Oashia, nine, is a big fan of horse riding and gymnastics, and loves playing with her buddy dog, Garston, too. Although she has no sight at all, her Guide Dogs habilitation coach, Helen, is helping her get the most out of life. Here, Penny – Oashia’s great aunt and guardian – tells their story.
“We knew right from the start there was something different about Oashia because she didn’t look at you when you were talking to her. She was diagnosed with optic nerve hypoplasia when she was six months old but apart from some leaflets from the hospital, we got very little support or extra information. It left us devastated as a family.
“Oashia came to live with me when she was three years old, but I treated her like all my other children – I didn’t wrap her in cotton wool and I try to keep her mind open to everything. The only trouble is she doesn’t sleep very well; she can’t perceive light so her body clock isn’t in sync with day or night. I thought Oashia might need challenging both physically and mentally, to help wear her out during the day, and that’s why she began horse riding.
“She started riding when she was five, and has gone on to compete at county and national level. I think one of the reasons Oashia loves horses so much is she doesn’t have to hold anyone’s hand when she’s riding; she’s completely free and in control of herself. She’s also completely fearless when it comes to gymnastics. She’ll go on the beam and the bar – just like the other children, although she does have a guide – and if she falls, she gets straight back up again!
“Guide Dogs have helped Oashia enjoy her hobbies safely. The team in the South West, where we live, ran training courses for all the staff at Oashia’s stables and gym so they understand more about her sight loss and how to support her. Guide Dogs have also started a Confident Movers gymnastics group for other children in Cornwall with a vision impairment. Oashia loves the group – she’s made loads of friends and enjoys showing them how to do all the moves.
“Helen, Oashia’s habillitation coach, has been a lifesaver. She’s taught us both so much. She taught Oashia how to prepare simple meals for herself, like sandwiches, while I’ve learned how to support Oashia in the kitchen – using a tool to show her when a drink is reaching the top of her cup, or wooden tongs to get toast out the toaster. They’re only tiny things but it’s made such a big difference to our lives.
“She’s also helped us make our home easier and safer for Oashia, like marking the microwave controls with a tactile marker so she can make her own porridge. Apart from small changes, the only major thing we’ve had to do is fix a rail at the top of the stairs. Oashia happily wanders round the house; no one would know she can’t see. She’s so independent, I’m in awe of her.”