Oliver Hellowell was born in July 1996 and was diagnosed with Down Syndrome and significant cardiac problems which required open heart surgery to repair three heart defects at three months old. At 18months old his mother was told by a physiotherapist that Oliver suffered from severe hypotonia (extremely poor muscle tone) and that although she should encourage some physical activity he would “never be sporty”. At 2 years old it was noted that Oliver laughed and cried without sound and at 3 years old the speech and language therapy service described him as having verbal dyspraxia in addition to the speech and language delay he was experiencing because of his DS, and went on to say that it was “unlikely” his speech would ever be understood by an unfamiliar listener, even as an adult. At mainstream primary school he was informally excluded on several occasions due to his 'impulsive and challenging behaviour' and was formally diagnosed with Hyperactivity at 10.
Oliver is a living testament to the fact that life is all about what you CAN do and not what people say you can’t or won’t do.
By the time Oliver started school at 4yrs old, he had learned to sign over 350 words and knew all his colours and numbers to 10. With home made cards and activities following the “word matching, selecting, naming” strategy promoted by Downs Ed International, he could read 75 words when he started school at 4 yrs 2 months old and now enjoys his library of over 400 books at home. His hyperactivity was given outlets and channelled into activity which he could enjoy and benefit from. He loved football, basketball and snooker and was skateboarding by the time he was 9yrs old. With patience, optimism and specific targeted activity and encouragement Oliver’s speech production blossomed and he is perfectly able to hold a conversation with anyone, discuss the merits of everything from a Volkswagen golf to a Bugatti Veyron with his big sister Anna, and has been interviewed on BBC radio on several occasions.
Oliver’s father left when Oliver was young and has chosen not to see him since he was 6/7 yrs old. Mike O’Carroll, now Oliver’s stepfather first came into Oliver’s life when he was 9 yrs old and Oliver was fascinated by the fact that Mike was a photographer. He liked Mike’s big camera and wanted to be able to “take pictures like Mike”. With Mike’s love, patience, guidance and targeted tuition, delivered in small chunks at Oliver’s pace, Oliver has been able to extend his knowledge and expertise and develop his own unique style. Oliver can enjoy and utilise the world of photography as both a tool for him to record what he sees in the way he sees it, and also as something which brings him a strong sense of achievement and self esteem.
In June 2013 a face-book page was set up to publicise Oliver’s photography and to make his work, and achievements more readily and regularly accessible. Oliver’s fame spread quickly and in less than 4 weeks he had over 1,800 fans/likes for his ‘page’ from all across the world. Oliver has a large world map on a wall at home and as more comments came in from countries far and wide, Oliver kept wanting to ‘find’ the people commenting on his page, on the map. Oliver’s ‘fans’ were asked if they would let him know where they came from so that stickers could be placed on the map. Over 1200 responses were received in 48hours from places such as Venezuela, Zimbabwe, Cape Town South Africa, British Columbia Vancouver, and Ontario Canada, Alaska, Florida, New York, California, Texas, Missouri, Kentucky, North and South Carolina, Arkansas, Idaho, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Colorado, Massachusetts, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Germany, Sweden, Norway, Greece, Spain, Czech Republic, all parts of England, Ireland Scotland and Wales, Lebanon, Barbados, Indonesia, Philippines, Kuala Lumpur, Lima Peru, India, New Zealand, Tasmania, as well as Perth, Sydney, New South Wales, Queensland, Adelaide…… and the list goes on and on…. (Even Scunthorpe….!!!)
Many are parents of children with DS saying how inspired and encouraged they are, many others simply have a connection with disability in some way and love to be able to follow and promote a positive story, some are photographers who find his style interesting and worthy of note, and some just simply love his photos!!!
8 months on and Oliver has over 6,000 fans of his page. All these people across the world - all connected and enthused by a young man with DS who wants to be a photographer - How wonderful!!!
Life with Oliver is all about 'enjoying the madness' as my husband describes it - and although life can be challenging it is certainly never dull!! Oliver is a funny, amazing, random, kind of guy who brings a smile to our faces several times every day. He provides his own unique perspective on the world - and we are all the richer for his being here.
Oliver currently attends a mainstream college in Taunton Somerset. He hopes to be able to further his photography to a point where it can be his form of income.
He wants to be 'a professional'
And after everything else he has achieved against all the odds -
Who out there dares to say