are two lasting bequests we can give our children. One is roots. The other is wings." May we always have the courage, fortitude and patience to give our students roots and wings.