American Action Fund for Blind Children and Adults
Future Reflections
       Fall 2019      ORIENTATION AND MOBILITY

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The Preschool Blind Child Can Be a Cane User: An Article Review

by Merry-Noel Chamberlain

Merry-Noel Chamberlain From the Editor: Merry-Noel Chamberlain is a teacher of the visually impaired (TVI) and orientation and mobility (O&M) instructor based in Omaha, Nebraska. Recently she earned a doctorate in education from Concordia University. Her articles have appeared frequently in Future Reflections.

While I was conducting research for my doctoral dissertation, I came across an interesting article, "The preschool blind child can be a cane user," written by R. L. Pogrund and S. J. Rosen in 1989. It was featured in the Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness at a time when fierce debate raged among O&M instructors over the best time to introduce the cane to young blind children. Because this article is packed with timeless practical information, I compiled this review to pass its ideas along to today's parents of blind preschoolers and young children.

First of all, Pogrund and Rosen state, "A growing body of anecdotal evidence from the O&M field demonstrates that early cane instruction can produce extremely positive results for the preschool blind child" (p. 438). I find this statement to be just as strong in 2019 as it was thirty years ago. Yet, even today, many blind preschoolers are routinely led around or carried by adults. In fact, this article is bursting with indispensable quotes, and I cannot state the authors' ideas any better!

Essential Quotes Found in the Article

Prerequisites and the Use of Push Toys as Pre-Canes

Many instructors believe that human guide skills are a prerequisite to learning the proper use of the cane. However, Pogrund and Rosen argue that this is not true. They state that high levels "of body, environmental, and spatial concept awareness" are not prerequisites for learning to use the long white cane (p. 436). Furthermore, long-term use of a push toy hinders the transition to using the cane as a primary mobility tool. Push toys such as miniature grocery carts and hula hoops sometimes have been used to teach the bumper or probe concept, and they are great during playtime. However, they cannot be with the child all the time. Pogrund and Rosen point out that these toys protect "the child from more of the environment than is necessary" and that push toys "do not provide the child with the tactual and auditory feedback useful in identifying various textures and obstacles in the environment" (p. 432). 

Safety Rules of the Cane

Thirty years ago, Pogrund and Rosen stated that preschoolers need to keep the cane tip on the ground at all times and in front of the body when walking forward. I would like to add, however, that keeping the cane tip on the ground at all times may be difficult for preschoolers. After all, they are natural wanderers, and they will want to explore with whatever tools they have on hand. Preschoolers often scribble with a crayon before they learn to print letters. In the same way, blind preschoolers will play with the cane to discover what it can do. They will over-swing the cane, lift it up in the air, or even drag it behind them. This behavior is very natural for children their age. We cannot expect three- and four-year-olds to hold the cane correctly and keep it on the ground at all times, but we can encourage them to do so . . . again and again . . . just as Pogrund and Rosen suggested thirty years ago.

Historical Debates

Needless to say, there has been an ongoing debate between traditional and non-traditional O&M instructors for many years. This article reveals that the debate was alive thirty years ago, and it still lingers today. Pogrund and Rosen leaned toward the new way of thought, as shown in the table below.

Old Way of Thought

New Way of Thought

  • Preschoolers need to learn pre-cane skills before being introduced to the cane. This includes: sighted guide, information gathering, protective and alignment techniques, etc.
  • The term pre-cane is a misnomer, and many O&M instructors feel the term needs to be changed to ‘basic skills’ in which instruction can be used with or without the cane. The term pre-cane implies that the child must master such skills prior to cane introduction. This means a child may be over the age of eight before receiving his first cane.
  • Preschoolers are not physically, cognitively, or socially ready before the age of eight to use a cane.
  • “Much of the motor passivity seen in many blind children is due to an inhibition of their normal tendencies to move rather than their lack of motivation to move” (p. 431).
  • Preschoolers do not have motor control or coordination to use the cane so they are not physically ready to use a cane.
  • “It does not take tremendous motor control to hold a cane….The cane is still acting as a bumper and a probe out in front of the child while not requiring a significant amount of motor control or muscle development” (p. 432).
  • Preschoolers do not need to use canes in familiar environments such as home, yard, classrooms, playgrounds, schools, etc.
  • Environments are dynamic. “No matter how well orientated a child is or how accurately a child uses basic skills in other environments, he or she will inevitably trip over something or bump into something unexpectedly in the ever-changing world” (p. 432).
  • Preschoolers will hurt other students with their canes because they are not mature enough to handle dangerous items.
  • “A child is not prohibited from playing with a variety of toys, which, if used improperly, could be dangerous to others (e.g., metal trucks, bats, stick toys)….Basic safety rules are essential, as are appropriate consequences if the rules are not followed…One cannot assume that a child cannot learn such rules if they are correctly taught and appropriately reinforced” (p.432).
  • Preschoolers will develop inappropriate cane habits which are difficult to change later.
  • “Do we refuse to give young children a crayon or pencil for scribbling just because they do not hold it correctly and make appropriate letter strokes? Do we refuse to give young children a spoon or fork just because they do not hold and use these eating utensils correctly?...Waiting to have any interaction with a writing tool, eating utensil…until a child has all the coordination, motor control, and/or strength to perform a skill perfectly is inappropriate and does not coincide with normal child development and normal patterns of learning” (p. 432-433)

Early Cane Travel Effects

Have you ever wondered how a preschooler's posture is affected by not using a cane? Poor postural patterns such as rounded shoulders, a backward lean of the trunk, a forward head, and lordosis, as well as poor gait patterns such as shuffling are difficult to correct when the child is older. Pogrund and Rosen discuss the long- and short-term effects of cane use on gait (p. 433): 

Effect of Movement

Pogrund and Rosen go on to describe the problems associated with restricted movement in young blind children and the positive effects facilitated by the early use of the cane (p. 434):

Effect on Environmental Exploration and Concept Development

If the preschooler only travels with the use of a sighted guide there will be little opportunity for environmental exploration (p. 434): 

Effect on Attitude Toward Acceptance of the Cane by Family, Child, Peers, and Professionals

For a number of reasons, it is generally easier to introduce the cane to children, their families, and their schools at a young age (p. 434):

Effect on Self-confidence and Autonomy

Learned helplessness occurs when much of the preschooler's life is controlled by others, leading to passivity and lack of purposeful movement (p. 435):

Effect on Mobility of Low Vision Children

Like children with little or no vision, children with some usable vision can also benefit from early use of the cane (p. 435):

A Few Ideas for Introduction of the Cane

This article of thirty years ago is just as powerful today as it was back then. It is my hope that we all revisit this article and move forward, rather than having parents and professionals look back thirty years from today and conclude that nothing ever changed. We need to start early with our preschoolers in order to give them a fighting chance to become independent travelers. Here are some final thoughts:


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Pogrund, R.L., Rosen, S.J. (1989). "The Preschool Blind Child Can Be a Cane User." Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 431-39. 

Rosen, S. (1986). “Assessment of selected spatial gait patterns of congenitally blind children.” Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN.

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Wier, S. (1988). “Cane travel and a question of when.” Journal of Visual Impairment & Blindness, 82, 197.

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