Soon after birth, Yitzhak E was diagnosed with severe autism. As he grew, evidence of that autism was more pronounced. But it was only when the young boy had his eyes checked at the age of six, common with all children in Israel at that age, he was found to have lost his sight.

Until then no one knew he was blind.

He would sit and bump his way down the stairs rather than walk. When his mother spoke to him, he tilted his head toward her.
Until the diagnosis, his parents and doctors assumed this behaviour was an expression of his autism. The lack of speech meant he was unable to express his frustration and terror as his world grew darker.

Although the family lives in Ra’anana, in the centre of Israel, Yitzhak was referred to Hadassah Hospital’s Michaelson Institute for the Rehabilitation of Vision in Jerusalem. The historic institute provides diagnosis, counselling, and support for patients with low vision, enabling them to adjust successfully and independently in their daily lives.

Dr. Claudia Yahalom, who heads the institute, is an expert in children with low vision and in children with special needs.

“Children who are born blind have a higher incidence of autism, but here was a child who was born with sight and who, at some unknown time, began to develop cataracts,” Dr Yahalom said.

“When I first saw him, both lenses were totally clouded. His world was utterly dark.”

First came the cataract surgery. Then came the moment of truth.

“It was incredible,” says his mother, overcome by emotion. “He reached out to grasp a toy. When we spoke he looked at us. We could feel his happiness, and we were overwhelmed with joy.”

“This was one of the most emotional moments of my career,” says Dr. Yahalom, who came to Hadassah in 1995 after graduating from medical school in her native Argentina. “Of course, his autism remains but there’s a huge difference in his life experience and his behaviour. He’s calmer, walking and seeing properly, and examining the world around him.”