JOURNAL – Taking Steps to Become Aaron

We know most of you read the CTEBVI Journal when it is published quarterly, but for those of you who might have missed it, please take a look at the back issues for some great content!  Did you know we now have a contributing O&M Specialist who has 24 years of experience as part of our organization?  

This blog post highlights one of our newest CTEBVI Specialists, Ralph Cioffi, who is an Orientation & Mobility (O&M) Specialist.  In every journal, Ralph writes articles focusing on O&M that are both motivating and inspiring.  Here is his article for the journal which he has asked to share with all of you on our blog!

 

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Taking Steps to Become Aaron
by: Ralph Cioffi

My early years in this profession allowed me to imagine an array of ideal features that an O&M student might present upon first meeting with me. This ‘ideal student’ fantasy was formulated while pursuing my credentials. In it each one of my students became well-adjusted to age appropriate endeavors in a very short time. And each one would become curious about the personal challenges that cane-travel experiences had to offer under my instruction. At that time, I didn’t think this was too much to ask for. But, it was. The reality is that I would often find myself working, with resilient intent for years with each O&M student all the while encouraging them to reach for the potential I knew was within them. Sometimes it was realized and sometimes not. All I can tell you is that it required a lot of time. Time well spent encouraging, eliciting and supporting the emotional qualities that allowed students to act upon their perceived personal challenges. I knew that facilitating the emergence of a young person’s internal power would allow many of my students to move beyond their self-defined boundaries. Yet, it was always their choice!The following story is an example of how the quality of my intervention facilitated one of my student’s embrace of the power of his own self-reliance. He eventually went on to become a very well adjusted, independent person who had no need for further O&M instruction.

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Taking Steps to Become Aaron

Aaron was as an 8th grader exhibiting a level of physical and emotional development that was significantly less than age-appropriate. He displayed a severe level of low vision, which seemed to be accompanied by a dependence upon everyone else in his world, but himself, for all the things that mattered to him. During my introductory meeting with this teenage student, he flatly stated to me that he had no use for mobility lessons! You can imagine how that struck me. He went on to tell me that he hated to walk! Actually, the muscle tone in his legs could attest to that. In fact, the muscle tone, in every part of his body, appeared to be extremely low. Over the next few weeks I did notice that his legs, in particular bothered him after short bouts of purposeful walking during our mobility lessons. It became obvious that minimal physical effort on his part, both at home and at school was the norm for him. After about a month of training with me he pointedly let me know that just about everything he needed to do for himself was “done” by someone else. And he concluded by telling me that he was okay except when he was with me!

This information led me to begin observations of his performance during other school-based activities. I came away with the realization that Aaron was not able to be fully present in the demanding world of his school environment. He seemed distracted during most of his academic and mobility instruction time. On an academic level he appeared to be in a state of frazzled confusion. All of his teachers were busy trying  to “catch him up.” Most school personnel apparently bought into the ‘poor, pitiful me’ persona that he frequently exhibited. People did their best to make work assignments easier for Aaron. The resulting accommodations only seemed to prolong the loss of this teenager’s positive sense of self. On an O&M training level, he usually appeared uneasy. Attention to his personal skill level seemed to be sabotaged by feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, suppressed anger, and self-pity. On a very basic mobility training level, he had yet to find a dignified, self-composure.

Regardless, Aaron became one of my success stories over the three years that I worked with him. After getting to know how he functioned within every realm of his academic experiences, I realized that I was faced with a student who was typically intelligent yet had been adversely affected by some of the most significant people in his life. His home life did not appear to know how to support the development of his inexperienced skill level. And once in school, personnel found it difficult to hold back their protective emotional responses to him. This was clearly getting in the way of any higher expectations of the development of his self-help skill-base. The time and effort it took to get Aaron to complete classroom assignments became burdensome. It became obvious that many academic assignments were completed, but by his classroom assistants. They too, had a schedule to keep.

Aaron was an interesting study in a sustained acquisition of helplessness. How this happened is not as important to talk about right now, as is what he did to challenge himself, as a mobility student, and begin to change his self-image. What I know is that mobility lessons helped him to redefine his view of himself. I made sure his community-based O&M lessons challenged his physical skill level in a way that spoke to his emotional makeup. One unexpected outcome was that mobility lessons created an opportunity for him to voice how he felt about himself. He seemed to welcome the opportunity to talk about how he truly felt about himself. So did I! Most of his conversation was about how he was feeling at the moment. It made me feel like he’d never had the opportunity to be so candid about himself. While I suspect this happened mostly because we were working within the setting of the larger world, I also know that he was beginning to trust me more and more. I had placed him in a situation where he had no choice but to interact with all of the activity that the larger community had to offer and I was his anchor. I believe it allowed him to view himself in relation to the skills needed to be present in this situation. He often could not help voicing his reactions. And, I was there to respond to them in a level manner. It created a series of defining moments for him.

