Saturday, January 27, 2007

Blind Child Learns To See By Using Sound

A Mother Who Refused To Believe Her Child Was Handicapped Gave Him The Power To Defy 'Reality'

One of the most inspiring stories you're likely to read for a while.

It is the story of a modern day miracle.

And it is the story of a mother who gave her son the power, belief and commitment to make this miracle into an almost everyday reality. At least for himself, and his family, and now the millions learning about what he has done, and how his mother helped him to achieve the supposedly impossible.

A three year old child had his eyes surgically removed, rendering him blind. But his mother refused to tell her son that he was blind. So he never believed he was.

Then, he learned how to see again.

He defied the limits of the reality he was supposed to live within, and created a new one.

Read on.

From the UK Guardian :
There have been a lot of tough moments in Aquanetta Gordon's life, but none comes close to the moment when her three-year-old son, Ben, came round from the operation to remove both his eyes.

"He was my baby," she says. "And he was lying there with no eyes crying, 'I can't see you any more, Mama - I can't see you any more ... '"

In that moment, Aquanetta admits, she felt the cancer that had robbed her child of his eyes had destroyed both their lives

"Part of me just wanted to keel over and weep," she says. But she didn't. Instead, Aquanetta found a strength she'd never have believed she possessed. "I realised that if I gave in, he would too," she says. "I pledged I'd be strong for him.

"So I took his tiny hand and I held it to my face and I said, Ben, you can still see me, baby. You can see me with your hands: you can touch me. And I put my face close to his and I said you can still see me, Ben, with your nose: you can smell me. And with your ears too, Ben, I said: you can see me with your ears. You can hear me."

What she resolved at that moment, Aquanetta says, was that she was never going to tell Ben that he was blind: that she was never going to let him believe his life would be a lesser experience.

"From then on I treated him exactly the same way I treat my other four kids," she says. "I use the same language and I treat him exactly like a sighted child. When we see something interesting I say, look at this, Ben. Do you see this? I sometimes describe things for him, and his brothers and sister do the same, but basically we treat him exactly as though he could see."

...when Ben was about five years old, something amazing - almost miraculous - happened.

"We were driving along a road in Sacramento in California where we live when Ben said, 'Mom, do you see those big tall buildings over there?' And I said, 'Well, Ben, I see those buildings well enough: do you see those buildings too?"

What Ben had done was to use the sound that echoed off the buildings around him to tell what was outside the car: as they travelled along the road, he could tell by the sounds he was hearing what they were passing.

Aquanetta and her other children had also noticed that as Ben moved around he often made a little clicking noise with his tongue. "I didn't know exactly what he was doing, but I could tell that making this noise helped him to know where things were and helped him get about," remembers Aquanetta. "So when we were out I'd remind him, 'Make your noise, Ben. Make your noise, then you'll see where you're going.'"

What Ben had managed to do was teach himself to use a system called echolocation: the same system that bats and dolphins use to "see" with their ears.

Astonishingly, the little boy with no eyes whose mum had always told him he could see had worked out a way to see all on his own: and in the months and years that followed, he has refined his system so that today...all who meet him, as if he was sighted.

When I arrive at the family home, Ben, now 15, opens the door, looks straight into my face with his prosthetic eyes, and shakes my hand before leading me down the corridor to the sitting room. It's a Saturday morning and Ben is playing a computer game. He doesn't see the characters on the screen, of course, but he uses the sounds they make to locate where they are and zaps them with an extraordinary sharpness.

Ben says he has vague memories of vision - he remembers grass and the sky. But he doesn't consider himself handicapped - no, not at all - and he can't recall when he first realised he could tell where things were by listening. "I've been doing it for as long as I can remember," he says, his face lighting up into a huge grin. "I guess when my mom told me I could see I believed her, and I found a way of seeing and this was it. It's second nature to me now."

An eye specialist, experienced in dealing with children who have lost their vision due to cancer believes :

...the most significant thing about Ben isn't the way he gets around, it's the way his mother brought him up.

"I honestly believe that the really interesting thing here is Aquanetta's approach," he says. "I think Ben has done something extraordinary because of her attitude. I think every handicapped child should have a mother like Aquanetta. Every week I have parents in my consulting room whose kid has some minor eye problem and they want me to make excuses for their child so they get more time to do their exams or their homework, and here's Aquanetta, with a child who has a really serious disability, and instead of trying to get help for him she's raising him to think of himself as completely normal. And look at him: he's a happy kid, having a happy and normal life.

"The hardest part of my job is when I have to talk to parents who've just found out their child is blind ... their whole world has just caved in. Now I can say, your child can have a normal life: look at this boy, Ben. Look at how his mum treated him, and learn from it."

The power of the human mind to define and create reality is something truly awesome.

And it is fascinating that this boy's ability to see came from using a sensory technique essential to the survival of bats and dolphins. One that humans, we are told, are not supposed to have.

But one that we can clearly learn to use, if the practice-to-perfection trial and error process begins early enough.

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