Townsville, the unofficial capital of North Queensland, is no small town.
But, as with many other Australian regional and rural centres, it does not always have the on-the-ground services needed to help those living with disabilities.
For Rebecca Holman and her family, this became a very personal issue 10 years ago when they realised their daughter Atylda had challenges with her vision.
After some time, she was diagnosed with Knobloch syndrome, a rare condition that causes extreme short sightedness, which for Atylda, has increased over time, so learning braille would be an important life skill.
'Atylda was diagnosed as legally blind when she was three. But it was a case of here is the diagnosis—what do we do now? I was not pointed in any direction and had to research everything myself and I realised there was no local support in Townsville for braille. Eventually we heard about NextSense and for the past four years, Atylda has weekly virtual braille sessions with Kirsten Hill, who has been an amazing source of support for us.'
Today, 11-year-old Atylda, a budding artist, has made so much progress with braille that she and Kirsten have produced a braille book about an alligator in an elevator—the first braille book to find its way into the Cranbook State School library.
It’s just one of Atylda’s creative endeavours. Her passion for art is a way for her to express her rich inner world but Rebecca says her sunny and bubbly tween has no limits on what she will try. She finds drama fun and has also given netball a go this year.
'It has been a journey with braille because in the past, Atylda has not needed it to read—she zooms things in on her school iPad,' Rebecca says. 'But as the English content gets harder braille is becoming important because it will allow her to read fluently without being fatigued.'
Atylda’s weekly braille sessions are conducted virtually as part of the NextSense telehealth practice – a key part of the connected services we offer across Australia.
Kirsten says Atylda has made great progress in developing her tactile perception skills and learning the Unified English Braille (UEB) code.
An exciting opportunity on the horizon is the chance to attend a NextSense braille camp in Sydney, where Atylda will be able to meet up in person with her peers, and where families often make life-long connections.
'We can’t wait until we can attend one of those so Atylda can mingle with the other kids,' Rebecca says.
'Kirsten alerted us to that, and she has helped us get a better understanding of vision loss more generally. She has given us emotional support and understanding and just wants Atylda to be able to learn like her peers. It’s important for us to have the right knowledge because if you don’t understand you don’t know what to ask for.'
As for the future, the sky is the limit this bright 11-year-old, who has big plans to move to Brisbane, be a guide dog trainer and write children’s books. On the other hand, she is also talented at maths, so perhaps a STEM career could be on the cards.
'We are putting everything in place for her to have all the resources she needs to learn,' Rebecca says.
'What we are doing as parents is giving her all the skills she needs to live as an independent adult just like anybody else.'