5-year-old Alfie David had a traumatic premature birth in which he sustained a severe brain injury. His condition is known as Periventricular Leukomalacia. He also has a genetic condition called Noonan Syndrome (SOS1 variant). His brain injury led to a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, meaning he needs help with all aspects of his day-to-day life.
The Essex Child and Family Wellbeing Service (ECFWS) is supporting children in West Essex like Alfie, by introducing technological devices that can help them learn to communicate and express their choices.
These devices are known as Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC). AAC equipment enables Alfie to enhance his expressive communication. In the first stages of use, equipment comes in the form of a switch that can be attached to an existing toy. As Alfie’s understanding of communication developed over the years, he was able to use more advanced AAC devices, allowing him to differentiate between words and actions and express what he wants.
Alfie’s mother, Sophie David said, “After lots of physical therapy, Alfie began using switches to operate toys when he was 3 and half, they helped him progress onto using AAC. These switches and buttons allow him to communicate with his friends and family, letting others know what he needs or wants.
“He’s been using his ‘Big Mac’ step-by-step (a form of AAC), for around 18 months now, at school and at home. We borrowed one from ECFWS, and now we own one. Without it, Alfie would not be able to communicate clearly with those around him, it has allowed him to take control and express his feelings. He loves to say hello to his Grandad and prepare Grandad to take him out for the day!”
Virgin Care are funding the purchase of the equipment through the Feel the Difference fund, a £100,000 a-year pot of money which employees can apply for if they have an innovative idea that will benefit service users.
ECFWS will loan the equipment to families for 6 weeks, and if the family find the tool useful, they will get support in finding funding and purchasing their own.
Anna Rutterford, Specialist Speech and Language Therapist at ECFWS said, “Virgin Care’s funding allows us to offer families like Alfie’s the opportunity to explore AAC with their child at home throughout their typical week.
“By using switches, we can help to develop and consolidate the child’s understanding of cause and effect so the child becomes active in their environment and experiences the power of taking control. The skills that are learned and practiced, such as maintaining attention, anticipation and turn taking, can then be transferred to other areas of the child’s communication.”
Richard Comerford, our Managing Director for Essex Child and Family Wellbeing Service said, “It’s clear what benefits access to AAC equipment has had for Alfie, it allows him to ask questions, express his needs, develop relationships with his friends and family, participate in activities and be involved in decisions about his future.
“AAC can be life-changing, and I’m so proud that we’re able to offer this opportunity to our families in West Essex.”
Virgin Care funded over 30 colleague-led initiatives in 2020-21, through its Feel the Difference Fund.
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