Blind boy learns how to 'see' using dolphin technique
A blind boy has learnt how to "see" again after being taught a technique used by dolphins to detect where objects are.
Published: 6:55AM BST 30 Apr 2010
Jamie Aspland uses an 'echo location' technique, uttering high-pitch clicks with the sound then rebounding off surfaces to help guide him round obstacles.
The four-year-old, who was born without his sight, was taught the technique as part of a revolutionary new scheme in the US to help the blind.
His mother Deborah, 39, hailed the treatment after her son was able to walk unaided to the park for the first time and steered himself around a fence he was heading straight for.
Speaking after just three sessions of the therapy, she said: "It's changed our lives. The therapy has been a revelation.
"Since learning the skill we can walk to the park and Jamie no longer has to hold my hand. He even clicks to find out where the handrails are on our staircase before walking down unaided - it's amazing."
Jamie, from Ashford in Kent, has just completed his third session with US-based guru Daniel Kish - who lost his sight when he was just 13 months old.
As president of World Access for the Blind, Mr Kish has developed a system based on animal sonar to help humans form mental maps of their surroundings.
He copied the technique dolphins use to navigate their way through the murky depths - using high pitch clicks to penetrate objects and reflect off their internal structure.
Jamie is able to mirror that behaviour - which complements his use of a cane - by flicking his tongue against the roof of his mouth.
When the sound waves hit an object, it reflects the energy back to the ear to enable a blind person to decode its size, shape and distance.
The process is similar to what happens with vision in normal sighted people, who rely on patterns of returning light in order to actually see.
The money for Jamie’s £2,500 treatment was raised by well-wishers in his hometown who carried out a range of blindfolded activities to understand what life for Jamie is like.
He is among just a handful of children in the world being offered the treatment by globetrotting therapist Mr Kish, who is based in California.
He said: "Working with Jamie and his family was a terrific experience, and he was very responsive."
Mr Kish explained that echo location, or FlashSonar as he terms it, will eventually enable Jamie to detect buildings from a distance of 100 metres.
He said: "FlashSonar provides one with information of a fair amount of detail at distances of dozens of metres, depending on the circumstances.
"A tree may be detectable and recognized at 10 metres, while a large building may be detectable at 100 metres or more.
"It is literally like 'seeing' with dim flashes of light. In fact, neural scientists believe that the same parts of the brain used in visual processing are also being deployed for FlashSonar."
Ms Aspland, a mother-of-three, gave up her job as a tour operator to care for Jamie, his twin sister Rosie, who also has learning difficulties, and their autistic brother Kane full time.
She said she watched nervously after Jamie's first session when he approached a fence - but he managed to walk round it.
"We thought he was going to go straight into it. But he just went round it - I didn't think it would be possible. He was born blind but this therapy has given him a new lease of life."
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstop ... nique.html
Presumably this skill could be generalised by using echoes of other sounds in the environment as well, like a dog's bark, a door-bell, or even the sound of leather on willow! Having learned the basic technique so young, Jamie might develop amazing skills as he matures.