Appeal launched to help Coldstream boy, 6, communicate

Charlie Hamilton can hear and is learning to understand what's going on around him but he can't speak or make himself understood - at least not yet.
Charlie Hamilton can hear and is learning to understand what's going on around him but he can't speak or make himself understood - at least not yet.

Six-year-old Charlie Hamilton, from Coldstream, is unable to talk but with the help of an iPad and a newly developed app communicating could become a lot easier for him.

Charlie’s head teacher Moira Hall and mum Lauren Aitken have joined forces to give Charlie, who was diagnosed with pre-verbal autism when he was three years old, the best possible chance in life and you can help - by donating your old and broken mobile phones.

Lauren’s research about autism led her to a trial carried out last year by a team of University of Edinburgh psychologists.

They developed an iPad app called FindMe, designed to engage non-verbal autistic children and the impact it has had on the small number of children who used it suggests that it is a simple and effective way to help children like Charlie.

After seeing the results of the trials the Hearts and Minds charity concluded that using iPads could develop the language, motor and problem solving skills of children with autism. They have opened up a scheme where schools apply for an iPad from them by collecting old mobile phones.

Headteacher Mrs Hall has applied on Charlie’s behalf and if sufficient phones can be collected - 150 is enough for one iPad - then the hope is to have one for the school’s learning support base as well.

One testimonial on the Hearts and Minds website after a child with autism used the FindMe app says it all: ‘Three weeks after getting the iPad Padraig started trying to say words he was hearing while using it. He had never tried to speak before.’

Similar research in America suggests that it is the consistency of a language-teaching iPad app that helps nonverbal children with autism pick up new words.

Ann Kaiser, a professor at Vanderbilt Peabody College of Education and Human Development, who carried out the American research said: “When we say a word it sounds a little different every time, and words blend together and take on slightly different acoustic characteristics in different contexts. Every time the iPad says a word, it sounds exactly the same, which is important for children with autism, who generally need things to be as consistent as possible.”

“During the programme, we witnessed one child communicate his understanding of addition, and the parents were completely unaware that their child even knew his numbers at all.”

Lauren explained: “Charlie can recognise certain things and a lot of the things on the app are pictures and we built up a library of pictures using a camera in the house and taking photos of everything.

“It’s a bridge to help Charlie understand more.

“He is in mainstream education at Coldstream and the hope is that communicating with the ipad will help him stay there.

“The children at school are brilliant with him. They have started teaching basic sign language at the school and introducing it to all the children so they can communicate with Charlie. Before that they would walk past him because he wouldn’t speak to him - now they understand and to them he’s just Charlie.”