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Gross motor delays: It’s the Unexpected Collisions… duh

Updated: Feb 19

Two three year old blind students wearing their canes, walking towards each other their canes make contact

Children who are blind and visually impaired can and do learn to walk, and the resulting painful consequences of colliding with unseen obstacles has been well-documented beginning in 1841 by Samuel Gridley Howe, founder of Perkins School for the Blind, who said, “Do not too much regard bumps upon the forehead, rough scratches or bloody noses; even these may have their good influences. At the worst, they affect only the bark, and do not injure the system like the rust of inaction” (Howe, pg. 8).

In the 1930s Dr. Thomas Cutsforth, a prominent psychologist whose classic work The Blind in School and Society wrote, “when the child (who is blind or visually impaired) has once learned to walk, it is well to omit any form of manual guidance about the house and to permit the child to become oriented himself, even at the expense of minor injuries and emotional distress of both the child and the other members of the family” (p. 21-22).

In 1956, renowned educator of the visually impaired Berthold Lowenfeld recommended that “young children (who are blind or visually impaired) must learn to walk without help of any kind in familiar territory. What is familiar territory expands as they grow older, until they learn to venture out into places that are new to them. When the time comes to do this, they should learn to use the cane. Usually this is found practical only after a youngster is fourteen years of age, more often older than that” (p. 187-188).

Yet, if painful collisions are not a deterrent to children who are blind and visually impaired moving freely and independently, then why do gross motor delays resist all early intervention efforts (Adelson & Fraiberg, 1974; Brambring, 2006; Celeste, 2002; Ferrell, 2000; Fraiberg, 1977; Hatton, Bailey, Burchinal, & Ferrell, 1997; Jan et al., 1977; Norris, Spaulding, & Brodie, 1957; Pereira, 1990; Troester & Brambring, 1993; Troester, Hecker, & Brambring, 1994)? All these listed studies have reported marked developmental delays in the acquisition of gross-motor skills by children who are congenitally blind and visually impaired when compared with sighted children.

The most prominent delays are in freely moving across open space, going up and down stairs and slower walking speed and defensive gait and postures. Professionals have put forth two major reasons for these gross motor skill problems: 1) parents are not following through with pushing children to move with reckless abandon and 2) the students who are severely visually impaired or blind are not motivated because they are unable to see enticing destinations.

Yet, consider a third theory. Perhaps it is the collisions that result from walking with a visual impairment and without an effective mobility tool, not the visual impairment that causes these delays in gross motor skills. This is an important distinction, because while there is rarely a solution to improving one’s impaired vision, there is a solution that can eliminate harmful bodily collisions for children five and younger who are blind and visually impaired– wearable canes.

For centuries, professionals have only offered two options to children born blind and severely visually impaired, learn to walk and get bruises or live a life of inaction. Since no human being likes to collide with obstacles without warning or sit around bored, Safe Toddles is offering a third option – a developmentally appropriate long cane, a cane that children who are blind and visually impaired aged five and younger can wear all day, every day.

Safe Toddles created the first and only wearable cane with the purpose of reducing these painful bodily collisions with obstacles. The children who are visually impaired and wear their canes explore more and with ever increasing confidence (Ambrose-Zaken, FallahRad, Bernstein, Wall Emerson, & Bikson, 2019).

For more information or to see how children five and younger who are blind and visually impaired move about wearing their canes- watch the many videos posted on our website


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blind infants and preschoolers. Early Child Development and Care, 104, 61-78.

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