Kellie recalls a rollercoaster of emotions following Fletcher’s diagnosis;

“The initial news was quite a blow, of course, but not a surprise. We knew Fletcher wasn’t processing the world like most babies, particularly his visual world. He wasn’t looking at or connecting with our faces, and as he was our second child, we had a benchmark to work from.”

“Fletcher and Lily are very close and adore one another. They often spend time playing together pretending to host restaurants or cafes, playing in their ‘club rooms’, on the swing set and trampoline in the backyard, or with Lily (his sister) reading Fletcher one of his favourite books” - Kellie 

The team at Guide Dogs has been working with Fletcher since he took his first steps; he quickly captured their hearts.

The early years of a child’s life are full of change, possibility and potential. Discovery is a daily delight, where children learn by exploring and playing with others. 

Children living with vision impairment are no different but may take longer to reach developmental milestones when compared to most children with sight, as vision affects a child’s understanding of their world and their motivation to be mobile.

Guide Dogs believes in the potential of every child, and early intervention and education are at the core of our approach. Our team worked with Fletcher to develop alternative or additional ways of interacting with his environment.

By providing early intervention, Fletcher is tackling day-to-day activities with confidence. He is achieving his goals, overcoming challenges, and is on track to reach a high level of independence.

Fletcher’s journey with Guide Dogs started with mobility training with our experienced Orientation and Mobility Instructors.

With the help of his parents, Kellie and Jon, Fletcher’s personal goals were identified early on, and an individual training program was developed to teach him a variety of skills to encourage his growth and development.

Fletcher is working closely with Orientation and Mobility Instructor, Anne, to learn different communication skills to better interact with his family and friends. Even though he cannot see faces, one of the skills he has learnt is to look directly at people by listening to the sound of their voice, “Fletcher is very bright. He became so good at this; he could almost trick you into actually thinking he could see! He still tricks people to this day” Anne recalls.

Fletcher’s safety is a priority for Kellie and Jon; “Safety has always been a big concern for us with Fletch, particularly around traffic, stairs, and play equipment. He’s a tough kid and has had many falls, bumps, and bruises, but he would always get up and have another crack at whatever he was trying to do whether it was climbing, crossing, or crawling over” Kellie said.

Like many children living with vision impairment, Fletcher regularly bumps into various objects or people. He has difficulty walking in dark or dimly lit areas and becomes overwhelmed in new, busy environments.

These are just a handful of challenges that children living with vision impairment face on a day-to-day basis.

During his mobility training, Fletcher and Anne worked as a team to learn different techniques to explore and navigate his home safely and confidently. He has learnt to use his other senses to navigate by sound and touch. 

"Fletcher now runs around the house like any kid without an impairment would, but in new environments he needs to map the room or space before he can move around comfortably. We call that 'updating his GPS'," Kellie says.

Fletcher's nine-year-old sister Lily is a wonderful support in the development of her little brother, "Lily is often our best chance at getting Fletcher to do something he doesn’t want to do, as he’ll do almost anything for her. She’s the one who taught him to clean his teeth, catch a balloon, and have a shower, just to name a few things," Kellie explains

Our Orientation and Mobility Instructors have worked closely with Fletcher and his family to prepare him for daycare, preschool and now primary school. Anne and the team at Guide Dogs have taught Fletcher a variety of skills to help him navigate these new environments. He has learnt how to find his classrooms, the library and the bathroom, as well as play safely on playgrounds, make friends, use technology, ask for help, and much more.

In addition to new skills, Anne has attended his school to assess the environment and provide training and support to his teachers on how they can best support Fletcher’s development.

"Guide Dogs has been amazing in providing an Orientation and Mobility Instructor like Anne, who has visited him at home and school, and undertaken site assessments at his daycare, preschool and primary school. This has allowed Fletcher a much higher level of independence as well as safety with his mobility. It has also been instrumental in allowing him to enter a mainstream school," Kellie recalls.

Fletcher is in reception at school and attends three half-days a week. Kellie is thrilled with Fletcher’s response to school, “Fletcher receives extraordinary support from the whole school community. He has lots of friends there and loves his classmates. He has decided that when he grows up, he wants to be a school principal!”  

As Fletcher continues to grow, he will have many new challenges and goals to tackle, and Guide Dogs will be there every step of the way. From white cane training to preparing him for secondary school, university, and maybe one day having a Guide Dog of his own.

By donating to Guide Dogs' Christmas Appeal, you will be supporting children with a vision impairment, just like Fletcher, on their journey to independence. 

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Towards a personalised training program to help a child living with vision impairment prepare for preschool and school.
Towards the first long cane and long cane training session for a child living with vision impairment.
Towards ongoing Orientation and Mobility support for children living with vision impairment like Fletcher.

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