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Dr Namita Jacob’s Guest Blog

Self-Efficacy

Dictionary definition

Self-efficacy is seeing yourself as capable and the extent to which you believe you have control over how your life pans out.

Parental self-efficacy is key to every child's future, and needs to be promoted.

Parent's need to have the self-belief that they:

  • are good parents
  • feel they can take charge
  • are able to care for their child
  • can learn what needs to be learnt
  • are the primary source of support and guidance their child needs

Children who have parents with high self-efficacy are blessed!

In the way we as professionals interact with families, we can help them develop their self-efficacy, and give them insights not only into what they are able to do, but also into what people see in them and how they respond to them.

Building self-efficacy in children

Building self-efficacy in children is often overlooked.

Consider the experience of our children - often confused and stuck, not knowing how to move forward. Consider that the solutions that help them move forward often come from outside of themselves.

It is easy for them to believe that help is only something available from outside of themselves.

Children need to start to trust themselves as source of solutions for their own difficulties and become active in problem solving for themselves, to experience success in doing this and thus develop their self-efficacy.

This is hard for children with cerebral visual impairment, because receiving help from the outside is their normal experience, and the first step is to help them see how adjustments in their environment or their strategies can open new universes for them.

From a very early period, I show children how they can slide light controls, for example, to increase or decrease the brightness of a lamp or light pad. Initially many will just play, but over time, if I show a child something with good lighting on a light box and lower the light just as they catch sight of it, I hope they will reach out to increase the light level themselves.

You'd be surprised at how even quite complex children get this idea and how the small things we give them control over start to change how actively they seek solutions when they can't do something, and how much longer they will persist instead of giving up until someone comes and solves the problem for them.

It is an art to foster self-efficacy in children with disabilities, especially those with more complex disabilities, but it is very possible and of course, - as for everyone - it is hugely rewarding, supporting future learning and success in life.

How to build self-efficacy in others

How to foster and build self-efficacy in others is a key element I struggle to explain, but I think it needs to be at the core of interaction and intervention.

Self-efficacy is of course dynamic and so can be increased, diminished or even destroyed. Considering how you yourself typically develop self-efficacy helps you see why children with disabilities (and their parents) are at risk of having either poor self-efficacy or efficacy built on external sources.

1. You develop your self-efficacy on the basis of what people say and how people respond to you and what you do

  • oh she has a beautiful voice
  • you sing so well!
  • that was an amazing performance
  • and so on -

Children with disabilities are often seen as not being able, or they are praised hugely for small achievements which in a way sends the message - "that's really fantastic for you not for us, but for you ah! that's great".

Children with disabilities are often seen as not being able, or they are praised hugely for small achievements which in a way sends the message - "that's really fantastic for you not for us, but for you ah! that's great"

Dr Namita Jacob

2. Compare yourself to others, like listening to the winner, say to yourself 'ok , I think I can do what she did!'

but for this, apart from knowing what elements make good technique, you need to:

  • think you can be like anyone else
  • do what anyone else does

and we know this is not the predominant message that the children receive.

In Amelia's Great Climb, a child with CVI climbed higher than all the other children in her group and said to her mother:

"I was left until last again, no one thought I could do it, so I wanted to prove everyone wrong and I put all my power into my body and climbed. I didn't see anything, but when I reached the top, I saw everything".

In our Horse-riding section the mother of a young man with CVI wrote (about carriage riding):

It taught him, when no one else could, that he wasn't worthless and he could be good at something.

3. Self-efficacy can be built where success is objectively judged and rewarded, for example winning a competition or being in the top five etc.

Now, this is great, but there isn't a competition for everything we want to build, and we don't need everyone to be the best. They simply need clear insight into what they have and feel able to use it. And so, this is the other way that you develop self-efficacy:

  • pay attention to yourself
  • learn to see your own nature
  • feel able to manage with everything that you are
  • and use this to create solutions for yourself to work around what you are not
  • And become and do everything that you want to

We learn to "see" ourselves because we see part of ourselves - our reactions, our fears, our nature - in others and others see themselves in us.

When I consider all of this, I think children with disabilities are at risk of having poor self-efficacy and I must consciously build it.

Equally important is how I choose to build it - it is easy to surround children with disabilities with people who will keep telling them how great they are, but then you raise children who will always need external assurances to bolster their efficacy - a negative outcome!

Instead, I would want them to see themselves as being able to do and deal with any situation, to learn and achieve what they want - basically having the solutions within themselves.

So to go back to my child happening upon the slider that increases and decreases illumination, I would say - oh, more light really helped, didn't it! That was such a good idea to increase the light!! And then in another task where they struggle, I remind them, I think you will be able to figure out how to do it, you have such good ideas and strategies! I remember how you increased the light and it helped you find the...! That was really clever. You must show me how you manage this time, ok?

I do the same with parents - I help them to see what they are doing so well. I help them see they can learn everything they need to know and that they can inform professionals so as to clearly explain what their child needs!

If we can do this - help parents and children see their abilities within themselves, help them to know inside themselves that they will always find a way, then they can relax and get on with life with excitement and enjoyment, finding their own path forward.

Dr Namita Jacob

Dr Namita Jacob is an internationally respected expert in the education of blind and deafblind children, and both founded and is the Director of the Chetana Charitable Trust. Dr Jacob is senior regional education specialist, Asia Pacific for Perkins International.

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