A blind child is a real life BAT-MAN – and is learning to see using sound.
Mason Dzora, six, has undergone training from American echolocation expert Daniel Tish to help him grow independently in a sighted world.
And in that short amount of time the bundle of energy has already started “seeing” objects around him.
Echolocation, or flashsonar as Daniel calls it, is the method of locating objects by determining the time for an echo to return and the direction from which it returns, as by radar or sonar.
It is the same technique used by bats to navigate and hunt prey in the dark.
Schoolboy Mason is being taught to use his own clicking sound to hear what is around him – just as you would know you entered an empty room because it would be more echoey.
He is only the fourth child in the UK to be taught the technique by Daniel’s organisation.
His devoted mum, Lorraine, 44, said: “It is mindblowing to see how far he has come in these short days. Just think what his future will hold.
“Daniel was testing Mason by putting plates around him for him to find and he was locating them, it was astounding.”
Mason was born blind – he has a condition called Leber’s congenital amaurosis.
It is an inherited illness, which presents itself when both parents carry a faulty gene. The only effect of this is his blindness.
His parents, Lorraine, who is now his full-time carer, and dad, HGV driver Mark, 41, were devastated when Mason was diagnosed at eight-months-old.
Mum-of-six Lorraine said: “I started googling the condition and scared myself to death, there were lots of scare stories about late development.
“I blamed myself for what had happened to him and we had quite a difficult couple of years coming to terms with him being blind.”
But Mason is the youngest of six, his older siblings are Natassja, 20, twins Peter and Michael, 18, and twins Marc and Paul, 13, and he had to fit right into the family.
Lorraine said: “There wasn’t much special treatment for Mason. He gets treated as a normal six-year-old boy and he has thrived for it.
“He hit all his usual milestones, he was walking before he was one, and he has a wonderful mathematical brain.
“I realise he is far too intelligent to live a life stuck to my side, I want to give him his independence. I want to see him going to school on the school bus with his mates, not with me holding his hand.
“I want him to ride a bike and have adventures and know that he can achieve whet he wants to achieve.”
Mason goes to a normal school – the nearest school for the blind in Sheffield was closed due to funding, so the closest after that was in Liverpool.
“I struggled with whether I should uproot our family and move there,” said Lorraine. “But in the end I decided I couldn’t do it to us, I had kids doing their GCSEs and a whole family to think of.”
Now Lorraine considers going to a mainstream school was the best option, as it has encouraged Mason to live as normal a life as possible.
The couple first heard of Daniel Tish when Mason’s Visual Impairment teacher told them about a talk he was doing locally.
Daniel comes from California but travels the world, on his own, telling others about echolocation and how he learned to use it himself to build an independent life.
The Dzoras were amazed by what they were hearing and talked about how it could help Mason.
They decided Mason, at six, was mature enough to listen and take on board what Daniel would teach.
Several emails and three months later Daniel appeared at their home in Doncaster, South Yorks., and his journey into sight has begun.
During the visit Daniel has taken Mason out for a walk.
“It was the first time Mason has ever walked on his own, without me holding his hand. I was scared he would fall or stumble off the kerb but Daniel told me to walk ahead and allow him to walk alone,” said Lorraine.
He also set up obstacle courses around their home for him to practice.
He was not taught how to click, although the sound he makes has already changed from a horsey clip-cloppy sound to one more controlled and sophisticated.
Daniel has been named Batman because of his technique, because he makes a quiet clicking noise as he walks, checking out his environment.
It is this skill which allows him to avoid objects to walk in a crowd or cycle down a road. Daniel says cars are easy to avoid as they rebound sound well.
He is President of World Access for the Blind, a non-profit organisation founded in 2000 to facilitate “the self-directed achievement of people with all forms of blindness” and increase public awareness about their strengths and capabilities.
Daniel and his organization have taught echolocation to at least 500 blind children around the world.
Daniel has been blind since he was 13 months old – he had to have both eyes removed to save his life because he was born with an aggressive form of eye cancer, retinoblastoma.
He refused to believe he could not live as he wanted to live and as a child
starting clicking away to help him get around – when he was 11 he realised this was called echolocation.
And although the family remain positive, Lorraine has her moments when, as a mother, her son’s blindness overwhelms her.
She said: “At Christmas I was shopping and I had a bit of a breakdown when I looked at a massive impressive Christmas tree and I thought that Mason would never experience that – he’d never see the beauty of twinkling Christmas lights. I had to go home.”
The Dzora family are now trying to raise #20,000 for the full cost of the treatment – including an adventure workshop in America.
Lorraine said: “There are so many obstacles for blind children – literally. The library do not do braille and none of the children’s TV programmes have audio description.
“So many toys are useless for a blind child to play with, so we have adapted them as best we can. And we have created a reading corner where he listens to his books on CD – Roald Dahl is favourite at the moment.
“We have discovered there are actually some quite good gadgets out there but these cost an awful lot of money.
“We are just a normal family and there is no way we can afford these. We have now started fundraising to help Mason have the things other kids take for granted.”
Daniel said: “Mason is doing really well. He began looking and detecting objects within 10 minutes of starting the programme. That’s very very fast.
“The next step will be making it part of his daily life. He already started navigating himself around on the first day and we visited Yorkshire Wildlife Park where he walked on his own in fairly difficult circumstances, in a crowd with the wind up.
“He is very keen to learn and to do the warm up exercises each morning. He has an independent spirit but he’s used to being dependent on others – and they need to remove this support, to let everyone back away and let him navigate himself.
“Luckily Mason was given access to his environment and was given a walking cane at two-years-old – you don’t see this very much.”
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