In a recent series on Remote O&M Instruction for Students Transitioning to College, Victor, a rising college freshman, applied his strong O&M skills to successfully and confidently travel the main areas of campus – after one remote O&M lesson on non-visual digital maps and one lesson traveling campus. Since those posts were published, I have been bombarded with questions about how to teach the mental mapping skills and foundational concepts that Victor applied in order to travel his college campus. As an O&M specialist, I consider these skills to be the “ORIENTATION” part of O&M that should be introduced – with age appropriate activities – beginning with the child’s first O&M lesson.
For background on Victor’s transition to college, please read the previous posts:
Enabling your child/student to be a “fearless independent traveler in new environments” starts as soon as your child/student begins as early as possible!
The first step is for your student to become completely confident traveler in a small space. For a toddler and preschooler, that space is his house and his backyard. He should “own his real estate” – meaning he should know and travel confidently to all areas within his own house. He should also “own his piece of dirt” – the backyard. He should be able to play confidently in the back yard, knowing where things are, such as, the patio, back door, swingset, where he can ride his trike, etc. If in a preschool, he should also be a confident, independent traveler in his classroom, playground, and main areas of his school. This means that the student daily walks through this classroom space and playground space independently and can quickly navigate to and from various destinations. The space should be set up in such a way to encourage this independence and educators should expect him to travel independently. If assistance is needed initially, a teacher can give prompts such as “follow the windows” instead of telling the student “come here”. He may learn strategies such as trailing the windows to find the reading center or walking with “one-foot on, one-foot off” the Circle Time rug to find his spot on the floor in order to travel independently within the classroom. In the preschool, the student should also travel without assistance to and from his classroom, to/from the bus or car rider line, to/from/around the cafeteria, to/from/around the playground, etc.
Most importantly, the student needs opportunities for independence!
As the student’s skills progress and he transitions to larger environments, he should expand his fearless independent travel to include the sidwalks and block around his house and/or school. The student should have opportunities to be oriented to and travel regularly – with increasing independence – in local stores. The student should be taken on family shopping trips and these trips should include “exploration”. Exploration trips are often used to help the student understand what items might be found in which stores. An Exploration trip is one trip into the store where the goal is to learn a couple items found in the store; unfortunately, exploration trips typically do not include teaching indepedendent orientation within that store. While Exploration trips are helpful, if the student is not expected to learn “orientation” in the store, this type of trip subtly states that the student does not have to pay attention to the orientation – he/she is not expected to remember the store or travel that store independently. Orientation and Mobility instructors should specifically teaching orientation skills every time a student enters a store. Instead of an Exploration trip, plan “Orientation” trips – multiple trips to the same store and focus on orientation. The first trip might include coming in the door and exploring the area on that first wall. The student is ALWAYS expected to reverse his/her route to find the door! The student should “own his real estate” – including local stores!
Also expect the student to “own his real estate” from the store along the sidewalk to the car. (Park in a similar location each trip. If possible, park by a tree or other identifiable landmark.) The student should know how to exit the store, turn right/left or walk forward to find the curb, and should ALWAYS stop at the curb. This is a great time to practice self-advocacy as little ones should use Human Guide for safety reasons when walking through a parking lot. The student should ask for Human Guide and should tell the guide “All clear, Go!” when it is safe to cross the parking lot “road” to get to the car.
With preschool students, my favorite store to explore is a big pet store, such as PetSmart. These pet stores are typically a big “box” with clear aisles around the perimeter and a main aisle from the door to the back of the store. Young students are learning about animals in school, so exploring about animals carries over into the classroom! (More about store travel in another post!)
In the photo below, 4 year old Victor is walking with a roller-style adapted mobility device (pre-cane) and bumped his cane into the large red cement ball in front of Target. The red ball is approximately shoulder-height to Victor! Victor has been learning to travel independently to various departments within Target. In the picture, Victor came out of Target, turned right on the sidewalk, and was counting three red “balls” to find the crosswalk closest to where the car is parked.
As student skills improve, your student should “own his own real estate” to include blocks around his home, school, and community. If possible, the student should be given opportunities to walk to a nearby friend’s house (with silent, distant supervision as needed).
Environment’s vary, so depending on your student’s abilities and the local environment (are there sidewalks, stop signs/lights? traffic? safety?), some students may “own” community blocks (and stores!) earlier than other students. Older students “real estate” should inlcude large areas and should also include bus routes, malls, etc. if available locally.
By Diane Brauner