What Is Orientation and Mobility?

Orientation and Mobility (O&M) is the teaching of concepts, skills, and techniques needed to orient to surroundings and to move independently and safely in the environment. To learn and master these skills, a blind or visually impaired child commonly works with an O&M specialist upon diagnosis of a visual impairment through late adolescence. He may choose to work with an O&M specialist again as an adult to learn complex routes around a college campus, unfamiliar town, or new workplace.

For blind preschoolers, O&M entails learning to interpret sensory input, improve gross and fine motor skills, learn basic spatial and environmental concepts, develop mobility and cane techniques, and use basic travel clues and landmarks.

four children, two with canes, two without, smiling as their orientation and mobility instructor holds the door open for them

How Do O&M Specialists Approach Instruction?

O&M instruction for preschoolers couples informal concept and skill development with formal instruction in O&M techniques. All lessons, however, should be assessment-based, motivating, relevant, individualized, and age-appropriate. Each lesson should begin with a description of what the child will learn and why the concept, skill, or technique is important.

The O&M instructor and family will provide countless opportunities for the preschool child to interpret sensory input by exploring environments and objects with constant communication about what is felt, heard, and seen. The child will learn to associate textures, sounds, and (if applicable) sights with objects or specific environments; become aware of where a sound is coming from and, if applicable, where it is headed; and if the child has remaining vision, learn to visually scan an environment and track a moving object, using low vision aids as appropriate.

The O&M instructor and family will invite the child to participate in activities to advance gross and fine motor skills. Body and hand strength and coordination will be necessary to utilize a mobility cane while walking, climbing stairs, opening/closing doors, and more.

The O&M instructor and family will help the child comprehend and utilize spatial concepts such as “above the coat rack,” “underneath the sink,” “beside the dog,” “along the fence,” “the house after ours,” “between the mailbox and sidewalk,” “around the room,” and preliminary compass directions. Likewise, the team will expand the childā€™s knowledge of environmental concepts which include identifying cars, buses, taxis, streets, neighborhoods, roads, yards, fences, houses, curbs, hallways, rooms, stairs, parking lots, and elevators.

The specialist will model specific mobility techniques such as sighted guide, negotiating stairs, finding and sitting in a seat, self-protective arms/hands, room familiarization, hand trailing a wall, assembling a cane, grasping a cane, utilizing the cane in open spaces, utilizing the cane when trailing a wall, and traveling a simple route. Each technique will be broken down into small, achievable steps. The child will practice a particular skill-routine repeatedly until effortless and automatic.

While teaching mobility techniques, the instructor will assist the child in identifying landmarks (stationary, unique objects the child contacts which provide information about where he is) and clues (objects or sensory input that give information about where the child may be). An introduction to landmarks and clues provide the child information about his orientation in relation to his mobility goal.

The instructor will observe the preschooler’s gait (walk/stride) and help the child correct any misalignment or posture issue. This will help the child travel in a straight line.

How Can You Support O&M Instruction at Home?

Family members play an integral part in the childā€™s mastery of orientation and mobility.

  • Your child will benefit from learning to interpret and filter sensory input. Traveling with minimal sight involves discriminating and localizing sounds, sights, textures, and scents as well as having the ability to ignore inessential sensory input. You can help your child develop sensory awareness by continuing to expose your child to a variety of environments and objects and encouraging exploration as you relate unfamiliar environments or objects to familiar ones. Additionally, explain “background” noises, sights, and scents, yet direct attention to useful sensory information.

  • You can help your preschooler develop gross and fine motor skills. Teaching and motivating your child to run, jump, skip, bicycle with or without training wheels, throw and catch a ball, pull a wagon, climb a ladder or kidā€™s rock wall, and somersault will advance gross motor skills. Teaching and motivating your child to play with playdough, press keys on the Perkins Brailler, draw or print with a bold line marker, zip and button a jacket, lace shoes, string beads on yarn, build towers with Legos or Light Stax, use tweezers, scoop and pour sand, play on a piano, and cook with you will advance fine motor skills.

  • The better understanding your child has of spatial and environmental concepts, the better equipped he will be to traverse his environment. Give him ample opportunities to explore his surroundings as you provide vocabulary for that which he contacts.

  • Each mobility and cane technique will be taught by an orientation and mobility specialist, though family members should observe lessons and ask the specialist how the skills can be reinforced at home. Your child will benefit enormously from your high expectations of independent travel.

  • Work with your childā€™s certified orientation and mobility specialist to decide appropriate landmarks and clues to discover and discuss with your child when traveling with your child in your home, neighborhood, school, or other familiar environment.