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Austin fifth-grader wins multinational Braille Challenge

This is Leo DeSantis' fifth year competing, and he's been a finalist for his age group in three of those.

AUSTIN, Texas — Update: Austin's Leo DeSantis won first place in the Sophomore Category at the 2021 Braille Challenge Finals! For the full list of winners, visit: https://brailleinstitute.org/braille-challenge/braille-challenge-finals-winners-2021

With every type, every press, Leo De Santis is practicing for an international competition.

"So the competition is for first- through 12th-graders, so I started in first grade and then I was a finalist in second grade, fourth grade and now I'm a finalist this year in fifth grade," said Leo, who lives in northwest Austin.

The competition he's preparing for is the Braille Challenge. It's all about honing reading and writing skills. 

When we met, Leo was practicing the speed and accuracy section. He will also compete in reading comprehension, proofreading, and a section with graphs.

Leo created a website where he breaks down what the challenge is and how it's different this year. It's something Leo is able to compete in easily, but since he was five months old, Leo's mom says things haven't been as easy. 

"Oh, Leo, when he was five months old, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer," Emily DeSantis explained. "It was something called retinoblastoma."

"We're always having to make adaptations. I mean, it's always anything is possible, but it may have to be modified or it may have to have adaptations. The real challenge is something that, by design, is for this population of kids. And ... there are very few things that are like that," added Leo's mom. 

So Leo is now in his fifth year of the competition. He was a finalist in three of those.

"It's across the United States, Canada, some people from overseas," explained Leo. 

He's top 10 in his age group in an international competition created for people just like himself.

"It's really irreplaceable," said DeSantis. "We just don't find that in our regular lives." 

"Yeah, I'll probably do it as long as I can do it," added Leo. 

The finals are taking place this week and next week. Leo will find out how he did at the end of this July with the final ceremonies being on the Braille Challenge's YouTube channel.

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