Future Reflections Summer 1991

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Editor's Note: The following letter exchange took place as a result of the Winter/Spring, 1990, Future Reflections article, "Cane Travel for Preschoolers."

April 13, 1990

Future Reflections

1800 Johnson Street Baltimore, Maryland 21230

Dear Sirs: An article in your Winter/Spring issue entitled "Cane Travel for Preschoolers?" was certainly thought-provoking. As orientation and mobility instructors, we agree that preschoolers can benefit from the use of a long cane, and know many other professionals who also concur. We do, however, worry about the advisability of allowing a child to use a cane without any instruction or monitoring by a trained professional. Without such instruction, motor patterns may develop which will be extremely difficult or impossible to "refine" later in the child's life. Poor motor patterns lead to mobility that is neither safe, efficient, or graceful. Parents may make excellent monitors once they know which patterns to encourage, and in partnership with the orientation and mobility instructor, should be seen as a vital component in their child's acquisition of travel skills. Yes, canes for preschoolers can enhance many aspects of their lives. Appropriate instruction maximizes the benefits in motor development, sensory development, and cognitive development that increased travel opportunities provide.

Tom Barnard

John Zimbelman

Parent/School Advisors Idaho State School for the Deaf and the Blind


May 30, 1990

Mr. Tom Barnard

Mr. John Zimbelman

Parent/School Advisors Idaho State School for the Deaf and Blind

Dear Mr. Barnard and Mr. Zimbelman: I have your letter of April 13, and I appreciate your taking the time to share your thoughts about the "Cane Travel for preschoolers" article in the last issue of Future Reflections. It is a pleasure to hear from orientation and mobility instructors who are providing canes and instruction to preschoolers. As you have pointed out in your letter, there are so many positive benefits to the early introduction of cane travel.

I understand your concern about children getting good instruction in using the cane. It would be ideal if every blind child in this country could have prompt, adequate training in all the necessary special skills of blindness, including cane travel. Unfortunately, this simply does not happen. Shortages of funds, teachers, and outmoded attitudes about blindness all contribute to many, many situations where parents of blind childrenþ especially very young childrenþsimply do not have access to good professional guidance and instruction.

Parents often face a difficult dilemma. They can wait and do nothing until the system can, or will, provide orientation and mobility. (In which case the older child will most certainly have developed a pattern of dependency and undesirable motor habits, such as a slow, awkward "duckwalk" kind of gait. On top of all this, the child is likely to have the typical adolescent reaction to using the white cane (such as fear, embarrassment, and rejection.) Or the parents can get the child a cane right away and trust that the confidence, positive attitudes toward the cane, and patterns of independence which early use of the cane promotes, will outweigh the disadvantage of a lack of professional instruction.

Because we know children cannot be put on hold while our society finds ways and means to increase the quantity and quality of services to blind children, the National Federation of the Blind has developed literature for parents and professionals which can help bridge this gap. I have enclosed past issues of Future Reflections which contain articles about cane travel and the young child. One article contains specific do's and don't's for parents who wish to encourage independent travel; another one describes what a parent should know and do so that the child will be ready for formal cane travel lessons; and yet another one has actual photographs and descriptions of cane techniques. The most current as well as the best and most complete instructional guide to cane travel for preschoolers and the young child is contained in the newly published Handbook for Itinerant and Resource Teachers of the Blind and Visually Impaired. (A review of this book is in the Future Reflections Winter/Spring, 1990, issue.)

None of this literature is, of course, a substitute for good formal cane travel instruction which emphasizes positive attitudes and builds confidence as well as skills. However, it can, as I said, help bridge the gap created by inadequate or even nonexistent services. Again, I truly appreciate your comments. I am sending a copy of our correspondence to Mrs. Ramona Walhof, President of the NFB of Idaho. I am sure that she, too, would be pleased to know of your views regarding blind preschoolers' use of the long white cane.

Cordially yours,

(Mrs.) Barbara Cheadle, Editor

Future Reflections National Federation of the Blind

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