Trust supports children through eye gaze club

Children with speech, language and physical difficulties are being supported by therapists at Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust (CPFT) to help them communicate better using their eyes.

Using specialist technology called ‘Eye Gaze’ youngsters are able to communicate with one another, their parents and their therapists and is helping them develop vital communication skills.

Eye gaze technology is very similar to a touch screen device however to manoeuver around the device you use your eyes rather than touch.  This communication tool is a computer based aid that has a camera attached to it, which enables the system to pick up what the child is looking at, for example there may be a page of images showing musical instruments and from this the device would allow the child to choose the instrument they want to play or hear or they might open another page or potentially find a sound clip of the instrument.

Helen Dixon, Speech and Language Therapist at CPFT said:

“The Eye Gaze Club was born out of a desire to give children who struggle with speech and language an opportunity to come together with other children who communicate in a similar way. We have a number of regular attendees at the club and have found they are learning to develop their skills, some moving from low tech eye pointing to using high tech communication aids with their eyes. Our Eye Gaze Club has shown the children they are not alone in using this slightly unusual method of communication and the younger children have role models to look up to with those who have been using the systems for longer.

“During the latest session one of the children used her eye gaze system to say “thank you, I’m having fun” to one of the therapists. I also received an email from the child’s mother who was thrilled with how well her daughter is doing. It is great to see the children develop their communication skills and to hear that they are already looking forward to the next Eye Gaze Club.”

The Eye Gaze Club is run by Speech and Language Therapists from CPFT at The Blackhall Unit at the Westmorland General Hospital.  Parents attend with their children and support each other by providing practical help and advice as well as sharing resources. CPFT does have some eye gaze equipment, however most of the children have their own devices that they bring along to the club.