Eight-year-old Caleb Smith is discovering a whole new world at his fingertips thanks to a simple piece of adaptive IT equipment which is breaking down the communication barriers associated with his Down Syndrome.
• Charity auction plannedThe Wanaka Primary School pupil is among the many children who have received support from the Upper Clutha Children's Medical Trust since it was formed in November 2009.
Speech and language skills are an area of particular difficulty for most young people with Down Syndrome. However, after receiving a "Go Talk" communication board last year with funding from the trust, the transformation in Caleb had been remarkable, his teachers said.
"It just immediately broadened his options for communicating," the school's special education needs co-ordinator, Leanne Little, said.
"He's trying to verbalise more, it's encouraging him to talk." Special needs teacher Julie Fitzgerald has also been amazed at Caleb's progress since he started using the board, which plays simple pre-programmed words and phrases at the touch of a button.
"It's just given him a voice really," Mrs Fitzgerald said.
"More than anything it also changes people's attitudes to him because people realise that he's actually got something to say. It's not only changed Caleb's life, but it's given people around him a new perspective of him.
"It just showed we'd been underestimating him." The new communication tool had also revealed Caleb's "cracking sense of humour", she said.
Caleb's mother, Philippa Smith, had noticed an obvious change in her son at home, too.
"He's a bit more confident that we understand what he's saying," she said.
Members of the trust were thrilled the support they had given Caleb's family was making such a positive difference.
"It seems to have opened a new world for him and that's really what we hoped would happen," trust chairman Peter Wilson said.
"It really encourages us with our fundraising as well when you see results like this," trust member Yvonne Gale added.
The trust provides financial support to Upper Clutha families who are finding it difficult to meet the costs of medical treatment for their children. It has received a steady flow of applications for a diverse range of medical requirements since it was established. It has supported 36 families to date by giving funding for specialist treatment, transport and accommodation costs and other activities which can help manage medical problems such as physiotherapy and modified wheelchairs.
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