A Process Towards Independence
tends to underrate the importance of play. Since most
children play adequately without parental help and since
it is not easy to see how play develops the brain, most
people think of play as mere entertainment or fooling
around. However, the child-play before a child goes
to school is just as important for his development as
is his schoolwork. The essential ingredient in play
is the child's expression of an inner drive toward self-fulfillment
as a sensory-motor feeling. The end product of playfor
example, a tower of blocks or some number of jumps over
a jumpropeis not important in itself. What
is important is that the child follows his inner drive
to produce physical activity in which he masters his
environment and his body. Physical activity produces
sensory stimulation and adaptive responses that help
to organize the brain. The external results may not
mean anything to an adult but to the child they signify
success in his own growth process.
Jean Ayres, the "Mother" of Sensory Integration
and mobility is a way of life. It is a way of knowing
and a way of moving, a process of reciprocal interaction
motivated by a wish to know, a wish to "be there" or
"out there," of being with the world instead of separate
from it. This process of orientation and mobility during
the early years of life enables the blind child to engage
with the early years; a common thread will sew together
the variety of experiences. It will be consistent with
the fact that, as human beings, blind children will
have a sense of order, a sense of organizing their experiences
and the ability to improve upon these experiences. From
the earliest sensorimotor schemes to the formation of
intentional thought and complex problem solving, the
drive to want more and to make more out of what reality
at any given moment has to offer will be part of the
foundation of getting to know the world.
what we observe through the maturation of the blind
child is this process unfolding over time, of getting
to know and moving in the world, on life's terms. Over
time, this progression toward independence becomes more
safe, effective, and confident. Parents and other educators
of blind children are facilitators and interpreters
using touch, verbal, and visual cues when they may apply.
This is done to lure their child into a safe, interesting
space where "visiting the world" will take place. We
will offer blind children a menu of experiences that
will make sense to them. Where visual acuity is absent
(or partially so), sensory acuity remains. Research
has proven that there is an interconnectiveness to the
sensory systemstouch, sound, taste, smell, vestibular,
proprioceptivenot to mention the joy to move and
the need to know! The human brain employs these senses
to "get the job done!" It is an "equal opportunity employer"
and does not discriminate between the modes which provide
the sensory information. For example, the sense of touch
is primary in integrating and relating to all other
sensory systems. The largest area of the brain's surface
is devoted to the hand. The skin is the largest organ
of the body. The blind child is a "sensation" of information.
This will be used to compensate and adapt in the process
of progressing toward independence.
course the blind child will not do this alone. What
child could? All humans enter the world dependent upon
getting their needs met. Movement needs are no exception.
In learning anything new there seems to be a pattern:
we do it for the child, then with the child, and then
allow the child to do it alone. With parental love and
guidance, the alternative techniques of blindness (or
adaptive strategies) and tools for success (the brailler,
cane, low vision aids, etc.), the blind child will learn
a "can do" attitude. We know we can do for blind children,
and they are vulnerable to our doing what they can do
themselves. In other words, we often continue to bring
the world to them instead of investing our energies
in getting them to go out into the world. Blind children,
like all children, are more than a sum of their parts.
What is essential is not visible to the eye, but more
fundamental (adaptive and compensatory) and is driven
from the inside. These alternative techniques and tools
look different but the results are the same: functionality,
enjoyment, having a life! Differences are not deficits!
We must make this message clear to the blind child in
what we do and how we do it.
as an orientation and mobility instructor, I am fascinated
and educated by how blind children adapt and compensate
(and of course their parents too!). For example, take
the phenomenon of auditory object perception in the
blind child. This is the use of reflected sound by the
blind child to explore and manipulate an aspect of the
sound world. When one looks at blind children crawling,
one can observe their hands being slapped on the kitchen
floor. They are doing this not only for play and amusement
but also to utilize this feedback from the environment
to avoid or go to objects. They are looking to hear.
The blind child's hands perform extra movements not
needed for the motor act of crawling per se. These additional
movements are utilized for the same purpose as an older
child or blind adult may use their feet or a cane when
am privileged to be a part of this process, adapting
and compensating with the blind child as she or hefor
the first timesits, crawls, stands, walks, uses
a cane, uses his or her partial sight effectively, and
learns to explore interesting spaces, places, and things.
I acknowledge the creator in them and their spirit and
drive to go to the world. I respect the love and developmental
guidance of their parents and other educators who, with
them, creatively adapt and compensate, too.
And I am reminded again that what is essential is not
visible to the eye.