Real life bat boy – eight-year-old blind boy can “see” for the first time thanks to bank-like echolocation
Meet the real life Bat Boy! A little boy born with a rare condition that left him blind from birth can finally “see” for the first time – thanks to bat-like echolocation.
Schoolboy Ruben Graham-Morris has rare genetic disorder Leber’s congenital amaurosis, where retinal dysfunction causes loss of vision – and Ruben’s severe case means he has been blind since birth.
But thanks to echolocation Ruben, eight, can now “see” for the very first time – by making a series of clicking noises which echo off objects around him, the same process used by bats and dolphins.
Ruben has been taught the incredible skill by Daniel Kish, an American echolocation specialist and president of non-profit organisation World Access for the Blind.
Daniel has been practising echolocation since he was a child, after being blinded at just 13 months old by an aggressive form of eye cancer – and his talent has earnt him the nickname Batman.
Ruben’s mum Trudie Graham, 44, knew something wasn’t right with Ruben when he was just a few weeks old – although he wasn’t diagnosed until he was eight months.
Mum-of-two Trudie, a social care worker from Birmingham, West Mids, said: “They call Daniel Kish the orginal Batman – so it’s like Ruben is a bat boy.
“Ruben has been blind from birth, but now he can essentially see for the first time by using sounds – it’s like seeing with his ears rather than his eyes.
“We first met Daniel when Ruben was around six months old – he still hadn’t been diagnosed at that stage and we were worried about his future.
“I always knew something wasn’t right, so I did a lot of research online and went on a lot of support groups.
“I stumbled across World Access for the Blind, and that’s where I found Daniel.
“He’s from America, but he was doing a workshop in Dorset with charity Common Sense so we went down to meet him – and we were just blown away.
“I knew I wanted Ruben to learn echolocation, it gave me renewed hope for his future.
“I’ve kept in touch with Daniel ever since then, and he’s been working with Ruben on and off over the years.
“As a mother you just want the best for your children – I want to know that even when I’m not around, Ruben can live a normal and independent life. This will help him to do that.
“Ruben’s still quite young, and it’s mind-blowing how far he’s come at such a young age.
“He really is an inspiration – he’s very strong-minded and determined, he always wants to get out there and try new things.
“It’s still early days but he’s very excited about what he can do with his echolocation.
“He loves his superheroes so it’s great that it’s a bit like Batman – although he’s more into James Bond and Ironman at the moment.
“More needs to be done earlier to give young blind people the chance to learn new skills.”
Echolocation specialist Daniel has helped hundreds of blind people worldwide live more independent lives by mastering the technique.
Human echolocation allows blind people to effectively see their environment by sensing the echoes, caused by actively creating sounds – like making clicking noises, tapping their canes and clapping their hands.
By doing this, Ruben can interpret the sound waves reflected by nearby objects, and accurately pinpoint their location and size – the same way bats navigate and hunt prey in the dark.
Thanks to his new skill, Ruben is confident enough to walk down the street without holding onto his mum’s arm.
Ruben said: “I love using echolocation, I feel very confident – I can find my way around more easily and I’ll be able to go out and do more things on my own when I’m older.
“When people ask about it I tell them I see things the same way bats see things.
“It’s really cool, it’s a bit like being a superhero – but I want to be a secret agent when I’m older.
“I love using it, and I do like Batman a lot – but I don’t think Batman uses echolocation because he can see.”
Daniel said: “People liken me to Batman all the time, although technically speaking Batman does not use echolocation – but people who do use echolocation are essentially like a functioning bat.
“Echolocation allows blind people to move more confidently and more gracefully in a wider range of environments, and participate in a wider range of activities.
“The first lessons with Ruben were about getting him comfortable with the use of his cane, and the echolocation began developing more recently.
“Ruben has progressed very quickly, and I’m sure he will continue to do so.”
Trudie, who is also mum to 14-year-old Theo, is now fundraising to help pay for a trip to America so Ruben can have some more advanced training with Daniel.