Attending school can be a frightening experience for even the most able child, but attending a school you can't see is an especially great challenge.
That challenge is being met by an 8-year-old Clinton boy who has been blind since birth. Aaron Cannon is in the second grade at West Clinton Elementary. He has been attending regular school since kindergarten, spending his first two years at Clinton Elementary."Being blind is his only handicap," said Linda Cannon, Aaron's mother. "In all other ways he's normal - and he's smart."
Aaron's lack of additional handicaps led to the decision to have him attend regular schools rather than the Utah School for the Blind in Ogden.
"That school was too far behind the times," said Aaron, commenting on his preschool experience at the Ogden facility. "They were two years behind."
Mrs. Cannon agreed. "They just couldn't meet his needs on the same age level."
Aaron, who was born in England, is blind due to a malformation of part of the retina.
The only thing that sets him apart from his classmates is his Brailler, a typewriter-like device that he uses to write his assignments. He sits at a desk along with the other children and participates in both asking and answering questions.
Kristeen Nalder, Aaron's teacher, says having Aaron in the class has made her a better teacher. She said it has forced her to be more organized and to concentrate more on spoken instruction rather than relying on visual teaching.
"It is much harder, but I think I am a better teacher for the experience," she said. "I have to get my lesson materials together much earlier so that a district specialist can convert the materials into Braille for Aaron."
Nalder said she plans to continue the new teaching approaches she has learned even though Aaron will have moved on. She said the techniques are very beneficial for the other students.
Aaron receives Braille copies of all the chalkboard instructions and other visual aids. These are taped to his desk so he can follow along during the instruction session. Mrs. Cannon is in the classroom for most of the day as a teacher's aide. She is certified as an aide to the visually handicapped and is employed by the Davis School District.
"It's great to be able to work at the school with Aaron," she said. "Sometimes it's good that I'm here because sometimes there are situations where only a mother will do."
Aaron is well liked by his peers, and they rally around him to ensure that his school experience is a good one.
"Sometimes they get so concerned about making sure Aaron gets his work done that they don't get theirs done," said Nalder. "They also like to make sure he is involved, and they take pains to stick up for him - he's one of them."
Early in the year four of Aaron's classmates took it upon themselves to teach him how to jump rope, a skill he has since mastered. "They're always looking for ways to get him involved."
Often, though, Aaron skips the playground routine at recess time and instead heads for the school office where he helps the secretaries with a variety of chores. He said his favorite task is running the copier.
Is it difficult being the only blind person at the school? "I don't think about it too much," said Aaron. "It's just like anywhere else - I have my friends and I have a few enemies."
For the most part, it's a friendly atmosphere that greets Aaron and he feels comfortable in the school environment. He said he likes to take part in activities and finds it exciting to do crafts and complete assignments along with his peers.
Aaron has taken pains to memorize the school's layout and usually finds his way around without the aid of other students, relying on his cane to make sure the halls are clear of obstacles.
Aaron attacks other aspects of life with the same kind of zeal as school. He is an active Cub Scout and spends time playing outside with neighborhood children. On occasion he can be found teaching his friends Braille.
He is also an active fund-raiser for the blind. He sings monthly at fund-raising activities sponsored by the Utah Order of the Eagles. To date he has helped raise more than $10,000 towards the purchase of guide dogs. Since he cannot have a dog of his own until age 16, he contents himself with his pet cat, who is also blind.
Aaron recently received national recognition when he participated in a poster contest sponsored by the National Fire Protection Association. Aaron's entry was not a prize winner, but the fact that he is blind and still participated so impressed association officials that they flew him to their national convention in Los Angeles. He sang "God Bless America" at the opening session. Association officials presented him with a cassette player that can also play special tapes for the blind from the Library of Congress. They also gave him a home computer system that is specially equipped with a Braille printer and a voice command system.