Orientation and mobility specialists have a set of strategies for helping children with impairments gain independence in the real world. Following is a summary of travel strategies used by mobility specialists.
Students work on prerequisite skills before they travel in the community. A student's best effort is accepted for all preliminary skills. After one year of readiness lessons, most children are admitted to the program with necessary adjustments.
Students in special education need to be placed in situations requiring problem solving. Orientation and mobility teachers use a one-on-one approach, requiring students to demonstrate competence at successive skill levels. Students work in small teams of from 3 to 6 for community based training. They take turns leading, following, and problem solving.
Lessons start in familiar surroundings and slowly spin outward to more complex and challenging environments. Smaller, easier layouts are learned before more complex environments are introduced.
Orienteering is the process of learning building layouts. Malls, grocery stores, residential areas (etc.), have logical designs. Knowledge of layout leads to competence when traveling.
Landmarks are chained together to teach routes. This is the strategy used to teach orientation to blind children. It is a system that is equally useful for teaching travel skills to other children in special education, particularly those with perceptual and/or vision anomalies.
Mobility specialists are careful to walk behind their students. Walking ahead or beside allows the student to follow. It takes away the responsibility for orientation.
At the beginning of the community travel program, students stay close to teachers. There is constant feedback and assistance. This builds confidence and overcomes insecurity. As students develop, instructors fade their assistance. They give less help and provide less verbal feedback. The distance the instructor is from a student also increases with student ability (the teacher fades into the background). Final lessons occur with the instructor out of sight and out of range. Students are told that, having reached a high level of independence, the instructor is no longer available to them unless an emergency occurs.
Mobilty instructors use basic teaching strategies like positive feedback and prompting. Student questions are rarely answered directly. Instead, the teacher prompts the student to problem solve on their own or with the help of teammates.
Mobility specialists believe in letting students "get lost." At a high level of independence, students are allowed to wander while they attempt to reorient. They understand that we do not help because we want them to solve their own problems. If instructors intercede it is only to suggest strategies for problem solving.
Daily living skills taught in classrooms do not provide the motivation found in the community. In many cases, lessons learned in the classroom do not transfer to the real world. In the normal course of mobility lessons, daily living skills are naturally addressed.
After students have mastered a set of lessons (or a layout), they are allowed to go on independent lessons. During these lessons, the staff is out of sight, and may not be seen until the day is over.
We have found that free time after lunch is a valuable component of lessons. The first feelings of independence begin during free time. New skills are learned quickly when motivation is high.