“He would get in trouble for reading at school,” said 18-year-old De’Shun Brown’s mother Tamara Brown. “He would finish his work, pass it in, and he’d sit there with a book, and they would always write him up for that. They thought he wasn’t paying attention.”
De’Shun Brown was born with achromatopsia, which means he is color blind and photophobic. As a result, he has 20/200 vision.
“I have worn sunglasses pretty much since birth,” he said. “It’s like being a vampire I suppose. The light hurts a lot.”
It wasn’t until De’Shun Brown was 5 years old, though, that his parents received a doctor’s confirmation about what their son has.
“We just never found a doctor that would tell us what the issue was,” Tamara Brown said. “A lot of doctors said, ‘He’ll grow out of it or he’s faking it.’ One doctor said to take home the eye chart and let him memorize it.”
Her son has learned to adapt to the medical syndrome and described it as a survival-type mode that De’Shun Brown has had to go into. It wasn’t until the family moved to Cobb County when he was in third grade that teachers even knew how to help him.
The struggle to see hasn’t kept De’Shun Brown’s spirits down.
He continues to read pretty much anything he can get his hands on, and in first grade, he began reading the Harry Potter series.
“He likes the big, 700-plus page books,” Tamara Brown said with a big smile.
A few of his other favorites include books by James Patterson, Brian Jacques, Dean Koontz and Dan Brown.
Reading online texts, or books with bigger words can help De’Shun Brown read the books better, but he doesn’t like to do that.
“It just feels like it’s taking something away from it,” he said. “The smell of the book, actually sitting there turning the pages, you get marks on the papers … it’s just a thing.”
He also loves writing, specifically poetry, short stories and essays.
“It’s just something I’ve always liked doing,” he said. “And I write about whatever pops up in my head at that time. I’ll write a poem about it or a really, long, drawn out essay explaining how I feel about it.”
His passion for writing has been recognized by teachers at South Cobb High.
“From the moment he came into class and I started reading his essays and hearing him participate in discussions about literature, I knew he was different,” said teacher Lisa Cherry, calling him a “deep thinker.”
“He is able to see the big picture,” she said. “He just has that artistic sensibility, that quality you can’t put into words but you know it when you see it. He is also so good natured about his disability. I think he smiles all the time.”
While the teenager loves writing, it’s not a career path he plans to take in college.
“I do have this undying interest for the studies of psychology, business administration, anatomy and physiology … even wildlife biology,” he said. “I can’t decide but I do know that my goal is to be able to adequately provide and care for my future family without the worry of living paycheck to paycheck.”
He will start at Kennesaw State University in the fall and will be living on campus.
De’Shun Brown turned down full and partial scholarships to Dartmouth College, Cornell University and Howard University.
“I can adapt to going anywhere, it’s just that I don’t want to,” he said, referencing his blindness.
His parents were also a little worried about how tough it might be for him to attend a school far from home, but he’s content going to a local college.
“One reason I’m really interested in going into college is because I’ll have harder work,” he said. “Something I’ll have to actually think about to do.”
De’Shun Brown said he has enjoyed high school and had several wonderful teachers like Cherry but it always came quite easy for him.
“I’m not a 4.0 student, but I am a pretty good student,” he said.
“It’s surprising for him because of the struggles that he has visually,” his mother said. “We were always like, ‘Wow’ with him. Teachers were always just so amazed with how smart he was, even in kindergarten.”
He will be among 400 seniors graduating from South Cobb on Friday night at Turner Chapel in Marietta.