Depending on the extent of their sight loss and other needs, many children may develop the skills to manage their adult lives at an equivalent level of independence to their sighted peers. For those whose needs mean they will never achieve this level of independence, it is nevertheless important to help them develop skills that minimise their dependence on others.
Sensory Impairment team
Your first port of call should be the Sensory Impairment team in your local authority. Some councils, but not all, have mobility officers that they can assign to your child from very early on. If there isn’t one available or extensive waiting lists, you can contact Guide Dogs for the Blind and they may be able to help: www.guidedogs.org.uk
Another organisation that may be able to help is Habilitation VI UK. You can find out more and contact them on their website: habilitationviuk.org.uk
Mobility training aims to develop the child’s awareness of the environment to enable them to travel as independently as possible. Trailing is an important skill used by children with sight loss to help them stay orientated. It involves placing one hand on the wall while walking, following the natural course of the wall. Children can use this method of mobility and orientation to locate land marks, therefore giving them a better sense of their environment. Vision impaired children who can walk independently when using the trailing technique may feel a greater sense of security in their surroundings.
The long white cane is a popular mobility aid for those with sight loss. Not only does it assist in mobility, but it can help identify to others that the person using the cane has a sight problem.
There are five different types of cane:
This “traditional” white cane is also known as a “Hoover” cane, after Dr. Richard Hoover. It is designed primarily as a mobility tool used to detect objects in the path of the user. Long canes should only be used by people who have attended specialist training with a rehab worker or mobility trainer to attain a high level of safe and independent travel.
This is a shorter cane – generally extending from the floor to the user’s waist – with a more limited mobility function. It is used to scan for kerbs and steps. The guide cane can also be used diagonally across the body for protection, warning the user of obstacles immediately ahead. It is also a good training cane to prepare people for the long cane.
This cane is used primarily to alert others to the bearer’s vision impairment.
The white support cane is designed primarily to offer physical stability to a vision impaired user. By virtue of its colour, the cane also works as a means of identification. This tool has very limited potential as a mobility device.
This version works the same as an adult’s long cane but is designed for use by children.
Guide dogs are assistance dogs trained to lead vision impaired people around obstacles. They have been helping blind and partially sighted people get around for 80 years. You have to apply for a guide dog. If your application is successful then the applicant and the dog will have to under-go training to work with one another.
The human half of the guide dog team does the directing, based upon skills acquired through previous mobility training. The handler acts as the navigator, who must know how to get from one place to another. The dog is the ‘driving force’, who gets them there safely.
There are over 4,700 guide dog owners in the UK.
Normally children over the age of 16 can apply for a guide dog, but there has been an increase in the number of children under the age of 16 who are assigned a dog. There is no upper age limit for people who can apply for a dog. Dual purpose dogs are specifically trained to meet the needs of people who have additional disabilities on top of a vision impairment. For more information visit www.guidedogs.org.uk
Visit our blogs page to read more about guide dogs.
Self-protection techniques can be taught to children with sight loss to help avoid their body from coming into contact with obstacles. Either arm can be used in combination with upper or lower protective techniques. In upper protective technique, the arm is held across the upper body with the elbow bent and the palm facing forward. In the lower protective technique, the arm is held across the middle of the body with the elbow straight and the palm facing inward.
Your child’s habilitation officer or a Guide Dogs assigned worker can help to develop independent living skills within the home, and at school. Many specialist educational institutions also have independent living skills built into the curriculum.
Henshaws’ Knowledge Village contains a comprehensive Life Hacks section. This contains hundreds of videos to assist you to help your child develop essential skills. Visit the Henshaws Knowledge Village >
VICTA run various activities for children and young people from Young Achievers (0-10) to independent activities, residentials and expeditions for those aged 10 to 29. These are opportunities to develop academic curiosity, learn key life skills and increase in confidence and independence. You can check out the online calendar of activities on our main website.
Bright Hub Education has a very helpful section on their website covering a variety of life skills. This can give you as a parent some great pointers to help your child towards independent living. Visit Bright Hub Education >
This post by Wonderbaby is packed full of essential information to help create a living environment which can accommodate a child to learn to do things for themselves independently. Visit Wonderbaby >