On the weekend we were invited to RIDBC Hunter at Floraville to celebrate their 20th anniversary. RIDBC stands for Royal Institute for Deaf & Blind Children and the fantastic staff at RIDBC Hunter really helped us come to terms with Gilbert Bear’s albinism diagnosis and assisted us in how to best maximise his vision.

Since 1991, the staff at RIDBC Hunter have provided vital early intervention for countless children with hearing and vision impairments through individual home visits, centre based sessions and through their reverse integration preschool (which is set up to cater for the needs of sensory impaired kids but also accepts children from the local community too).

For the first 4 years of Gilbert’s life, RIDBC Hunter provided vital early intervention for him. For the first six months, Trish, a wonderful vision therapist, came to our house to provide individual weekly one-on-one sessions. She helped us find sensory stimulating activities for Gilbert to explore the world around him and assisted us in developing strategies to help him maximise his vision.

He then moved on to attending weekly sessions at RIDBC Hunter before starting in their preschool program in 2007. In addition to monitoring his vision and providing him with safe ways to explore the world around him, they also helped in his diagnosis of autism.

They conducted OT, speech and pysch assessments for us, for which I will never cease to be grateful.  They were not obligated to help us in this way but I will be forever grateful for the genuine care and support they showed him (and us!) throughout this process.

We were truly saddened to leave the familiarity and support of RIDBC Hunter at the end of 2008 but they had done their job well. By then Gilbert was highly interested in reading, he was comfortable in navigating the world around him and he was ready for the challenge of his next setting.

We were also far more optimistic about his ability to eventually attend mainstream schooling and had so much more hope for his future than when we had first received his albinism diagnosis back in 2004.

So it was wonderful to be reunited on Sunday with Trish, Wendy (the director of RIDBC Hunter) and all the other teachers, volunteers and former students to celebrate 20 years of service to the people of the Hunter Valley. They couldn’t believe how tall he was and how much he had grown up!

Gilbert seemed to be happy to see them too but was overwhelmed by the mixed feelings he felt in going back to a setting which he had left behind. Unfortunately this confusion and the anxiety of the day proved too much for him and we were not able to stay for the formal proceedings. But we were grateful that we were able to go back and touch base with those people who had played such an important role in his early life.

So Happy 20th Birthday RIDBC Hunter – here’s to 20 more years of helping the vision and hearing impaired kids of the Hunter become the best that they can be. More importantly, here’s to 20 more years of providing assistance, support and hope to those families seeking the best for their kids. I know that’s what you gave us and we will never, ever forget that!