The Art and Benefits of Asking Questions over Giving Answers

Upon a time, a discussion arose on the list about how instructors can help blind travelers deal with noisy dogs behind fences when said travelers have dog-anxieties. The thread was divided between those who felt that the dogs should be dealt with to alleviate the blind traveler's anxiety, vs those who felt that the blind traveler should be supported to address their own anxiety.
One instructor posted as follows:

>>>From: Kathy ..., Fri, 20 Feb 2009

>>>Subject: RE: [OandM] Dog chaser

Cane travelers don't know whether barking dogs are behind fences. Neither does any pedestrian, actually. These devices will work with clients using the cane.
If they just give 'em a blast as they go by, it will shut them up!

Aside from arguments about animal rights, I had hoped that, being an instructor, she should know better than to assume that a cane traveler wouldn't know where the dog was, and know better than to support this woman's anxieties, rather than help her address them. Again, it is a typical approach in the O&M profession, in my opinion, in which remediation of presumed deficit is imposed from the outside, rather than applying a gain perspective to kindle the achievement process from within. That isn't to say that all instructors do this, but it is, in my opinion and observation, a long standing and general trend inherent in O&M philosophy and practice. Anxiety is accepted to result naturally from lack of visual information. We accept this, rather than address this. It was her erroneous comment about cane travelers not knowing where the dogs were that finally prompted me to comment thus [Note that I have rearranged some of the content from the original post for better readability, but the original wording is in tact.]:

From: "Daniel Kish"

Sent: Saturday, February 21, 2009

>>"Cane travelers don't know whether barking dogs are behind fences."

>>Knowing where dogs are behind fences is a matter of auditory
>>localization. Would this not be a basic part of OandM for many
>>clients? if cane travelers don't have the perceptual ability to know where dogs are behind fences, I would suggest they develop these capacities, if appropriate. Auditory localization capacity generalizes to many, many tasks, such as traffic management (auditory traffic scanning), threading one's way through congested environments, sports play, reaching for the phone, ETC.

>>"Neither does any pedestrian, actually."

The fact that sighted pedestrians don't know where dogs are behind fences has no bearing on whether or not blind pedestrians can or should develop such skill. We may expect auditory localization to be relatively poorly developed for sighted as compared to blind pedestrians, but sighted people don't need it so much.

Now, if it's a matter of anxiety, twe don't do the client any favors by supporting the anxiety. Anxiety has a way of promoting itself unless actively addressed, so it is more respectful to the client to help them address the anxiety, rather than cater to it. Usually, a good
>>rational-emotive approach of strategic questioning works. The reason
>>for this is that the brain can be divided into 3 main parts
>>- perceiving, acting/reacting, and thinking. When we get into our
>>emotions or reflexive reactions, we are primarily using that part of
>>our brain, which happens to be a more ancient set of brain functions.
>>When we engage the cognitive centers (which we tend to do by
>>questioning), as well as the perception systems, we are engaging not
>>only more brain function, but higher brain functions, which usually
>>leads to a relief of reactive symptims by shifting attention to
>>solution rather than problem. All that sounds very clinical, but it's
>>also rather practical, and usually applicable, as we can see in this
>>example [note that this is not a true account, but is drawn from many
>>similar accounts]:

(Approaching the fence, just close enough to trigger the dogs, but not close enough to feel their ravenous breath.)

Instructor "Hmm. What do we hear?"

Client (nervously): "Dogs."

Instructor (calmly and with a pleasant smile): "What do they sound like they're doing?"

Client (slightly agitated): "Barking."

Instructor: "what else."

Client: "Jumping back and forth."

Instructor (remaining calm): "Describe how you think they're jumping."

Client (a little annoyed): "What do you mean. They're just jumping and making an unholy wracket."

Instructor (in a reassuring but not condescending manner): "Why do you think they're doing that?"

Client (still annoyed): "They do that to scare people away."

Instructor: "Is it working?"

Client: "You bet."

