Orientation and Mobility for Preschoolers

What Is Orientation and Mobility?

Orientation and Mobility (O&M) teaches concepts, skills, and techniques needed to orient to surroundings and move independently and safely in the environment. To learn and master these skills, a blind or low-vision child commonly works with an O&M specialist upon diagnosis of an eye condition through late adolescence. Your child may work with an O&M specialist again as an adult to learn complex routes around a college campus, unfamiliar town, or new workplace.

For preschoolers, O&M entails interpreting sensory input, improving gross and fine motor skills, learning basic spatial and environmental concepts, developing mobility and cane techniques, and using 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 while exploring. The child will learn to associate textures, sounds, and (if applicable) sights with objects or specific environments. Using low vision aids to learn how to scan and a track in your child’s environment may be 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. The O&M will also be to teach early compass directions. The team will build knowledge of environmental concepts, including identifying cars, streets, houses, curbs, hallways, rooms, stairs, and parking lots.

Mobility Techniques

The specialist will model specific mobility techniques. These may include sighted guide, self-protective arms/hands, room familiarization, hand trailing a wall, assembling a cane, grasping a cane, and trailing a wall. 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 and clues. An introduction to landmarks and clues provides the child with information about their orientation in relation to their 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 are integral to the child’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. Your child can develop sensory awareness by continuing to expose your child to a variety of environments and objects and encouraging your child to explore 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, play with a ball and somersault will advance gross motor skills. Teaching and motivating your child to play with playdough, draw or print, and zip and button a jacket will advance fine motor skills.
  • The better understanding your child has of spatial and environmental concepts, the better traveler your child will become.
  • An O&M specialist teaches each mobility and cane technique. 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 child’s certified O&M to decide landmarks and clues to discover and discuss with your child when traveling. These landmarks and clues may be within your child in your home, neighborhood, school, or other familiar environment.