Thumbnail image

Meet Oliver

Oliver Hellowell is a 25 year old landscape and wildlife photographer  – and it just so happens that Oliver has Down Syndrome. 

You can 'meet' Oliver and his mother here in a short film produced for Down Syndrome Awareness Day 2018

Oliver’s love of all kinds of wildlife and the great outdoors was nourished by his mother and family whilst his skills as a photographer were born out of his initial desire to take pictures like his stepfather Mike O’Carroll. His ‘eye’ for a picture however is an innate ability clearly all his own. He started at around 11 yrs of age and after trying various models he adopted Mike’s Canon 5D and used it until the income generated by his November 2014 exhibition enabled the purchase of a Canon 5D Mk 111. Many of Oliver’s images have been captured using his original two lenses, a Canon 28-80 and a Sigma 135-400 however since 2015 he has been using a Canon 100-400 and a Canon 17-40. 

When environments or individuals have failed Oliver we have surrounded him with belief, encouragement and optimism. Patience, guidance and targeted tuition enabled Oliver to utilise the world of photography as both a tool for him to record the world in the way he sees it and as something which brings him a great sense of achievement, pride and self esteem. Oliver has a facebook following of over 60,000 spread right across the globe. Many are parents of a child with Down Syndrome who are encouraged and inspired by his achievements and ability. Many are photographers, intrigued by Oliver’s view and ‘eye’, and many thousands just really genuinely enjoy Oliver’s pictures.


Then grab yourself a cup of tea and a nice big piece of cake and have a read :)

Oliver was born on 5th July 1996 and diagnosed with Down Syndrome, and severe cardiac issues requiring open heart surgery at 3 months old. (It was thought he might well not survive to reach surgery) During his early years he was also diagnosed with severe hypotonia (poor muscle tone) and I was told he would not be able to take part in sporting activities. By 2 years of age it had been noted that he often laughed and cried without sound, and at 3 yrs old a speech and language therapist predicted that due to an additional diagnosis of verbal dyspraxia his speech, if any, was unlikely to ever be understood by an unfamiliar listener. 

I refused to believe any negative predictions and simply knew and believed that this amazing little boy was going to prove them all wrong. I taught him simple sign language (Makaton) to enable and encourage communication whilst working on his speech production, and also taught him to read using word matching, whole word recognition and sight reading methods advocated by Professor Sue Buckley from the organisation now known as Downs Ed International: 

By the time Oliver started at his local mainstream primary school at 4 years old he was using over 350 signs, had a reading/sight vocabulary of around 70 words and was in the top reading group in reception class! His speech production slowly progressed and with encouragement, determination and the right motivation started to emerge successfully whilst his love of books grew and continued.  I researched and discovered methods of teaching and learning which would work for Oliver and also utilised the help of his enthusiastic big sister Anna, for whom he walked his first steps and said his first word. Oliver enjoys skateboarding, football, golf, basketball and snooker. His favourite subjects at school were geography and history, and he owns every DVD ever made featuring David Attenborough, Steve Backshall and Iolo Williams. He owns around 400 books and almost as many magazines, covering his many other hobbies and interests including cars, the countryside, fishing, wildlife, birds and bird-watching, football, skateboarding and history. At the age of 10 he was diagnosed with ADHD and challenging behaviour and was excluded on several occasions from a secondary school who failed him badly. Yet with the right support belief and encouragement around him, a few years later, again defying all predictions, Oliver was giving radio interviews in 2014 as well as appearing in a BBC news item which circulated the globe Then in 2015 and 2018 he also appeared live on BBC’s ‘The One Show’.

Oliver’s books, available to purchase here on his website, are published by ACC art books and are the first books of photography ever to be published by a person with Down Syndrome. another huge highlight for Oliver was winning the National Diversity Award for UK Positive Role Model for Disability in 2015. 

Oliver is a testament to the fact that EVERYONE can achieve and prove negative predictions to be wrong, when they are surrounded by optimism, belief, determination and encouragement. Oliver is a truly inspirational young man who loves life. He seeks to become a 'Professional' and earn a proper income from his talent - and on his way to doing that he inspires, encourages and supports thousands of people across the world. 

His eye is often drawn by lines shape and form, as well as by detail which he sees and notices wherever he goes. He doesn’t seem to filter out a lot of the detail around him, as the rest of us do. He likes to take pictures from the ground, he is fascinated by water and although he finds all wildlife interesting he particularly loves birds. It is hard to believe that although Oliver studied for his GCSE photography at school, his final submissions were not accepted as examiners didn't believe he could have taken the pictures himself. (Oliver doesn't know this - we told him he had achieved his GCSE). Then later at college we found he was not allowed to take the photography course as the college stated he didn't have the literacy levels required to achieve the qualification. 

Yet every day on his facebook page, and within the pages of his beautiful book for all to see, are hundreds of wonderful images captured by that very same young man - images of a truly professional quality and illustrating genuine talent when it comes to natural framing and composition. Oliver is the perfect example of diversity at its best and illustrates just how important it is that we VALUE and ENJOY diversity in our population, and spread the news that 'difference' can be something to be enjoyed and truly celebrated.

Oliver enjoys the support of his big sister Anna, his stepfather Mike who is father to Oliver in every sense of the word, (Oliver's biological father left him when he was very young) and best friends Jackie, Neil and family, along with his good buddies Matt Willmott, Stuart Watson, and Simon Weitzman. There are many other key supportive and encouraging people too many to mention but we do however, very much love and thank you all☺

Wendy O'Carroll - The lady fortunate enough to be Oliver's mother

Oliver is pictured here with his National Diversity Award for UK Positive Role Model for Disability - He told everyone he was James Bond :)