When Cody was 3 years old, he started Orientation and Mobility lessons (O&M) with a certified and trained instructor. It involves orientation – knowing where your body is in space and where you want to go, and mobility – how to get there safely, effectively and efficiently. It teaches how to use your senses to become aware of what is around you, spatial concepts (objects continue to exist even when you don’t feel or hear them), searching skills, independent movement, sighted guide (when you hold on to somebody else’s elbow who can guide you), protective techniques (like using your arms as a bumper when you lean down to pick something up), and cane skills (how to use a long white cane).
O&M involves understanding what “left”, “right”, “behind”, “in front”, “around”, and other such words mean so they can be used to guide you. It involves locating and using landmarks to help you figure out where you are. Some landmarks Cody uses are pieces of furniture, changes in flooring, following the edge where the grass hits the pavement with his cane, trailing the walls to find a particular doorway or physical reminder of where he is, stepping stones in the yard, etc.
He also uses audio landmarks like fans, music sources, the sound of traffic, and even more ambiguous sounds like changes in sound deflections. This more complex form of audio cue is called echolocation. Echolocation is also used by bats and marine animals. You give off a sound and by listening to how it deflects on objects around you, are given cues as to your environment.
There are some who use echolocation to ride bikes and skateboards completely blind. It seems to be innate for those without vision, but can definitely be crafted and exercised to become increasingly effective. Cody naturally uses echolocation regularly. He often is chattering and singing to himself while he navigates around the house, outdoors at a park or in the yard. He uses the deflections to give him information about what is around him. We will be walking down the sidewalk along the side of the street when all of a sudden Cody reaches out when we pass a parked car. He can “hear” it as soon as we approach, it is amazing to me. We will be in a new environment, walking towards a wall or even a short fence and Cody will anticipate it, I know this because he reaches out to find it as we draw near. He can hear when we approach an empty space or when the wall ends. I hope to find more sophisticated training in echolocation for Cody as he gets older.
Here Cody is mapping while he does his usual chattering for enjoyment as well as echolocation. Cody maps areas by repeatedly walking along a route back and forth. In this way he memorizes and fixes routes in his mind to recall for future. He does this with or without his cane, at home, outside, in other peoples’ homes and at school. Once he has learned a route he can navigate it very quickly and efficiently, sometimes even running! See how he uses his left hand to trail the perimeter:
Here Cody is at his Orientation and Mobility lesson with his instructor at the new school he will be attending next year. They go there already once or twice a week in order to prepare him for next year. He is here learning his route from his classroom to the curb where the school bus will drop him off and pick him up. The instructor patiently lets Cody go at his own pace so he is independent. She gives him small cues along the way. He has been taught to move his cane from left to right in front of him as he walks. Here he is learning how to find the edge of the grass in order to help him stay on the sidewalk and walk in the right direction.
Cody began learning to use his cane at 3 years old but it has taken many years to reach the level he is at today. For many years he had no interest in the cane, he didn’t understand it’s power and relevance in his life. It was only about 2 years ago that it really clicked, and he really understood how empowering it is and how it opens up his world, his independence, his ownership and control over his own mobility, enabling him to get from A to B. Because, as Cody continues to teach me, it is not all or even mostly about the destination, but about how we get there that counts.