When five-year-old Elodie Bateson walks through the school gates at Roe Valley Integrated Primary School in Limavady next week, her proud parents Michelle and Nick will beam with pride.
And it’s little wonder.
Elodie is blind.
“Elodie will be learning Braille, alongside her sighted primary one friends. We are deeply appreciative of the motivation and enthusiasm of the staff at Roe Valley Integrated School whose holistic and caring ethos we loved from the minute we visited. We hope Elodie will have many happy years at her new school,” says mum, Michelle.
Elodie was born with undeveloped eyes, including the conditions Micropthalmia (small eyes) and Coloboma (unfinished eyes).
“Looking back at the time of her diagnosis when she was just six-weeks-old it was hard for us to imagine if Elodie would develop normally, or if she would suffer from any other health complications associated with her type of visual impairment,” explained mum Michelle.
Elodie has been using her little pink cane to get about and is gaining greater confidence every day
Elodie’s condition has not held her back, says Michelle, who describes her youngest child as bright and independent. Like most five-year-olds, Elodie has a great sense of adventure and is eager to constantly learn. She attends ballet, swimming and piano classes, and was one of the youngest children in Northern Ireland trained to use a cane.
The early years have been full of appointments and interventions to help Elodie achieve normal development, says Michelle, who admits both she and her husband have had persisted to ensure Elodie gets the best chance in life.
“It changes everything, and the way you do things. It should be easier, but you have to push for everything. You have to describe the world around Elodie for her, but when she was diagnosed we realised we would be her best teachers,” says Michelle. “She lights up our life and we have learned from her, and we have learned to appreciate the little things. The world delights her.”
There have been countless specialist appointments in Oxford and Great Ormond Street in London in a bid to help save Elodie’s residual vision.
“As the first day of school approaches we are so grateful for the support we have had. Since the uncertain times of her diagnosis five years ago, Elodie has been under the superb care of Dr Rosie Brennan, Consultant Ophthalmologist, Altnagelvin Hospital. Dr Brennan’s gentle confidence and holistic approach to our daughter’s care paved the way for Elodie to have early intervention and the best medical opinions available, including arranging appointments with Mr C.K. Patel, Ophthalmic Surgeon, Oxford Eye Hospital, who is one of the world’s foremost paediatric eye surgeons and a true gentleman. We would also like to thank Dr Damien Armstrong, Consultant Paediatrician, whose care and kindness made all Elodie’s tests and investigations much easier.”
Michelle says the family’s understanding of visual impairment has “changed so much over the past five years”.
“We now fully appreciate that having a visual impairment enormously affects every aspect your life, including your ability to learn, move and interact with others. We do not see Elodie as simply having an impairment of sight that perhaps hearing and touch may automatically compensate for, but having a global impairment which affects her ability to move, communicate and to learn new things. A massive amount of intervention and knowledge is required to try to implement different ways of learning new skills and to ensure Elodie does not fall behind in her development.”
The family heap praise on those who have helped Elodie, including Little Treasures nursery in Drumsurn, which she atended from aged one.
“We cannot thank them enough. With the help from Elodie’s social worker for the Visually Impaired, Hilary Rooney, we were able to source funding to provide individual support from the Western Trust, this was pivotal in helping Elodie to reach her early potential as the support was used to deliver a specialist early intervention programme from Great Ormond Street. Her support assistant, Laura McArthur, has supported Elodie for the past two years and we are inspired by her motivation in learning new skills, such as Braille. Laura’s support has been critical in helping Elodie meet her milestones and keep up with her sighted friends. We are delighted that Laura will be able to continue to support Elodie in P1.
“Whilst attending Little Treasures, Elodie met her teacher for the visually impaired, Judith Douglas, who has been teaching Elodie Braille, and other essential skills. As parents, to watch Elodie read Braille is awe-inspiring and we wish to thank Judith for the hard work, dedication and wonderful teaching she has delivered to Elodie which has ensured that she will be on a par with her P1 friends when she starts school,” says Michelle, who explained Elodie has also been receiving habilitation intervention from Blind Children UK. She says staff from Blind Children UK have been helping Elodie gain independence in all aspects of her life. Elodie has been using her little pink cane to get about and is gaining greater confidence every day. Emma Lougheed, mobility instructor, has been helping Elodie find her way about her new school and classroom so that her transition into primary one will be so much easier and allow her to navigate this new environment with greater independence,” says Michelle.
The family thank the charity ‘Angel Eyes’ who support families of children with visual impairments. They have given our family tremendous support, and Elodie has made many new friends through the network of families.”
Roe Valley IPS principal Julie Cummings said the school is delighted Michelle and Nick chose the school “in which their daughter Elodie will be happy, make many new friends and have an enriching school experience.
“Our school ethos happy, positive and stimulating, and we develop an open-minded attitude in children, enabling them to value and respect each other.
“ It will be a joy and a privilege to be part of Elodie’s Roe Valley IPS school journey.”