Caleb Williamson’s mum describes him as a ‘crazy, loving, cheeky monkey’ with a passion for all things car- related.
With his happy-go-lucky personality and beaming smile, you’d be forgiven for thinking he doesn’t have a care in the world. But little Caleb has been through more in 24 months than most of us will ever face in a lifetime.
At just two days old, doctors told his parents that there was a problem with his sight. His mum Jacqueline, who has sight loss herself, knew it was a possibility but the news still came as a massive shock. After lots of tests, Caleb was diagnosed with Retinoblastoma, a rare form of cancer that causes tumours behind the eyes.
In his short life, Caleb, who is the youngest of six children, has had multiple rounds of chemotherapy, laser treatment and cryotherapy to try and kill the tumours.
Regular check-ups are required to track the progress of the disease, which could be life-threatening if a tumour spreads, and Caleb’s family have seen specialists in Belfast, Dublin, Birmingham and Switzerland. Sadly, the treatments also have an impact on Caleb’s sight and it’s thought he has no vision in his left eye and a visual acuity of just 6/76 in his right eye.
Guide Dogs’ Children and Young People’s team became involved with Caleb in August 2017, after his case was referred from Altnagelvin hospital. Habilitation Specialist Sarah assessed him and began a development programme to help him meet his milestones.
Her work included teaching him to ‘track’ (following objects with his eyes) and introducing him to different objects and textures. In January, he also got his first long cane and he’s learning to tap it on the floor to understand different surfaces and distances.
“It’s been so lovely getting to know Caleb and his family’, Sarah says. “It’s quite challenging because Caleb’s vision is changing all the time and he can’t verbalise what he can see to us. But he’s right where he should be for his age and he does everything with such enthusiasm! It’s really exciting to watch him develop the skills he’ll need to be as independent as possible.”
Mum Jacqueline adds: “He’s come on so much since Sarah started to work with him. I was so panicky at the start but now I let him batter on! I just want a normal life for him.
“My advice for other parents who’ve just had a child diagnosed with a visual impairment would be ‘don’t panic’. I freaked out initially but you just have to get on and take whatever life throws at you.
“Right now we’re looking forward to our first family holiday together in the sun. We can’t wait!”