Visual impairment doesn’t stop this child’s success

March 31, 2016 | | by Megan Hussey

Gavin Smith has suffered with severely limited eyesight during his decade of living.

The San Antonio Elementary student has a condition known as uvetis, a form of eye inflammation that, according to the Mayo Clinic, “affects the middle layer of tissue in the eye wall (uvea).”

Yet Gavin hasn’t let this stop him from living life to the fullest and learning simultaneously. A fifth-grader who balances his studies at San Antonio Elementary with additional classes through Pasco eSchool, Gavin has placed third in the western region of Florida, apprentice level, in a nationwide Braille contest known as the Braille Challenge.

A program of the Braille Institute, the challenge is an activity that, at regional and ultimately national levels, tests students’ knowledge of Braille. It’s an exam that challenges their vocabulary, reading and writing skills and reading comprehension.

“I wasn’t used to reading Braille for that long, and sometimes I felt like crying,” said Gavin. “But when I found out about my honor, I felt happy.”

Gavin counts reading among his favorite subjects and personal hobbies. He pursues it with the help of a magnifying machine, a Braille reader, a reading globe, and Braille and Talking Books. Some of these devices are supplied through the School District of Pasco County, while others are provided through national agencies that serve the visually impaired.

“I don’t need books that have pictures,” said Gavin, who counts Ellen Miles and R.L. Stine among his favorite authors. “The words draw the pictures in my mind.”

Gavin also enjoys writing about and discussing his favorite reads, composing essays in class and discussing books with friends and family members.

“He loves to tell me about all of the books that he reads,” said mom Julie Smith.

Gavin also likes to study science and has a love for animals; one that he hopes to put to work in the future as a zoologist.

“Gavin is a success story,” said Gonzalo Garcia-Villalta, teacher of the visually impaired. “He works very hard and is college bound.”

His mother agrees.

“Of course I was nervous about him participating in the Braille Challenge, but I had confidence,” she said, adding as she turned with a smile to her son, “I knew you could do it.