The News, Dec 21, 2006

‘Just a normal boy’ – with some challenges

 

The Abbotsford News first profiled the Mutch family in January 2004, when newborn Cody became Abbotsford’s first baby of the new year. The family’s joy turned to sorrow, when hours after Cody’s birth, it was discovered that he had been born with a rare condition – microphthalmia, extremely under-developed eyes that meant he would be blind for life.

The News followed Cody’s progress through his first year and now checks in with the family – also including six-year-old sister Jessica, dad Jonny and mom Corinne – as he nears his third birthday.

Like any household with young children, the Mutch home is filled with a buzz of activity.

Cody has plopped down in front of the refrigerator and is opening and closing the lower freezer door. He wavers between tired crankiness and contented babbling and singing.

Later, he catches his second wind and excitedly whirls around the living room, wrestles with Jonny, giggles with Jessica, and looks like he’s having the time of his life.

A few minutes later, he has worn himself into an exhausted heap of toddlerhood on the living room floor, where he rocks himself back and forth in preparation for sleep.

This frenetic pace of young childhood serves as a strong reminder to Corinne and Jonny that their boy is just like any other his age, and this is the focus of their parenting.

“We want to instill in him that, ‘Hey, you’re just like any other kid,’ and not coddle him. The more we do that, the more confident he’ll be to be social with his peers and just be one of the crowd,” Corinne said.

“He’s just a normal boy,” Jonny adds.

However, they agree that raising a blind child in a sighted world presents numerous challenges.

Without the visual cues that other children receive as they develop, Cody requires stimulation and support in different ways.

For example, crawling and walking are steps that do not come naturally to him. Sighted children learn to go toward objects that are out of their reach, but a blind child isn’t aware that the objects even exist and, therefore, has no incentive to move.

Cody never crawled, but instead learned to scoot around on his bottom to get from place to place.

Learning to walk was a matter of repetition and patience. Jonny and Corinne had to move his limbs into the position – from lying down to sitting up to standing – that a child would otherwise naturally assume. They repeated the process over and over.

Getting Cody to actually take steps was another challenge, as he felt more secure sitting down. As he would near Jonny and Corinne, crying to be picked up, they would take a step or two backward, encouraging him to follow their voices.

Cody took his first “walk” – four steps – between Corinne and her mom on Mother’s Day of this year.

He then learned to sit up and stand up on his own – steps typically done before walking.

Now that Cody is motoring around, he has faced a new series of obstacles – literally.

“He hits his head a lot . . . but he kind of just shakes his head and keeps on going,” Corinne says.

Then, there was an incident with the stairs. He loves to walk up and down the stairs, holding someone’s hand, but one day he managed to loosen the gate at the top of the stairs.

“He did attempt the stairs on his own, but it didn’t work out very well,” Jonny says. Cody emerged from the incident unscathed, and still loves to navigate the steps.

The couple have learned ways to assist Cody as he maneuvers around their home. They recently put plastic “bumps” along the walls, at Cody’s hand level, to teach him to feel his way from room to room.

Cody prefers to walk around the home in bare feet, and they placed felt bumps on the kitchen floor that lead to his spot at the table.

He is becoming more adventurous in public, as Corinne and Jonny encourage him to walk as much as possible when they’re out – for example, when they go grocery shopping.

“Now, he’s willing to put his hand in the produce at the store or touch the shelves or push the cart around . . . When he’s open and receptive, that’s exciting,” Corinne says.

About a week ago, Cody received a pre-cane device, which he can push around and use to alert him to objects in his path. This will prepare him for the eventual use of a “white cane.”

Corinne says that he has so far shown little interest in the device.

Another challenge for Cody has been language development because so much of communication depends on the visual.

Corinne says Cody is a deep thinker and works very hard to understand a word before he says it.

He recently completed an eight-week stint of speech therapy, and has made great strides. This has reduced the outbursts he used to have when he wanted something.

“That was one of his biggest frustrations – not being able to communicate,” Jonny says.

The family has received professional support along the way – in the form of physio-, occupational and speech therapy – and one of their newest connections has been with pianist Matt Fordham. He met the family through Rochelle Exelby, executive director of the Abbotsford-based On-Sight Independence, which offers programs and services for the blind and visually impaired.

Fordham has been meeting weekly with Cody. Sometimes Cody just listens to Fordham play, and other times he joins in, tapping the piano keys or playing his toy instruments.

The connection has been beneficial for Cody.

“He loves music . . . It’s something different for him. His days sometimes don’t have as much variation as a sighted child’s would,” Jonny says.

The connection has also led Fordham to host a concert to benefit the non-profit On-Sight Independence. The event is free, but donations are being accepted for the organization.

The concert takes place Thursday, Dec. 28 at 7 p.m. The location is Immanuel Fellowship Baptist Church (2950 Blue Jay). For more information about On-Sight, call 604-832-2808 or visit www.on- sightindependence.ca.

 

Publication title: The News

 

Publication date: Dec 21, 2006

Publisher: Torstar Syndication Services, a Division of Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

Place of publication: Abbotsford, B.C.

Country of publication: Canada

 

Copyright: (Copyright (c) 2006 Black Press Group Ltd.)

 

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