Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Adorable Blind Kid Syndrome

Hi friends, I get so excited when I have guests blog for me and I am smiling brightly about our latest guest blogger, Dave Ferland. Dave is a Certified Orientation & Mobility Instructor who is dynamite. I often pick his brain for ideas and thoughts as I am putting together programs or ideas. He has been telling me about this "syndrome" he has observed and its implications on mobility. I highly advise parents, paraprofessionals and teachers to read this and bookmark it.

Adorable Blind Kid Syndrome
by David Ferland, COMS

As an orientation and mobility instructor, I’m often asked a question like, “What is keeping Johnny from being more independent in school?” Let’s go through the list: Is he using his cane properly? Techniques can always be taught and refined, especially with good support in the school. Is the paraprofessional allowing the student to make mistakes? This usually requires some work since the paraprofessional wants the student to be safe and look good. But a good paraprofessional usually comes around and gives the space and opportunity for Johnny to solve mobility problems. Is he using his landmarks, clues, and routes? Working on routes and staying oriented can be an ongoing process as kids get older and there are more travel expectations in the school. But, in my experience, there is another less concrete factor affecting the mobility of younger school-age students.
For K-4 students, one of the largest obstacles to independent travel in school is the “Adorable Blind Kid Syndrome” (ABS). Here is a typical ABS scenario: Children are entering the school, streaming in as the buses arrive. Staff members are at the doors and in the halls, moving things along, greeting some of the kids. Business as usual. But wait! Here comes Johnny with his white cane! Isn’t he adorable! And so brave! Did you know, his hearing is superhuman! I’m going to go right up to him as he’s walking, suddenly get right there in his face and ask him to guess my name. Then I’m going to look at his paraprofessional and tell her how cute he is while all the other kids are drifting past observing and listening to the whole thing. Johnny’s a bit startled by this adult’s sudden approach and the adult’s voice mixed with the clamor at the start of the school day isn’t helpful at all. But Johnny knows this game. He’s good-natured and knows how cute and adorable he is because he’s told this every single day. One thing he does not know is that it doesn’t happen to any other child entering the school. But the other students notice and the message is constantly reinforced: Johnny is special, different, and separate. And Johnny learns that someone will always bail him out. If uneasy or disoriented, he can just stop moving, wait, and someone will always help, solving his mobility problems for him. Because he’s special and adorable. These helpers may even give the paraprofessional a dirty look for allowing an Adorable Blind Kid to become confused or lost. Or they may tell him and his paraprofessional how amazing he is, how difficult it must be. Even though he just got lost in a school he’s attended for three years!

There is a teensy bit of exaggeration in the above scenario but I think all of us working with blind students will recognize some truth in there. Rule of thumb: look around. If other kids are not being fawned over, then blind students should not be fawned over either. When he’s walking, he’s working, especially in school. When he becomes disoriented, give information and ask questions. “That’s the rug near the gym.” “Someone’s walking up the stairs.” “Do you hear Mrs. Smith talking to her class?” Encourage other students to let Johnny know when he is about to barge into them so he can make his own adjustment. Of course Johnny’s cute. All kids are cute and special (mostly). But mobility expectations should not be lowered because of cuteness. And they definitely should not be lowered because of blindness. Give that Adorable Blind Kid some space and watch him thrive like just another kid.