Cambs charities help Matthew, 10, ‘say’ first words

A TEN year old who has not been to talk or say ‘mummy’ and ‘daddy’ since birth has been given a new voice thanks to a �3,300 donation from two Huntingdonshire charities.

Hemingford Grey twins Matthew and Oliver Robey were diagnosed with a severe form of autism aged one.

While Oliver can speak some words, Matthew has no verbal skills and up until last month could only communicate through signing and using his home computer.

But for the past three weeks the Spring Common School pupil has been able to have conversations with his mum Mandy and father John, and say ‘hello’ for the first time thanks to a Lightwriter communication device.

The small, robust text-to-speech device allows users to type in a word, phrase or even whole passages. It has made a huge difference to Matthew, who would often act up through frustration in the past.

IT consultant John, 42, said: “He is using it constantly. It is his voice. We have to charge it every night, because it runs out of battery during the day, and he does not like it. If he could, he would take it to bed with him.

“He will ask for things with it. He will only drink milk. He used to sign ‘milk’ - the sign is like you are milking a cow. Now he will type milk into the Lightwriter.

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“He has programmed into it all his favourite nursery rhymes and phrases, though we discourage him from using it as a toy.

“Some people think if you give him a Lightwriter, he will not learn to speak at all, but he is more verbal now than he was without it.

“Matthew will make noises approximate to words. He has been coming out with these word sounds for several weeks now. I think he will speak as time goes on.”

Health visitors first noticed Matthew and Oliver were not reacting to strangers as other babies would do and were avoiding eye contact.

The family were referred to a specialist doctor who diagnosed both with severe autism. The diagnosis came as a shock to Mandy and John, who have one other child, James, aged 12.

John said: “It was an emotional rollercoaster. At first you cannot believe it - you think surely it is too early to diagnose. And then gradually you learn that is how life is. Yes, there are challenges, but they are wonderful, happy, fun kids.”

The Lightwriter was invented by Cambridge resident Toby Churchill, after he lost his voice and became wheelchair-bound as a result of an acute brain infection.

The Toby Churchill company, based in Over, produce Lightwriters for people with speech loss around the world.

Funds for Matthew’s Lightwriter were provided by the Pidley Mountain Rescue Team and Huntingdon and District Round Table.

Chairman of Huntingdon and District Round table, Lee Brooks, said: “It is wonderful to be able to donate this money to the Matthew. We were all very moved by his story. Joint donations like this are important to us and it meant we [Round Table and Pidley Mountain Rescue Team] were able to get the whole amount required for the Lightwriter to Matthew more quickly.”