Instructor: "So you don't feel like taking up a new career as a cat burglar."

Client (chuckles): "Well, not for that house, anyway."

Instructor: "So back to the way the dogs are moving - what are their movements like? Are they moving a lot or a little, more up and down, back and forth, side to side, closer and further ... ? What do you think?"

Client (considers after an exasperated sigh): "Sounds like they're gonna tare down the fence."

Instructor: "It sure does. They definitely seem to want us for lunch. Do you think that's true for just us? That the dogs have it out for you in particular?"

Client: "I don't suppose, unless they're nervous about the cane."

Instructor: "It would be interesting to see how the dogs react to pedestrians who aren't using a cane. Tell you what. You wait here (we retreat to a location where the client can hear the dogs, but are no longer barking at the moment.) Hold my cane if you will, and I'll walk passed without my cane to see what they do."

Client (surprised): "Are you sure?"

Instructor: "How often have you known me not to have considered carefully what I say before I say it?"

Client (Giggles): "Well, there was that time when ..."

Instructor: "Never mind. Yes, I'm sure. Listen. Let's see what happens. If you hear me get eaten, walk quickly, don't run, for the hills."

Client (Laughs nervously)

Instructor (saunters passed the dogs. They resume barking, but not quite so ferociously.)

Client (Upon instructor's return) "They were barking, but not quite so ferociously."

Instructor: "Do you suppose that was just because I didn't have a cane?"

Client: "I guess. I dunno."

Instructor: "Dogs are pretty sensitive creatures. They react not only to what they see, but what they sense. I have no fear of dogs, and I have a friendly disposition to just about all animals at just about all times. Now, let's get a little closer than before, and see what happens."

Client (as the dogs break into pandemonium): "It sounds like they're gonna tare down the fence."

Instructor (remaining calm): "How else might they get at us besides taring down the fence?"

Client (chuckles nervously): "Well, jump over, I guess."

Instructor: "Does it sound like they're jumping high? - Like up and down?"

Client: "Yeah."

Instructor: "How often do you think it happens that they get passed the fence?"

Client: "I dunno."

Instructor: "Do you think it's ever happened?"

Client: "I don't know."

Instructor: "Shall we go ask the owners? I'm sure they'd tell us."

Client (chuckles): "maybe."

Instructor: "What do you think would happen if the dogs ever did get passed the fence?"

Client: "Someone would get hurt."

Instructor: "Perhaps. Many dogs' barks are worse than their bite, but if anyone actually did get hurt, what would probably happen?"

Client: "What do you mean?"

Instructor: "Well, would it just end there? Dogs get passed fence. Someone gets hurt. The end?"

Client: "The owners could get into trouble."

Instructor: "What kind of trouble."

(At this point a discussion ensues about how it would be probable that any dogs getting loose and hurting anyone would not be tolerated. The dogs would either be removed, or the owner would be forced to ensure safety by, perhaps, re-enforcing or heightening the fence.)

Instructor: "Speaking of which, how tall do you think that fence is?"

Client: "I guess it must be pretty high."

Instructor: "Let's go find out."

(After some consternation from the client, we go to the fence. The dogs make a most dreadful noise, so much that we can hardly hear each other. The instructor places a reassuring hand on the client's shoulder, and asks the client to click, vertically scanning, to determine the height of the fence. The client can't hear a thing, partly because of the noise, partly because she is nervous, and partly because the fence is quite high, making it's upper edge difficult to determine.)

Instructor (raising his voice): "How else might we do this."

Client: "Okay. The fence is high. Let's go."

Instructor: "Yes. You're right. The fence is tall. Quite tall. But, how tall? How else can we find out."
Client: "I don't know. Ask someone."

Instructor: "Yes. Who would you ask?"

Client: "You. You seem to know."

Instructor (laughs): "What do you suppose I will tell you if you ask me."

Client (chuckles): "You're gonna ask me another question, which will drive me mad."