As a result of these community-based experiences, Aaron went on to better self-evaluate the skills that he had, which led to his realization of the ones that needed further development. Could I have asked for a more perfect student? While he continued to self-evaluate, I continued to listen and observe well. It allowed me to develop more O&M curriculum, specific to his emerging skill level. And as I objectively evaluated his expanding levels of self-confidence and self-image, he seemed to accept my input with thoughtful contemplation.

I’d like to give an example of an incident that, while small, was a catalyst for this student’s self-focus, the kind  that really impacted his personal introspection. As I mentioned, once in high school, Aaron and I plodded through many different kinds of mobility experiences both on and off campus. We worked our way up to crossing simple traffic light intersections within the local community. Of course the experiences became progressively more challenging as his level of self-confidence increased.

A pivotal point in the training process approached. Aaron was about to cross an intersection without any verbal support from me. He was, essentially well equipped, confident, and about to use his newly acquired skills for his first truly independent street crossing in a light business area. He did everything that he needed to do to determine the appropriate and accurate time to step into the street. As he did this, a car ran the red light and unexpectedly whizzed by him at an accelerated speed. Startled, he quickly jumped back onto the sidewalk scared, trembling, and swearing that he knew he shouldn’t ever have even thought about trying this! He let me know that he felt that he had almost been “killed by that car!” and went on to state that he was “never going to cross a street, ever again, by myself!!!!!!!”

At this point, all I could do was assure Aaron that what happened was not his fault, that he had accurately timed his street crossing and that the car had illegally run through the red light. When he calmed down, all he could say was that he wanted to go back to school. What else could I say but, “Okay, let’s go.”

Damage control was in order here. Big time! And damage control is what made all the difference for the future of his mobility lessons! The ensuing weeks were spent in discussion about how this incident affected him, and how he was going to handle his feelings surrounding it.

My suggestion was that we continue mobility lessons but, instead of being out on the sidewalks, we would spend our time exploring the inside of different department stores and supermarkets. He agreed to the plan. It allowed him to feel safe, keep his anxiety at manageable levels, and at the same time feel like he was learning something that would be to his advantage.

A major focus of all future discussion was getting him emotionally prepared to get back outside and onto the sidewalks. My primary message was to let him know that I would not force him into any kind of sidewalk travel experience until he stated that he was ready to do so. He needed to let me know when he might be ready to do that.A major focus of all future discussion was getting him emotionally prepared to get back outside and onto the sidewalks. My primary message was to let him know that I would not force him into any kind of sidewalk travel experience until he stated that he was ready to do so. He needed to let me know when he might be ready to do that.

Over the following weeks, I engaged him in discussion about the consequences of deciding not to become an independent traveler. Another focus in follow-up conversations with him, was to mention that I thought it would be very important for him to go back to “the scene of the crime” to face his fears. True to his teenage years, he told me I’d have a long wait for that! Regardless, I continued to suggest that it would be good for him to prove to himself that he could do the street crossing safely. I also let him know that I thought it would allow him to move beyond the fear that stopped him from becoming a proficient traveler. And that I’d really like to see him do that before I became a  very old man!

About three months later while on a mobility lesson in one of the local department stores he said to me, “Mr. Ralph, you know how you’ve been wanting me to go back to that intersection?” I responded with, “Yes I do! But, remember, not until YOU are ready. You need to do it for yourself, not for me.” With a combination of both meekness and strength he responded with, “Well, I’m ready to go back there!” I knew Aaron couldn’t see the expression on my face, but he could hear how impressed I was with him in the quality of my voice. Once again, there was nothing to say but, “Okay, let’s go.” And just so you know, many situations that had been intimidating to Aaron previous to this experience began to change quickly for him.

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Once again, I’m looking forward to sharing more insight and information, in my future articles, into the various methods of instruction I was able to provide my BVI students and how it affected their support systems (parents, school professionals, paraprofessionals and others). If you wish to share your experiences or have questions you wish to ask me, let’s continue the conversation by commenting on the CTEBVI blog at: https://ctebvidcysblog.wordpress.com/category/journal/om/

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