He has autism and poor sight, but was learning new skills. Then the pandemic struck.

Attending the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired has allowed 29-year-old Christian Castello, who has autism and vision problems, to be more independent. But the pandemic has kept him from returning, and his mother is concerned about its impact on his well-being.

The Miami Lighthouse offers services to individuals of all ages, including vision examinations, occupational therapy, and adaptive aids and devices.

“The Miami Lighthouse for the Blind was becoming very good for him in the sense that he felt more independent and felt different, but ever since COVID-19, he has not been back,” said his mother, Nora Castello. “His program is not scheduled to be back until January.”

Castello was diagnosed with autism at age 4 and retinitis pigmentosa at 10. Retinitis pigmentosa is a genetic disorder where the retina is damaged, and it affects one in 4,000 people in the United States. Although most people don’t lose their vision completely, many are declared legally blind and are unable to perform tasks such as driving or reading.

Growing up, Christian Castello struggled with behavior issues in school and witnessed arguments between his mother and his then-stepfather.

In 2008, Nora Castello said she made the difficult decision to place her son in a group home.

(This story first appeared in the Miami Herald.)

“I was a new mom, then my mom passed away, and then I had my second son who is also autistic,” she said. “He was not in the same group for all these years, and he moved around a lot, but I make sure I visit him every Saturday morning.”

The Miami Lighthouse offers online classes every Friday, but Christian Castello requires one-on-one help, which he does not receive in his group home in south Miami-Dade County, because he speaks only English and is around people who speak only Spanish.

Castello enrolled in the Miami Lighthouse in 2018 and participated in programs such as the independent living adult program and computer classes.

“We have clients under the age of 55 years with health, cognitive and physical issues — besides their visual impairment — who are not able to work,” said Corina Hernandez, senior case manager for the Miami Lighthouse. “The program instructs the clients on how to be independent and learning safety techniques.”

Hernandez said the activities include learning how to do laundry, heat meals in a microwave, and choose the right floor when riding an elevator.

The program also offers orientation mobility classes to help clients like Castello use the white cane mostly used by legally blind individuals to guide themselves.

“Christian has participated in computer classes and used the screen magnifying and reading programs necessary for them such as Zoom Text, Fusion and Jaws,” said Hernandez. “We also offer iPhone, Android and Comcast classes where they learn how to text or email their loved ones as well as to operate a TV through a talking remote control.”

Hernandez and Michelle Munoz, also from the Miami Lighthouse, nominated Christian Castello for Wish Book.

“Christian has lost a lot of weight, and his clothes do not fit him anymore,” said Hernandez. “But he has become such a strong person despite his impairments, and he prefers to live his life with a smile.”



Originally from Cuba, she moved to the United States in 2013. Currently working on her Bachelors in Communications, she is motivated to strive in the areas of immigration and environmentalism.