University of Edinburgh

Newsletter No 13: Spring 2002

Safety Issues and Mobility Training with School Age Children and Young People

by Linda Bain, Mobility Teacher, The Royal Blind School, Edinburgh.

from Proceedings of Managing Change in VisuaI Impairment Education, September 1996

1 Introduction

Mobility training aims to develop the visually impaired child's awareness and understanding of the environment to enable them to travel as independently as their ability allows.

The mere fact that we are dealing with children means that we are not, to any great extent, building on previous experience and knowledge but laying the foundations to build on. This is achieved over a long period of time.

Within mobility training, particular safety issues may arise. As well as the more obvious safety considerations related to independent travel and visual impairment, there may also be 'gaps' in the child's understanding and/or conceptual distortions of their environment which must be identified.

2 Key aspects regarding safety and mobility training

Early mobility intervention. Early experience and practice of moving independently is essential to develop good/safe travel skills. This will help reduce dependency on others and develop courage.

Age and stage appropriate skills. Children must be introduced to and trained in skills that are appropriate to their maturity, ability and needs at various developmental stages. Thus they are taught skills specific to their functioning. Programmes are carefully planned, and developmentally sequenced, to suit the individual. Consistency of teaching makes for easier learning. All those who work with the child must share the responsibility in reinforcing correct skills.

Safety issues. Lack of sight increases vulnerability and children need to be made aware of the difficulties this may cause. They should progres- sively become more responsible for their own safety. It is important for us to try and make sense of how the children understand the world around them. Know the child very well reduces the risks.

Practical/Concrete/Direct experiences. Many and varied opportunities to explore and to interact with their environments need to be offered. Extended learning, practice and experience lead to a more efficient and flexible application of knowledge and skills. Experiential deprivations must be compensated for by 'filling in the gaps'.

3 Early Mobility Intervention

" Limited movement and exploration, rather than blindness, in and of it- self, is the cause of many of the resulting problems associated with visual impairment." (Leonard and Newman, 1967, Warren, 1984).

Teaching considerations: Formal mobility input but mainly through play. Who then delivers the mobility programme? (Need to limit the number of people working with the young child to assist the development of close and trusting relationships.)

Correct skills and techniques to be taught as soon as the child is mobile. - Good guiding. - Safe trailing and self protection techniques (difficult to achieve)

Beware of encouraging dependency on human contact. Beware of 'running commentary'. Develop courage - 'rough and tumble'. Adaptive devices and push toys may be useful. Increase environmental awareness. Include exposure to road crossings, public transport, etc. in mobility programmes.

Encourage use of other senses, particularly hearing. The detection and recognition of sound cues comes first, but children must be taught the significance of these sensory cues and how to use the cues in orientating themselves to their environment. Also encourage exploration with two hands. Differences in shape, size and texture need to be determined but children need to realise why these differences matter. Home based mobility programmes crucial to reinforce work being done at school. (MOs assigned to work with the child in the home area would benefit from seeing the child in the school setting. Training can ithen complement and further develop work already being done in school.)

4 Age and Stage Appropriate Skills

Teaching considerations: Important to assess the child in as many different situations and environments as possible. Know them very well. Never assume.

On-going training (impossible to teach visually impaired children in the full range of available mobility skills and techniques at any one point in their development). Consider appropriateness of routes being taught. Meaningful and within the child's capabilities. Base around the child's wants or needs for success. Progression of travel from familiar- to less familiar, to unfamiliar.

May well have advanced/competent children but their travel could be restricted as they may simply be too young to be doing a particular route. Be realistic as to what they should be tackling on their own.

There are times when children are particularly sensitive to learning. Identify these times and make god use of them.
Children tend to isolate mobility. Help them realise that mobility is part of everyday life and to transfer skills and knowledge to everyday situations.

Repetition and time aid learning and build confidence. Aim for the 'automisation of skills'.

Start off as equal partners with the child then gaining more control. Mobility is not only about learning routes! All about developing skills. Low vision training crucial for partially sighted children. (Often overlooked as, in contrast to the blind, they appear to 'manage'.) Mobility training for them can often be very difficult as they must constantly and actively think to extract useful information from the visual environment.

Need to teach the experience of getting lost! When learning routes the child has to recognise when they have gone too far by exploring what comes after what they were looking for. They have first of all to realise that they have gone off course before setting about correcting it. Teach children to retrace their steps until they find a landmark which is familiar to them. All about problem-solving. ('Structured Discovery Learning').

Symbol canes - useful mobility aid for young partially sighted children but training is needed for them to appreciate their usefulness.
Long canes - only introduced when the child is able to mental map and understands what it's actually for!

Long cane training - aiming for the 'perfect' technique but accept that children may struggle. As long as the cane is keeping theme" safe.

Encourage children to use their hands to explore/confirm what the long cane is finding. Acceptance of long cane training? Overall, no real problems. Early introduction, realisation of need and success in use may help.

5 Safety Issues

Teaching Considerations:

Stop!!! The child must respond to this.

Roadcrossings Children, even whilst being guided, must be encouraged to take increasing responsibility at road crossings, Encourage them to make the decisions of where to cross and when it is safe to cross. This needs a lot of practice.

Indented crossings allow a greater degree of safety ( audible road crossings too advanced for younger children?).

Orientation to traffic can, for many children, be extremely difficult.

When traffic cannot be detected sufficiently or when it is difficult to judge distance and speed, children could be taught to seek sighted assistance across the road (this is safer than finding another place where it is possible to see or hear traffic well enough, or avoiding the crossing and taking an alternative route).

Children should be taught never to assume it is always safe to cross when they do not see or hear approaching traffic. Make them aware that sounds may be blocked or masked, or visibly reduced by poor weather or light conditions.

Who is ultimately responsible for a blind child's street crossing safety? Is it the mobility instructor? Or should it be the child?

Independent bus travel

Need to make it clearer to bus drivers and companies of how to deal with visually impaired passengers. What if children miss their stop? National policy - child to remain on bus?

Feedback important. Need for the child to evaluate his experience and then go on to develop ideas of a reality where he can predict and anticipate events. Stress has a direct relationship to the mobility learning situation. There is often a great deal of internal stress and anxiety experienced by children in accepting and undertaking mobility training and to what degree they will trust newly acquired travel skills. Requesting assistance from members of the public can be particularly stressful.

6 Practical/Concrete/Direct Experiences

Teaching Considerations: 'passive receivers of information'. Want the child to participate, be curious, assess and make own judgments/decisions.

Motivation. The child must understand why and want to acquire the techniques and skills which enable him to become independently mobile

Want the environment itself to become the child's main motivator.

Active exploration: increased ability to use landmarks for orientation; helps remember the location of objects; increased understanding of spatial relationships.

Conceptual distortions because of too many verbal instructions or descriptions of the environment that have never been reinforced or corrected through physical contact or direct experience.

Vision 'Unifying' or 'coordinating' sense. Other senses only offering inconsistent bits of information/less sophisticated, activity-related programmes (lots of 'hands-on') will increase curiosity then hopefully the speed of learning.