A severely disabled teenager who was unable to speak for 16 years can now tell his mother he doesn’t like her singing and tell his sister to turn her music off.
James Walker’s life was transformed thanks to the fundraising efforts of family and friends who managed to raise the £12,000 needed to buy him his own revolutionary machine that allows him to communicate through a computer.
The 16-year-old, from Hull, has a condition called Lennox-Gastaut Syndrome that caused hundreds of daily seizures when he was a child and left him with a severe learning disability and without the ability to walk or move.
He spoke his first words last year after learning to use an eye-tracking machine at school to help with his lessons.
But he only had the opportunity to use the technology for 30 minutes a week.
Now, his mother Gina says the purchase of his own machine has changed his life, allowing him to summon his parents if he feels he is about to have a seizure, tell them when something is wrong, tell teachers when he is bored at school and even engage in a bit of sibling rivalry.
It also allows him to control his bedoom lights and the television.
“The first words he said were ‘Hello Mum’ and it was just so fantastic I cried,” she told the BBC.
“It’s mind-blowing hearing your son speak for the first time, even though it’s a computer generated voice. It made the hairs go up on the back of my neck and it’s brilliant being able to have conversations with him.
“He’s now told me he doesn’t like my singing, and his personality and sense of humour is coming out.
“His sister Tash will put some music on the radio or TV and he tells her to turn it off which is great.”
The machine, called a Tobii Eye Gaze, stores thousands of stock words and phrases and James is currently set-up to use about 60 words.
Patients who can prove their cognitive ability can apply for NHS funding for the machine but for those like James who are unable to complete a test and prove their potential, the computer must be self-funded.
Family friend David Hoyle who spearheaded the fundraising campaign, said: “One of the worst things about having a poorly child is that they cannot communicate when they are not feeling very well or need something, so, that alone is worth £12,000.”