x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

A special boy finds his place to shine

Rio Watson's mother was once warned that her son might never walk. A few weeks ago, he went skiing.

:In Rio Watson’s first runs at Ski Dubai, two poles were attached to his waist for control while he learned how to ski properly. He went on the slopes with his father, Nick.
:In Rio Watson’s first runs at Ski Dubai, two poles were attached to his waist for control while he learned how to ski properly. He went on the slopes with his father, Nick.

DUBAI //Rio Watson has a rare chromosome disorder that affects his ability to walk and talk, and makes him sensitive to touch. But it has not stopped him from taking to the slopes at Ski Dubai.

Turns out he's a natural.

The eight-year-old's unexpected success on skis is a lesson in what love and persistence can achieve.

Rio has 1q44 Deletion Syndrome, a non-hereditary condition that has resulted in the loss of a small amount of genetic material from his cells.

Two weeks ago, his father, Nick Watson, took Rio to Ski Dubai at Mall of the Emirates.

Rio could not stop smiling from the moment they entered.

He had already made his fourth visit by last Thursday. Mr Watson and the ski instructor David Howland accompanied him up the slope and took turns tethered to him by ski poles to control his speed and help him get stable.

Halfway down, they released him and he slid easily to the bottom of the slope and clapped his hands.

"I was extremely emotional the first time I took him," Mr Watson said. "These are some of the things we never anticipated we would be able to do."

"I honestly did not think it would be possible for Rio to do it," said his mother, Delphine Watson. "Especially because of the clothing, the helmet and the gloves. I thought he would be upset by wearing socks on his feet and big boots. But it was completely the opposite."

"He has made tremendous progress," Mr Howland said. "Initially he found it difficult to balance on the snow or even walk around, and now after a few weeks of lessons he is walking by himself and even using the ski lift unattended."

The Watsons, who are from the UK, have always tried to push the bounds of what Rio can do. He has participated in swimming, horse riding, cycling and bowling.

"He may not be doing everything independently, but I am determined to give him as much of a normal childhood as possible," Mrs Watson said.

Mrs Watson said she knew something was different about Rio from the time he had a seizure while being bathed by his father at six months.

"It was not a seizure like you'd imagine: he did not convulse, but he went floppy, unconscious, blue - a lifeless empty body," Mrs Watson said. "I thought he was dying."

Rio's other symptoms include mild tactile aversion, which means he is very sensitive to touch and can become upset by something as simple as putting on his clothes. He only learnt to walk independently when he was three, after he was fitted with leg braces for his ankles and knees.

And he is mute, though he is learning to use signs and symbols through a language programme called Makaton.

"I don't know anything different and he is my child so I got used to it," Mrs Watson said.

"But it saddens me because now he's getting older and you can see he's getting frustrated when he's trying to tell me something. I would love to hear his voice and hear him say 'I love you Mommy'."

Although Mr Howland is leaving the Emirates soon, the Watsons will be left with a set of instructions on how to continue teaching Rio to ski.

Mrs Watson's advice to families in a similar position is that they not lose faith or hope. "Rio brings so much love and light to my life," she said. "He has made me a better and stronger woman."

aalhaddad@thenational.ae