Six-year-old Vincent is living with hypotonic cerebral palsy, and is learning to use eye tracking technology to help communicate with those around him.
The system, called Intelligaze, enables Vincent to interact with family members and support workers by training his eyes on a series of symbols in order to convey meaning.
The system is unobtrusive with nothing attached to the user. It accommodates a wide range of eye conditions – including eye glasses and contact lenses – and works for 90 per cent of people who try it.
Vincent’s mother, Nancy, says the technology has helped change the way she relates to her son. “Mentally he can do everything, but physically he can’t,” she says. “He’s very floppy, that’s why he needs a lot of support. He can use his arms and legs, but he can’t control his muscles, including his tongue.”
“When he was young he was screaming and yelling because he was trying to communicate, but now he has the technology, which really helps. Now he communicates with his eyes and I feel a lot more comfortable in my understanding when he wants to express something.”
Vincent is now able to communicate with staff at his school, carers and therapists, even if he doesn’t know them very well. So far he has learnt to signal when he needs to perform basic tasks like going to the toilet, but in time it is hoped he will take advantage of more advanced applications to further assist with his learning and development.
Nancy praises Scope Occupational Therapist Celeste Clancy for suggesting the system following consultation with a speech pathologist. “Scope has helped us with the equipment and the support – they come here all the time to check on how we are and what we need to help Vincent.”
Access to the technology was made possible through charitable donations and Better Start funding – a federal government initiative designed to help young children with certain types of physical disabilities. The funding model, to be absorbed by the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), provides families greater choice of therapies and services. Interventions are designed in collaboration with the treating therapist and equipment may be purchased if it directly relates to the child’s therapeutic goals. It has proven a crucial funding pathway alongside the State-wide Equipment Program and provides a glimpse at the future under the NDIS.