Instructor: "And then they'd commit you to a nice, safe place where you wouldn't have to worry about anymore dogs. Then I could come and visit, and you could thank me for helping you get rid of all your dog problems."

Client (laughs): "No thanks."

Instructor: "Okay, now were being rude to these dogs, and to everyone else in the neighborhood, and all the surrounding neighborhoods, so I'm just gonna give you a hint. What do we use our cane for?"

Client: "To keep us from ... oh. Right." (Reaches up with the cane to touch the top of the fence.) "Wow! It's way up there." (Or) "Shoot! It's not very high, is it."

Instructor (either way): "Do you think it's tall enough to keep the dogs in?"

Client: "I guess."

Instructor: "Ultimately, life is just a guess. So, would you guess yes, or would you guess no."

Client: "Yes. It probably is high enough."

Instructor: "So are you probably safe?"

Client: "Yeah, I should be."

Now, of course, the client could just have a phobia or more nurotic fear of dogs in which case this approach might not work. Also, it might still be necessary to help the client develop a calming or cognitive focusing strategy to get passed the location, assuming another convenient route couldn't be found. But, for the most part, a lightly administered rational-emotive (or reality based) session will help put clients at ease in the manner here illustrated.

All this notwithstanding, by law, the dog has the right to do whatever it wants on its own property, unless it can be shown to be a cronic nuisance, in which case animal control may be notified. If the dog isn't being a cronic nuisance, then it would be my position that this woman needs to take responsibility for how she feels about the dog, and not foist responsibility for how she feels on to the dog. Ultimately, it's the client's responsibility, anyway. If the client has a known emotive or cognitive disruption which requires her to receive additional advocacy, then one might intervene on her behalf to ensure that she really is safe getting through that area.

I can see that this thread is going the way of personal preference. Those who themselves are bothered by dogs seem to favor advocating taking measures against them. Those who aren't particularly bothered favor leaving the poor thing alone and just dealing with it within oneself. I place responsibility on myself, and my students, for having the larger frontal lobe, not the dog who's just doing what dogs do. Now, again, I'll reiterate that dogs who really are out of hand may need to be dealt with in some fashion (or their owner), but we don't really have enough information from the original post to conclude that the dog is being unruly, only that the client is being skittish.
Daniel, (who isn't afraid of dogs, especially ones behind fences)

A bit later on, a message was posted to the list from the father of a 12-year-old boy who was deathly afraid of dogs.

Subject: Re: [OandM] Dogs - A Change of Perception is Possible

>Date: Sat, 21 Feb 2009

Dear Daniel & All,

After reading your post this morning, my son & I went on an exploratory adventure: the goal - to find dogs in our neighborhood.

[My son], now 12, pretty much froze up whenever he heard a dog bark - major state-change -> his body & mind noticeable tensing up.

As background, when he was 2 or 3 years old, our neighbor's large "puppy" ran through our front door into our house & leaped up onto [him] pinning him against the wall. He barked & licked him, but it was very unexpected & scary for him at the time. The same dog ran up to him while he was in his carseat sometime later - again a situation where he was stuck & caught off guard with a large (bigger than he was) uninvited animal in his space.

After reading your post Daniel, I downloaded it into a WORD file & transferred it to [his] BrailleNote.

He read it with interest & loved the instructor-client roll play - he couldn't stop laughing at some parts.

He then asked if we could go for a walk & try to find some dogs...

So we did just that.

We went on a long walk around the neighborhood, heading down familiar streets where we knew some dogs would be, as well as new ones we have not walked on, excitedly trying to find dogs behind fences.

He had a blast. We talked about a number of the issues you brought up & this generated some great discussion.

This evening he asked if we could go walking tomorrow on different streets in search of dogs - talk about a 180 degree turn of events/perception.

He even started paying attention to some echolocation type cues.

What an amazing day!

What used to be such an anxiety-provoking noxious stimulus, has turned into a sought after fun adventure.

Thanks Daniel! You have definitely made a difference in at least one little boy's life today.

Best wishes,

[A grateful and Proud Father]