Future Reflections Spring/Summer 1993, Vol. 12 No. 2

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O&M: A PROCESS TOWARD INDEPENDENCE
by Joe Cutter

[PICTURE] This is one of Joe Cutter's young students but the instructor with him is not Joe. It's the boy's Dad. Joe firmly believes that parents are the young child's best teachers. Other parents teach and encourage their children to move about freely; why shouldn't parents of blind children do the same? Joe Cutter provides parents with the information, instruction, and encouragement so they will have the confidence to do so.

From the Editor: As was mentioned earlier in this issue, Joe Cutter is a pioneer in teaching cane travel and mobility to very young blind children. I have had several opportunities over the past three years or so to talk with Joe about the work he has done, and continues to do, with blind children. He has one of the most open minds I have ever encountered in an O&M professional. He is always willing to learn from his students (no matter how young they are), their parents, and from the organized blind. And Joe is one of those fellows who practices what he preaches. The independence and the “can do” attitude of the children with whom he works is proof positive that this man really believes in the essential normality of the blind. Here, then, is the text of the remarks Joe Cutter made to the November, 1992, Parents' Seminar sponsored by the Parents Division of the NFB of New Jersey.

I would like to begin with a quote from Dr. Jean Ayres, the mother of sensory integration:

Society 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 childplay 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 play-for example, a tower of blocks or some number of jumps over a jump rope-is 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.

Orientation 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 world in an increasingly independent manner. During these early years, a common thread will sew together the variety of experiences. It will be imbued 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.

So 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 towards independence becomes more safe, effective and confident. Parents and other educators of blind children are facilitators and interpreters using touch, verbal and visual cues where they may apply. This is done to lure their child into a safe, interesting space in which 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 of the sensory systems-touch, sound, taste, smell, vestibular, proprioceptive-not 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 towards independence.

Of course the blind child does 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. In other words, we often continue to bring the world to them instead of investing our energies in getting them to go to 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.

So, 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 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 floor. They are doing this not only for play and amusement but 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 purposes as an older child or blind adult might use their feet or cane when walking.

I am privileged to be a part of this process, adapting and compensating with blind children as they for the the first time sit, crawl, stand, walk, use a cane, use their partial sight effectively, and learn to explore interesting space, places and things. I acknowledge the creator in them, 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."

*The title of an essay by Leo Buscaglia from his book Living, Loving, and
Learning.

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