Voiceless in his life so far, a severely disabled 16-year-old is marvelling at being able to speak for the first time after breaking his silence with the words “Hello Mum”, using a digital communication aid.
James Walker is a rugby fan, likes pop music, lives with his family in Hull and has a girlfriend – Emily.
He has a condition which caused hundreds of daily seizures when he was a child. Known as Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome, it left him with a severe learning disability and without the ability to walk or move. Until recently, he also couldn’t talk.
He says it’s “funny” after being silent for so long that he can now communicate with friends and family and, as he puts it, “learn something exciting”.
Using his eyes as a cursor he has learned to click on words and pictures to build sentences with his computer, a Tobii Eye Gaze. The system has thousands of stock words and phrases stored on it, things James might use daily. He is currently set-up to use about 60 words and hopes to increase this number over time.
A wheelchair user with limited arm movement, James’ communication was previously confined to the use of a BIGMack Switch which enabled his parents or teachers to record a single phrase about his day, but offered him no choice of phrase or alarm system.
“I like funny” he says when asked what his favourite type of conversations are and says a further “I like” about making his mum happy when he spoke his first words to her.
Gina Walker had never expected her son to be able to talk. When James’s teacher called her into the classroom recently, she didn’t know what it was about. She was unaware her son had been learning to use communication software at his special school, the Frederick Holmes School, because they had decided to keep it a secret.
“The first words he said were ‘Hello Mum’ and it was just so fantastic I cried,” she says.
“It’s mind-blowing hearing your son speak for the first time, even though it’s a computer generated voice.
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