Being a parent is one of the greatest joys in life. It’s hard to describe the feeling becoming a parent generates – from the intense love of your new born baby to the worry for the future you sometimes feel, always hoping for a bright and safe future of acceptance and accomplishment for your child.
For most of us, fortune smiles our way and our babies grow into healthy and happy children, eventually enjoying as adults that same sort of love and concern you felt as they start their own families. But not all journeys are the same. We’d like you to meet Aston. This energetic 2½ year old would be just as much at home in a “Mr Chatterbox” shirt as he is in his “Mr Strong” shirt, happy to share stories of his days, what he’s played with and the people he met. “He really has a great personality and he’s not shy at all,” Mum Jackie says with a smile. “Aston’s a very sociable little boy who just loves visitors. He’s an absolute joy.”
Aston loves drawing, play-doh, painting and bopping along to his favourite dance music – affectionately known by Aston as “Yep” music – every chance he gets. What makes him different to a lot of other toddlers his age is that Aston is also vision impaired, diagnosed with Familial Exudative Vitreoretinopathy (FEVR) when he was just six weeks old. FEVR is a genetic condition that affects the retina, the specialised light-sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye, and can lead to retinal detachment and Strabismus (where a person’s two eyes do not look in the same direction).
The news of Aston’s condition came as a complete shock to Jackie and Dad Manny, especially after Aston’s brother Byron, now five years old, was born with perfect vision and no hint of the genetic condition. “Looking back, hearing the news from the doctor about Aston’s condition was a very emotional day for Manny and I. We were both very concerned for the extra challenges the future held for Aston living with vision impairment,” Jackie said.
Fortunately for Aston, Jackie and Manny sought help from Guide Dogs Queensland to access our specialised programs for children with low or no vision, to help ensure Aston has a bright future ahead. “Guide Dogs Queensland has been a constant source of support, with regular instruction for Aston and help just a phone call away,” Jackie said.
While it’s still too early to tell just how much vision Aston has remaining, it is certain that he makes best use of what vision he has! Together with Cathryn, his Guide Dogs Queensland mobility instructor, Aston is pushing his boundaries to explore new territory and build his independence. With his new rainbow-coloured cane in hand and a good dose of curiosity, there’s really no stopping him. “I’ve been working with Aston for over a year now at the Brisbane Early Learning Centre and during home visits. It’s been very rewarding to see how much he has developed and blossomed,” Cathryn said. “I visit Aston every week and we play games with shapes and colours, before heading out for walks to explore with his new cane.
The idea is to make the cane a part of his life early so he can always feel independent and mobile. “Guide Dogs Queensland is here to support Aston for the long-term. Step-by-step, side-by-side, we know we can make a difference in his life.” Aston is the first child to register for the new Early Learning Centre opening on the Gold Coast this year to support children like him to build their confidence and independence. Aston will also be attending the Guide Dogs Queensland “Littlies” camp in July with Mum and Dad, to learn mobility and build confidence through fun games and excursions.
Although a long time off, Aston’s love of dogs and his early work with a cane will also put him in a good position to receive a Guide Dog if he decides he would like one when he’s ready. It costs $30,000 to breed, train and place every Guide Dog in Queensland, which like all our services for children and adults, are provided to the community for free. Age, young or old, there is no limitation to access our services. Guide Dogs Queensland relies on the support of our community to continue to give children like Aston the support they need to maximise life’s opportunities.