There is a national shortage of Mobility and Orientation Instructors. I have also found from experience that many teach children as they would teach an adult. Children learn from play and from emulating their parents. Here are some tips to help you get your child ready for a cane, or to build independence and mobility.
Follow the perimeter of the room to understand the boundaries and the environment. Make this the first thing you do for any new place. Discuss what’s in the room and let your child explore those areas. I allow extra time in our schedule if we’re going to a new place. Rushing this process can completely overwhelm your child and make them afraid of new places. Allotting time to explore can build your child’s confidence and independence.
Allow your child to touch things gently; the walls, windows, displays. Think of your child’s hands as their vision. You wouldn’t cover you children’s eyes because they looked at the cheerios in the grocery store. It’s okay to teach them to touch things gently but try not to restrict this sense.
Focus on the familiar: jump on carpet or tiles as you would at home, point out the feel of the walls or the windows. Show your child how similar the new place is to somewhere they know. Bring comfort items if your child has them.
Introduce concepts: we are walking forward/backwards, turn around. These are basic movements that will form the foundation of your child’s mobility. You don’t have to do anything different than you normally do but explain your movements and directions. Hold hands or carry your child as you explore. No age is too early to start. I highly recommend wearing your infant if you want to get anything done.
Build on concepts: the wall is to your right, the glass at your left. Differentiating between left and right is the basis for the sweep of the white cane. I find that it takes my son longer to understand concepts. He really has to dig into them and live them to understand a new concept. Do not be afraid to start this early or to reinforce it often.
Play with sound: take a bell or kid’s musical instrument and play with it in different environments, big store, small closet. I would even sing twinkle twinkle everywhere we went. I would change the volume of the song to show him whisper versus yell. This was also calming in loud environments because I could sing his favorite song and he was used to focusing on it.
Safety. Make the rules clear for your child when they can explore and when they must stay near. Empower them to understand their environment by pointing out large constants like parking lot yellow zones, or stop signs. I know your fear, it’s terrifying to let them go, but you have to allow independence. Make rules you and your child can both live with and adjust as their skill allows.
Permit your child to choose the cane, or pre-cane toy, or go without. I have a simple rule for my son if it isn’t a familiar place, his cane or my hand. He wants to test boundaries and explore and sometimes is frustrated by his cane, it’s okay to take a hand, he is still walking. Remember that the cane can get heavy if your child isn’t using proper form. It’s also difficult to process all that information.
If you are sure your child needs a cane, and they have not established interest, try a walker toy. They are considered pre-cane toys as they allow your child to walk but also provide a barrier against other objects. If your child is still not a fan, buy yourself an adult cane. My son couldn’t handle the public scrutiny when he first started with his cane. I bought an adult cane to use alongside him to show him how to use his. He quickly became comfortable with his own because he wasn’t alone. I still use it to teach him new techniques. Never underestimate emulation as a teaching tool.
They have some amazing children’s canes now with neon colors for your visually impaired child. I believe if you give your child the responsibility of caring for their cane and using it that they will treat it respectfully. Make cane use a family focus and build on these concepts no matter where you go.
Have fun and use the toys in your house to explain direction or movement. We used our geotrax train set to introduce forwards and backwards. Don’t be afraid to play and have fun. Use what you already have and what is familiar. For us outside was very overwhelming to learn these concepts, bring it indoors. Have a safe place to run, jump, and move and learn all these ideas at once.