Learning to Be an Independent Nondriver
Your child, at this point, is too young to drive a car, but the chances are that by the time she and her friends are in sixth or seventh grade, some children will already be talking about learning to drive and what kind of car they’d like to have. Your child may wish she could look forward to getting a driver’s license too, but unless she has significant usable vision, driving probably isn’t an option. However, that doesn’t mean she can’t become a skilled independent nondriver—able to travel with confidence in her neighborhood, in towns and cities across the country, and around the world, if that’s what she wants to do. You can help her be prepared to go on her own wherever her interests lead her.
If your child has not had an orientation and mobility (O&M) assessment, talk with her teacher of students with visual impairments and other members of her educational team about a referral for an O&M assessment. If O&M instruction is recommended, encourage your child to work with the O&M instructor to expand her travel skills.
Whenever you and your child are in a car together, tell her what you’re aware of as you drive. For example, point out that the driver of the car in front of you has slowed down and signaled, by a blinking light, that he’s going to make a right turn at the next intersection. Describe the information and caution signs that are posted along the road and explain why they’re important. If your child is able to see, encourage her to use her vision to help you. You might ask her to tell you when she sees a big red and white sign because it’s part of a gas station and a landmark that reminds you that it’s time to put on your turn signal and move into the right lane.
When you’re out for a walk in your neighborhood, encourage your child to walk a little ahead of you and look for specific things that help her to know where she is—a big hanging sign in the shape of a shoe that identifies a shoe repair shop, for instance. These experiences help your child become more aware of her surroundings. You can even make a game of it by playing “follow the leader” or “I spy.”
Take public transportation occasionally when you’re going on a family outing. Giving your child a chance to explore various travel options with you will broaden her knowledge and skills.
If you’re taking your child on a special outing, utilize an accessible GPS app on a smart device in order to demonstrate its use. Over time, your child can become more familiar with the device and can help you navigate to an unfamiliar destination.
Depending on the extent of your child’s usable vision, you may want to consult her eye care specialist about her potential for low vision driving. If that’s a possibility, you can ask for a referral for a clinical low vision evaluation to discuss appropriate training.
The experiences you share with your daughter now can help her develop increased confidence in her ability to explore her environment independently—which, in turn, can greatly expand her education, career, and personal life choices.