Covering the Goulburn and Murray valleys

Speech device may give Banjo a voice of his own

The frustration of trying to communicate could be a thing of the past for Banjo O'Brien thanks to cutting edge technology.

ELAINE COONEY June 11, 2014 3:10am

Banjo O' Brien will test exciting new technology to help him communicate. PHOTO: Cindy Power

New technology could help district spastic quadriplegic cerebral palsy patient Banjo O’Brien to communicate with family and friends.

Banjo, whose grandparents live in Rochester, was born at 24 weeks’ gestation.

A machine called a Tellus 4 Intelligazean eye-gaze controlled speech generating tabletwith an app called Eye Gaze could help him to look at images and put together sentences.

‘‘He could look at a picture of a dog and then a picture of a park and the computer would say it,’’ his mother Diana O’Brien said.

‘‘It would be great to see what he has to say.’’

She said Banjo was using a Pragmatic Organisation Dynamic Display book which is a printed book of images of activities, favourite foods, emotions and expressions.

Mrs O’ Brien said she had to go through the book slowly to work out what her son wanted but the new Eye Gaze program would make the process less frustrating for him.

She said it was sometimes a guessing game to see what he wanted because his ‘‘yes’’ and ‘‘no’’ responses were unclear.

Mrs O Brien said his responses were improving over time and when he found a photo that represented what he wanted, he would laugh and his eyes would light up.

If the answer was ‘‘no’’ he would sometimes shake his head.

‘‘It’s a long process, but when we understand when he is trying to communicate his smile gets bigger and he laughs with relief,’’ she said.

‘‘He gets super excited when the process works and he can finally tell us what he wants to do.’’

She said the new technology would give him independence to communicate and play without assistance.

The technology costs $20,029 and the government will fund up to $7000.

The O’Brien family is on the waiting list to test the system for two weeks to make sure it is appropriate and Banjo has enough head control for consistent gaze.

If the trial is successful, the See Banjo Run charity will raise money for the remainder of the costs.

Elaine Cooney

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