Exploring the world with a cane
Two-year-old Isaac immediately connects with mobility aid
Like most young children, Isaac Laraghy, who is blind, loves to bounce on his trampoline, dance, sing and play with his siblings.
At two-and-half-years-old, the confident youngster is learning to explore different environments using a long cane, thanks to orientation and mobility training through Guide Dogs NSW/ACT.
Isaac's mum, Aleshea learnt about the children's services offered by Guide Dogs from an outreach support worker soon after her son became blind at four months old. Isaac was born with tunnel vision, but lost the reminder of his sight a few months later due to a rare condition.
Guide Dogs NSW/ACT Regional Manager, Jeremy Hill, who is training Isaac to use a cane, said the toddler connected with the mobility aid straight away.
"It's important that a child who is vision impaired begins to use a cane as early as possible. Ideally this happens when they start to walk, like in Isaac's case," Mr Hill said. "It becomes like a bumper bar out in front of them and helps them to explore different environments."
Last week, Isaac travelled with his mum to the Guide Dogs NSW/ACT's Coffs Harbour office for two days of intensive training.
"Getting around freely and confidently is just as important to children who have impaired vision as any other child," Mr Hill said.
"It is for this reason that Guide Dogs provides specialised orientation and mobility services just for children who are vision impaired, so they can learn how to purposefully explore their environment and better understand the world in which they live."
Over the two days, Isaac learnt how to navigate steps, kerbs and footpaths and Aleshea was taught techniques to assist her son in continuing his development.
Aleshea said Isaac began to use the cane when he was one and now "powers" around the house with his sister and three brothers.
"One of our main aims from the trip to Coffs Harbour is to allow him to learn how to use a cane in public and to navigate footpaths," she said.
A child is never too young to receive assistance from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT's free orientation and mobility services - over the past year, the organisation has provided specialised services to more than 447 infants, children and teenagers who are blind or vision impaired.
Guide Dogs NSW/ACT's expert Orientation and Mobility Specialists develop training programs that are tailored to each child's individual needs, age and skill level.
"Our services are provided in the home, at pre-schools and schools, and within the community. Each program grows with the child, starting with pre-cane skills, moving through to cane training, public transport travel, and use of residual vision and other senses," Mr Hill said.
"Instructors work with everyone involved in the child's life to reinforce this training - at home, pre-school, school and in the community."
Guide Dogs NSW/ACT also provides information and support for families, child-care centres, schools and other agencies.
"As advocates for people who have impaired vision, we can provide recommendations for environmental changes to school grounds and playgrounds," Mr Hill said.
Every day 28 Australians are diagnosed with uncorrectable vision loss, including nine who become blind.
For more information about the children's services offered by Guide Dogs NSW/ACT visit guidedogs.com.au