A Red Deer boy is on his way to sunny Los Angeles with his family this month as a finalist in the Braille Challenge 2017.
Caden Johnson, 9, will be heading to LA with his parents, Travis and Tera, big brother Brady and his grandmother to take part in the event – Caden is one of just two Canadians flying down, and one of 50 finalists from across the continent.
It’s a terrific achievement for the friendly youngster, who, although legally blind, certainly doesn’t let that stand in his way of exploring, learning and doing pretty much whatever he sets his mind to.
“I can’t see really small things,” he explained. “Really detailed things are hard for me to see, too.”
His folks knew very early on that something wasn’t right with his vision. And once a diagnosis was made, Tera said that right off the bat she and Travis connected with others in the community for direction and support, including Aspire Special Needs Resource Centre here in Red Deer.
Connecting with other families was a first step in adjusting to the challenges that lay ahead for the family. But they soon found their boy was up for, as mentioned, pretty much anything. Caden is your typical energetic, bright and engaging young man.
Much of his positivity, character and desire to try new things can also be credited to his brother, 12-year-old Brady, said Tera.
“Brady has probably been the biggest influence on Caden,” she said. “Caden had somebody who he wanted to be just like – so that means whatever Brady did, Caden was determined that he was going to do it, too.
“Brady has been the ultimate role model.”
Meanwhile, the Braille Institute is hosting The Braille Challenge (www.braillechallenge.org) which is the only national reading and writing contest in braille for students who are blind and visually impaired, according to a release.
The 50 finalists, ages six to 19, their families and industry leaders will gather on June 17th on the campus of the University of Southern California for the annual Braille Challenge finals academic competition, but it was also be a time of camaraderie and loads of fun.
“We are members of the Alberta Society for the Visually Impaired,” said Tera, noting that Caden first took part in a regional braille challenge, called the Alberta Braille Challenge.
“I did reading comprehension which is reading a little story and then answering some questions about it. Then I did spelling – I think I spelled 40 or 50 words,” Caden recalled. “I also did some proof-reading, where I had to find the mistakes in the braille.”
He did exceptionally well.
“That was his fourth time competing – he’s placed third twice, and then this year he won,” said Tera. “We kind of thought that was the end of it.” He won some great gifts, but then some tremendous news was announced.
“Caden was number two in his age category overall in North America. So there are two students from Canada who have been invited to go.”
The family is thrilled with Caden’s amazing achievement, and for the chance to visit beautiful Southern California as well. Caden’s braille transcriber will be joining the Johnson’s as well for the trip.
Caden isn’t the least bit nervous.
“Caden doesn’t get nervous. He’ll just go up there and do the work – he’s very outgoing and he just connects really well that way,” said Tera, adding that having the chance to meet so many families at the event will also be a huge highlight.
This year, more than 1,100 braille readers participated in one of 51 preliminary regional events across the U.S. and Canada. And the top 50 Braille Challenge finalists compete in five categories – reading comprehension, spelling, chart and graph reading, proofreading and speed and accuracy.
Once the competition is complete, the top three finalists in each age category are recognized at a special awards ceremony honoring all 50 finalists and their families, according to a release.
“We have a lot of support for sure – the school system, our friends and our families,” explained Tera.
“The Braille Challenge is a hallmark program for Braille Institute as it focuses on braille literacy while supporting children with vision loss in communities across the (United States) and in Canada to strengthen their academic and social skills,” said Peter Mindnich, president of the Braille Institute. “We see participants blossom with confidence, self-assurance and a belief that they can accomplish anything they set out to do. The rewards are immeasurable for everyone involved in the annual event.”
As students compete, parents are also invited to attend special workshops, classes and tours. Additionally, finalists and their families can participate in hosted excursions to popular Los Angeles spots.
For the Johnsons, the importance of family is clearly a guiding principle.
When asked what they have learned from Caden, Brady is the first to quickly respond. “That anybody can do anything. He does everything that we can do – he just keeps on doing it and he doesn’t stop until he succeeds,” he said. Tera said she would answer the same as Brady.
“The other thing that I’ve learned is that if you stick together, everything is going to be okay. You just have to change how you are doing things,” she added, noting how her son is involved in a whole range of activities and sports.
“There’s really nothing he doesn’t do,” she said. “We also just live life normally, and we have really supportive friend and family.”
She also wants to offer a message of encouragement to families adjusting to the news that their child is legally blind.
“You’re going to be just fine,” she said. “Everything is going to be okay,” she added with a smile. ”For us, it’s better than okay!”
The 2017 Braille Challenge finalists list along with additional information can be found at www.brailleinstitute.org/braille-challenge-homepage/2017-finalists.html.