Nothing — not even his vision impairment — slows down six-year-old Caden Johnson of Red Deer.
He leaps and bounds around the house with his eight-year-old brother Brady, builds tall Lego houses, floats and dunks his head without a moment’s hesitation in his swimming class and was the first of his family to get his cross-country skies on and hit the trails earlier this month.
“That was so much fun. I like the hills … I didn’t fall very much either and it was my first time ever,” gushed Caden, who was diagnosed with Leber’s congenital amaurosis when he was nine months old. The disorder is a genetic eye condition that affect the retinas, causing severe vision loss and light sensitivity.
Caden, who also said he loves tobogganing and summer camping and boating, was the only participant from Red Deer who took part in the Alberta Braille Challenge in Calgary last month.
It’s an annual academic competition sponsored by the Alberta Society for the Visually Impaired for students from kindergarten to Grade 12. They are assessed for their reading and writing of braille in five areas: proofreading, reading comprehension, spelling, charts and graphs, and speed and accuracy.
The youngest students may work in either contracted or uncontracted braille.
Challenges are held all over Canada and the United States and winners move on to a final competition in June in Los Angeles.
Caden, a Grade 1 Mountview Elementary student, was the youngest contestant this year.
“I might go back next year. It was fun,” he said.
“He’s really fast on his brailler, too,” said brother Brady, adding that Caden spent a lot of time practising when he first received the machine, a braille typewriter with a key for each of the six dots in the brailler code.
“So much so that his fingers were hurting,” said his father, Travis.
Caden was also the only one with a snazzy forest green brailler at the competition.
“It was awesome for him to meet other kids with vision impairments because he doesn’t really have that here in Red Deer,” said his mother, Tera. “He said to me, ‘Mom, I’m so glad I’m the only blind kid in my class because all those braillers were so loud.’ ”
Caden loves his brailler, despite the fact it does take longer to do school assignments, he said.
He has one at home and one at school, where he works closely with his eduction assistant, who is proficient in braille as well.
He uses it for spelling and math, and has a few braille books he borrows, some with textured, easy-to-feel pictures.
Caden started going to Aspire Special Needs Resource Centre in Red Deer when he was just over two years old. This was where he was first introduced to braille.
He worked with a child development facilitator for two years and Tera said that was the “key ingredient for starting his success.”
“He learned to recognize sounds and shapes and voices, and socializing with other kids.
It was also where he first got his mobility cane,” she said.
“Now he’s right on track with his peers in Grade 1.”
Today he works about once a month with a member from REACH in Calgary for more specialized braille education, as well as an orientation and mobility worker from the Canadian Institute for the Blind in Edmonton to learn about how to get around.
“What we thought was going to be a huge challenge in his elementary years has turned out to be not so bad and we’re just hoping that’s what continues in the future,” said Tera.