- Associated Press - Sunday, April 16, 2017

PETAL, Miss. (AP) - Competition is typical among students in grade school, whether it be athletic or academic. One Petal Primary School student took to Jackson this past week to participate in a competition unique to the state of Mississippi.

Aiden Williamson, a visually impaired student in the Petal School District, took part in the Mississippi School for the Blind’s first Braille Bee and took home second place.

Aiden’s mother, Amanda, said the children were separated into groups upon arrival. Approximately 20 children participated.

The competition was composed of three parts. First was a proofreading component where participants had to choose the correct word from a list of three words.

Next was a writing component, in which students had to write the correct word called by the examiner. Finally, the competition ended with the Braille bee, which required participants to answer questions about Uncontracted Braille.

Uncontracted Braille simply consists of the 26 characters of the alphabet and various punctuation symbols such as the period and comma, but does not include abbreviations or contractions.

“While we have an amazing group of individuals working with Aiden and a support team like none other, consisting of family, school and our community, to enter a room full of children with visual impairments was a learning experience we will hold on to forever,” Amanda said. “As parents, we often wonder about Aiden, his progress and behaviors. We do the best we can, with what we know, but understand there is an entire world we have yet to comprehend. To experience Aiden in a world where others understood is something we will never forget.”

Aiden was diagnosed with meningitis when he was two months old. He began having seizures from the fever, which led to oxygen deprivation and caused optic nerve atrophy leading to visual impairment.

He is now 9 years old and attends school at Petal Primary, where he works with a teacher of the visually impaired, or TVI. The school provides a machine that prints his work in both print and braille, which Aiden began learning in kindergarten.

Aiden’s TVI signed him up for the Braille Bee and helped him prepare for competition, for which he studied at school and at home.

Amanda said he is the first student of his kind in the Petal School District, so they are still learning how to work with him daily.

“Each child is different,” she said. “It’s just all about figuring out what works for each one.”

The lessons have to be hands on and tailored to meet Aiden’s needs. However, he take part in activity and recess with other children.

During his lessons, he wears headphones that allow the TVI to speak directly to him and block out the noise that would otherwise be distracting for him. Aiden has heightened hearing, so too much noise is hard on him.

Not only are his lessons tailored for him, but his home life has been fixed to fit his needs as well.

“We have everything in our home strategically placed,” Amanda said. “Our furniture is laid out to give a direct path from the hallway to the kitchen. The light fixtures are higher. We even lay out his clothes in a way that he can put them on himself.”

Aiden has plans to take part in the competition again in the future.

“In fact, he didn’t want to leave,” Amanda said. “Aiden enjoys Braille; it is his avenue to connect with our world. He made lots of new friends he can’t wait to see again.”

Amanda said while this may seem like a simple feat, she and her family are blessed beyond measure.

“There are so many different individuals who partake in Aiden’s success,” she said. “From those who work with him at school, to those who believe in his music, those who encourage him every step of the way and to those who receive his 100 hugs a day - it matters. We will never be able to thank you all for your constant support of our precious little boy.”

Amanda and Aiden live in Petal with his father, Micah, and sister, Kaleigh Pacen.


Information from: The Hattiesburg Post, https://hubcityspokes.com

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