Photo of a mall decorated for Christmas and text

The Gift of Independence: O&M Success Story and Activity

Independent Christmas shopping!

Students need role models! There are several wonderful YouTube vloggers (video bloggers) who share their stories, tips and successes about living with a visual impairment. (See the You Are Not Alone post about vloggers with visual impairments.) Blind to Billionaire is YouTube channel about Matt, a man who is visually impaired due to Retinitis Pigmentosa (RP). In a recent video Matt’s wife, Corey, shares Matt’s story about how Matt has recently started Orientation and Mobility instruction (cane travel) and surprised her by applying his new O&M skills to independently go to a store and purchase her a gift. The best Christmas gift is the gift of Independence!

Orientation and Mobility Specialists: This is WHY we love our job!

O&M Lesson for Students

As an Certified Orientation and Mobility Specialist (COMS) working with school-age students, one of my goals is to help students see how O&M lessons apply to real-life situations. During the month of December, I often touch base with parents to discuss shopping for Christmas presents during O&M lessons. Ideally, parents will drop off their child to do independent shopping; realistically, many helicopter parents basically do the shopping and simply take the child along. In worst case scenarios, the parents shop and leave the child at home!

FYI: I do provide shopping guidelines for parents and invite parents along during O&M lessons. (Depending on the student, the parent might be a silent observer only!) When possible, I will video the student during O&M lessons to demonstrate their level of independence. Please note that many businesses will no longer allow videoing in their stores!

During O&M lessons, we first prepare for independent shopping by becoming familiar with local stores and/or mall, by learning to initiate assistance from local sales people, and money skills. We also take time to browse stores in order to have a better understanding of what is available and new trends. In December, we discuss who the student will shop for, what that person might like, and where we might find the desired gift. Depending on the student’s age and abilities, we might chose one person to shop for (such as a sibling) or we might shop for the whole family. If the student is young and if it is appropriate, the student can ask the parent for ways to earn money at home in order to purchase a Christmas gift. In a few cases, I will set up situations at school for the student to ‘earn money’ via helping in the library, office or cafeteria. In some situations I may ask the student to help me purchase a gift for the student’s teacher or for another student on my case load (and I provide the money). 

Depending on the age of the student, the student may do homework and research the gift they plan on purchasing. They may learn more about the gift itself, read reviews, and comparison shop online. The student may call the store ahead of time and schedule time with a clerk to assist. Ideally, Christmas shopping is a drop-off lesson (with or without distant silent observation). Some students are not ready for full drop-off lesson; in which case, encourage as much independence as possible. (My kindergarten students are just learning about community travel and need more supervision; community drop-offs are not age-appropriate for these youngsters. However, I may break the lesson down into bite-size chunks and have them independently complete a chunk and then walk up and talk through the next chunk.)

The last lesson is to wrap the Christmas gift! (Yes, use wrapping paper not simply dropping the gift in a bag. I love involving the OT with this!)

I also talk with the classroom teacher/TVI about using this shopping experience as a topic in a writing/language arts lesson.


Are you actively supporting your child’s O&M skills and independence? Have YOU set up opportunities for your child to shop during family shopping trips? While it may be faster initially to shop without your child, shopping is a critical functional living skill! When was the last time you handed your child a credit/debit card, cash or smart phone with a payment app and provided the opportunity for your child to pay for items during a family shopping trip? Have you involved your child in holiday shopping for siblings or family members? Young students may need supervision and some prompting; however, middle school and high school students should have opportunities to shop independently or with distant silent supervision. Talk to you child’s O&M instructor about your child’s level of community independence, what stores your child has become familiar with during O&M lessons, and what O&M skills you can help your child work on. Your child needs to practice community O&M skills regularly outside of O&M lessons!

Benefits of Independent Christmas Shopping

There are many obvious benefits of Christmas shopping – all the O&M skills involved such as cane skills, navigation, independence, etc. that is expected during any O&M lesson. However, there is a benefit that is often overlooked – how the student feels about independently shopping, purchasing, wrapping, and giving a gift! The sense of accomplishment and pride along with the excitement of watching the family member opening a gift – especially a gift that is a surprise! 

Gift of independence collage

By Diane Brauner

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