'This is me!': Blind girl won't let go of diversity doll, even to sleep

Sora Bohme has bonded with her doll, Lucy, who also has a white cane.
Sora Bohme has bonded with her doll, Lucy, who also has a white cane. Photo: Supplied

Sora Bohme is a bubbly three-year-old who loves her doll, Lucy.

However, what's different about Lucy is that, like Sora, she also has a cane.

Sora was diagnosed as legally blind when she was four-months-old, after her parents noticed she had difficulty following toys with her eyes. 

Photo: Sara Boeme. Supplied
Photo: Sara Boeme. Supplied 

After the initial shock of the diagnosis, mum Kanae Yamamoto said she felt hopeless and unsure where to look for help. 

"I was with my husband but I don't have much memory of being told," she tells Essential Baby

"I was in too much shock. I was crying in the clinic even before the diagnosis because I was already feeling something really bad was wrong. I kept crying and everyone was looking at me in the waiting room. After the diagnosis I just kept crying."  

"I'm from Japan and my husband is from America and Sora is our first baby so we didn't know where or how to seek help at first." 

It was a friend of a friend who also had a child with vision impairment that helped Kanae link in with services such as Guide Dogs Australia, The Royal Institute for Deaf and Blind Children (RIDBC) and Vision Australia.  

Now, to coincide with International White Can Day (IWCD), Kanae wants to share how Sora has flourished with the right resources - including her orientation and mobility specialist Nicola Riley from Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, who has been working with the family, as well as Sora's daycare and now preschool to ensure she gets the best care. 

"Since that time Guide Dogs and RIDBC have been a huge help," Kanae explains. "Nicola helped me to introduce a cane when Sora was nearly one to play and explore and when started walking she gave us a training cane and support on how to teach Sora and get her used to touching the cane. And when she started daycare Nicola would talk to the director about what to do." 

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According to Kanae, Sora knows that she has to use a cane and has a positive relationship with the mobility aid.

"I've told her the cane is her friend, and with that cane she can go anywhere," Kanae said. 

"Since she started walking she has used the cane and she's doing really great. She sometime strips over or plays with the cane, but I'm quite strict about that. When she goes to school she'll use it as well."

Sora Bohme and parents. Photo: supplied
Sora Bohme and parents. Photo: supplied  

It's not just mobility that can be a challenge for Sora. Her vision impairment means she can have trouble recognising her playmates at preschool. As a result, she can sometimes become shy if she doesn't know who is talking to her, which adds an extra complexity to building friendships.

After discovering Kmart were selling a range of diversity dolls with disabilities including one with a cane, Kanae said Sora began to take big strides socially. 

"When I introduced her to the doll with the cane, who was wearing glasses just like her, she said 'This is me! this is me!'," Kanae said. "She already has five dolls who go everywhere with her and Lucy has become part of it, she sleeps with them almost every night." 

Sora has become very bonded to the dolls, who she calls 'her babies' and Kanae said it's great to see her playing like any other child with full vision.

Photo: In Australia, one in every 2,500 children born will be diagnosed with a severe loss of vision like Sara.
Photo: In Australia, one in every 2,500 children born will be diagnosed with a severe loss of vision like Sara.  Photo: Supplied

"When I look at her classmates, I know not in the stage of parallel play together fully, but the last year, I'd see other kids chatting and laughing and i'd always be waiting for them to talk to her. One day she told me 'mummy, I want to make friends, I want a friend'."

"I told her you have many friends in daycare, then she started having her attachment to dolls, 'this is my friend, this is my baby', it's helping her a lot emotionally and giving her more confidence. In the last month or so she's become more comfortable and confident, it's giving her more opportunity to play one on one with children."

IWCD aims to highlight the life-changing transformation a white cane can offer people with low vision or blindness and is one of the first mobility tools offered, and for children, is key to their first steps towards independence. 

In Australia, one in every 2,500 children born will be diagnosed with a severe loss of vision, while overall, more than 575,000 are estimated to have low vision or blindness.

White canes are another big part of the work of Guide Dogs NSW/ACT, who issued close to 2,500 white canes across the state last financial year.