When a friend tipped Amanda Johnson off about Satan’s Little Helper, she knew she had to apply on behalf of her two-year-old son Austin.
Austin has a condition called colobomas, which means the structure of his eye failed to form properly in the womb. Colobomas left him with restricted eyesight and teardrop shaped pupils – a bit like cleft palate for the eyes. At first doctors believed Austin would only be able to see light and dark shades, but his vision is a little more advanced than that. However, it’ll never be fully functional and he’ll need aids such as braille and a cane for the rest of his life. That hasn’t stopped him from thriving, however. Austin is at pre-school two mornings a week and really enjoys it. “He loves it, just loves it,” says Amanda. “The teachers say he’s the most settled kid there. He loves the tunnel outside; he will spend an hour in there going back and forth. “He likes the other kids, and the teachers say it is good for them, because Austin is teaching them to be more patient. It’s good for everyone.” His poor eyesight means Austin still doesn’t feel confident on his feet, despite being nearly three years old. He prefers the safety of the floor and gets around by shuffling on his bum. “He knows that when he’s on the ground, bum shuffling, he’s safe,” explains Amanda. “Being on his feet is a whole different world and he’s a bit more nervous. He’s capable of walking, but he’s got to get all his confidence to do that to know he’s safe.” One of the tools his orientation and mobility therapist suggested to improve his confidence was a balance bike. Once Satan’s Little Helper (SLH) heard that, we knew we had to get one for Austin. Amanda says: “He really likes his bike! He was straight on it, which really surprised me because he’s so stubborn and doesn’t always like new things. He’s been whizzing around the place on it and he’s a lot more confident now.” Because life shouldn’t just be about hard work and effort, SLH also sent a xylophone to get Austin’s creative spirit flowing. Amanda says it’s working! “He absolutely loves the xylophone! He’s always signing or tinkering on it – at the moment it’s Baby Shark. He takes the xylophone with him everywhere he goes.” Austin gets help from his Blennz Resource Teacher: Vision (RTV) and from his Blind Low Vision NZ every three weeks. Blennz is a national network of educational services for blind, deafblind or low vision children and young people. The Blind Foundation is New Zealand’s leading provider of vision rehabilitation, providing practical and emotional support for people with vision loss. Amanda says they’ll both notice improvements in his confidence during their next visit. “The O&M and RTV will notice a big difference in Austin after he’s spent time on the balance bike.” If Austin keeps improving and gaining confidence, it hopefully won’t be long until the balance bike banishes his bum shuffles for good!