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What You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Assessing a Child for O&M Instruction

young girl with white cane - an adult is leaning down to talk to her

There are important differences between how you teach orientation and mobility (O&M) skills to an adult and how you teach them to a child. Effective instruction of children begins with a careful assessment that takes into consideration their unique development and needs. From the very beginning, an instructor must understand these needs to be able to conduct an effective assessment. This excerpt from The Art and Science of Teaching Orientation and Mobility to Persons with Visual Impairments by William Henry Jacobson describes the first steps to undertaking an O&M assessment of a child.

The first general considerations to take into account when assessing a child include the following:

  • What are the child's medical conditions and eye conditions?
  • Is the surrounding assessment environment appropriate for someone with those conditions? In other words, pay attention to light, glare, and noise.
  • Will a parent or other familiar adult be present when working with a young child?
  • Will a member of a student's language group be present when assessing a student from another culture?
  • Does the child have any additional disabilities to take into consideration?
  • Will there potentially need to be collaboration with relevant specialists?
  • Are there any cultural and familial preferences for what the child needs to learn?

When conducting assessments for children who are visually impaired, specialists also need to keep in mind the following principles that will lead to successful assessments:

  • Use age-appropriate language. Using O&M jargon such as perpendicular streets and T-intersections most likely would be inappropriate for a third-grade child. The assessor needs to find other terms to substitute and other ways to ascertain an understanding of such concepts.
  • Administer assessments in appropriate environments. O&M assessments typically are done in real-world environments rather than clinical settings. Ideally, then, an assessment could be conducted in the student’s natural environment. If that is not possible, it could be conducted in a similar environment.
  • Conduct assessments at appropriate times of day and in appropriate situations. This principle is especially important for students with cognitive impairments, as many perform better during their actual everyday routines rather than out of context. If the assessor wishes to determine how well a student travels from the classroom to the cafeteria, he should plan on conducting that portion of the assessment just before lunchtime.
  • Conduct assessments in accordance with the limitations of the student. For example, the assessor should not ask a student who is totally blind to walk to the grocery store from her home if she has not yet learned to use a long cane.

The following components may comprise portions of an overall O&M assessment for children:

  • Body image
  • Motor skills
  • Posture and gait
  • Sensory perceptions (tactile, auditory, and visual)
  • Concepts of the body, space, time, and the environment.

These components are necessary for an understanding of and movement through any travel environment and are critical in nature for developing an O&M program for any child who is blind or has a visual impairment.

cover of the Art and Science of Teaching Orientation and Mobility to Persons with Visual Impairments

For more information about O&M assessments for children, including handy checklists and forms, see The Art and Science of Teaching Orientation and Mobility to Persons with Visual Impairments in the AFB Bookstore at

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