For far too long, families with children who are blind and mobility visually impaired (unable to visually avoid collisions) have been asked to accept any development as a positive sign, rather than to be alarmed by lack of age-appropriate developmental gains. This is evidenced in the descriptions that families and professionals provided to Safe Toddles when seeking pediatric belt canes.
Developmental milestones are observations of the stages of ability that children progress through. One of the most important developmental milestones is walking, ambulatory children should walk freely by 18 months and run freely by 24 months.
Walking age is important because independent walking sparks rapid growth in concept and language development. Children’s development improves dramatically once they begin moving around their space independently.
In children who are born blind and mobility visually impaired, the poor walking outcomes due to unavoidable collisions is so alarmingly common that professional observations of these children suggest that falling is a normal developmental milestone for two- and three-year-old blind children. For example, the description of Fred, a 25-month-old boy with visual cortex and optic nerve damage. His orientation and mobility (O&M) specialist wrote that, “Fred can walk very well... He does stumble and fall when his body detects obstacles in his path.”
Stumbling and falling over obstacles is not developmentally correct for his age. By age 24 months, Fred should be running and avoiding obstacles.
The fact that he cannot walk and avoid obstacles is because he is mobility visually impaired, yes. BUT the fact that we know the root cause of his collisions, should make finding a solution that much easier.
Since 1945, we have known how to prevent blind people from stumbling and falling over obstacles, provide them with a device to detect those obstacles. Adults who are blind learn to use a rod-shaped long cane. They swing it back and forth with each step.
Fred’s inability to detect obstacles before stumbling over them is a huge problem that requires an immediate solution. Fred is only two-years-old. He is too little to use a hand-held long cane. He is too little to be responsible for his safety.
The O&M professional also reported Fred’s learning ability. “Fred is a smart boy for his age. He comprehends all that is said to him and will demonstrate an understanding of what is requested of him. His language is coming along as well.”
Fred knows what is happening and he is able to express himself. So, when his O&M specialist said: “When [Fred is] left alone he does get upset and will cry until he hears a familiar voice. He seems to be scared when left alone.” We need to see that Fred understands that he unable to avoid colliding with unseen objects. He is consciously choosing to move only with assistance because he understands that this is his best option for safe mobility. Even though he is only two, we should listen to him.
His O&M specialist did listen and she reached out to Safe Toddles for a free pediatric belt cane. The pediatric belt cane is a lightweight rectangular frame that connects to a belt. When children as young as twelve months of age who are blind wear it, they can detect clear and blocked paths. This is essential information that is unavailable to Fred without this cane.
When asked, why she was requesting a belt cane for him, her answer was:
“I want Fred to learn to be independent as he is learning to travel within different environments. I want him to feel safe and secure in all environments as well. Having and utilizing a [pediatric belt] cane will provide tactile feedback about the routes Fred will encounter.
The [belt] cane will help build confidence with gaining tactile feedback which will help with his gross motor, concepts, language and social skills. The [belt] cane will open a whole new world for Fred while exploring his world.”
Blind children are children and they hurt the same as sighted children when they collide with objects. They can also be measured with the same developmental milestone charts used with sighted children. A blind child can't let go and run without effective safe mobility, so not providing him with a pediatric belt cane is holding him back developmentally.
Once Fred received his cane, he began to grow with self-confidence. He began to explore and seek out adventures. His language, concepts and his play caught up to his developmental potential.
When children who are blind or mobility visually impaired are age 18 months and older and they are still only walking with assistance, this must be understood as an important indicator that they are seeking safe mobility. Pediatric belt canes are the solution to self-confident safe mobility for children whose vision impairment results in stumbles and falls over unseen obstacles.
Belt canes are essential equipment to children who are blind and mobility visually impaired. When you see a toddler or preschool child who can’t see well enough to avoid collisions (has unsafe mobility), you can recommend an effective safe mobility solution – the pediatric belt cane. The sooner they begin wearing it the better.