Specialist teachers and mobility officers are used to introducing new ways of doing things to young people with VI, but occasionally they come across a child who stubbornly refuses to learn new skills. This can be frustrating for those trying to help the child, but also perplexing as one struggles to understand the child’s position.
All children need to work hard if they are to make progress and meet their full potential. But for children with VI, keeping up with their sighted peers at school and socially can mean facing an extra set of demands. Fatigue can be a real issue if you are having to concentrate harder to listen, memorise and analyse information.
Because of this, they may be unwilling to try learning the new skills they need to maintain their education and independence such as learning braille and using a white cane. They could be reluctant to read modified large print, sometimes pretending that they can read normal-sized print rather than admit that they can’t do this.
A person with good levels of motivation will be making an effort to complete tasks for the enjoyment of the task itself, rather than to please others such as teachers or carers. When a child or young person goes from having good levels of motivation to being poorly motivated, it can be a sign that they are struggling with the adjustments required because of their vision impairment.
Kim is a 14-year-old who has recurrent eye infections due to having her lenses removed. While she can read normal sized print a lot of the time, her competence is affected when her sight deteriorates as is her general demeanour and motivation. She frequently expresses the view “Why me?” This is a common and natural reaction to sight loss by young and old alike. However, when a young person gets stuck with this negative thought pattern, they need support in learning other ways of thinking about their situation.
This tried and tested ABCDE approach developed by Martin Seligman (an American psychologist, educator and author), is a useful framework for guiding change. Let’s use Kim as an example:
The adversity in this case is fluctuating visual loss brought about by recurrent eye infections.
The belief held about the adversity. In this case, “It’s not fair that this is happening to me. I want to be the person without the sight loss and pain all of the time. I want to be treated as a fully sighted teenager.”
The consequence of holding those beliefs was that Kim resisted offers of help to cope with her periods of lowered vision. She avoided attending school during those periods and alienated the adults around who were struggling to understand her condition.
This stage is about disputing and attempting to alter Kim’s beliefs. During this phase, adults in a position of supporting Kim helped her seek out the alternative beliefs by:
Once Kim had realised that there was little she could do to change her physical condition, she set about making her life easier for herself during the phases when she did not feel or function so well. She set about problem-solving with her specialist teacher to devise strategies that she could use, including how to ask for help when she needed it.
When her sight deteriorated, it was also important that staff knew that tasks needed to be carefully differentiated to encourage successful learning experiences and to maximise motivation and self-confidence. Focusing on the things that are changeable can help a young person try out a new approach.
As a result of this, Kim grew at a personal level, achieving a degree of emotional competence and developing personal coping strategies.
This article originally appeared in the 2008 January/February edition of Insight magazine.