Monday 19 March 2012: The Eyes have it...
Pretty intense but exciting morning!!! :-))
Visted today by Mark, an ex MOD Research Physicist from an Assistive Technology company down south, who has developed THE most amazing technology that allows brain injured children and adults who are unable to speak, to communicate and have control of their environment by means of a computer screen that they control with their eyes! It really is the most amazing piece of kit.
He was visiting us today to assess Alan using the equipment and advise on whether this technology is the way forward to opening the door to allow Alan to have full control over how and when he communicates and what he communicates about. In a nutshell, if Alan is able to (and wants to) access this technology it will, for the first time in his 15 year old life, give him a "voice"!!!!
I mean, can you imagine being totally reliant on others to guess what you are thinking, feeling, wanting to say? For me, who never says anything in one sentence when a paragraph will do, it is my worst nightmare!!
Alan has been so patient with us over the years as we have fumbled with low tech solutions - picture symbols that he eye points to, photographs, set actions that means set things (eg raising his right hand for yes and left hand for no) and of course because we know him so well, we can understand his limited vocalisations. It's certainly easy to know when he's happy and equally easy to tell when he's pissed off! :-)
But things get tricky when, for example, we know he's sad / unhappy about something or anxious and we're trying to get to the bottom of what might be the cause. So many times I have made a suggestion and from his reaction I have thought nope, he wasn't worried about that but now I've suggested it, he's going to be! Doh!
The possibilities of this technology are almost endless. As well as giving Alan control of his communication, it is also able to give him control of his physical enviroment, so just by looking at symbols on a computer screen (ipad size) he will be able to choose the music he wants to listen to, change channels on the tv, turn lights on and off and even close/open his bedroom curtains, should he so wish! Independence on a scale he has never known.
But that's a bit further down the line. Too much exposure too soon to all the bells and whistles this technology has to offer would be complete sensory overload for Alan. A bit like being deaf and suddenly being able to hear all the sounds in the world, all at the same time.
NO, today was all about putting Alan in front of the screen and just letting him explore / play with the one of the programmes that let him choose songs / sounds from a pre-selected list. To do this successfully, his eyes had to perform a logical sequence of steps.
The screen was set up on our dining room table and when we brought Alan through, he wouldn't even look at it at first. Not a great start for a system that has to lock onto his eye gaze and track it around the screen!! Mark helpfully suggested that we leave Alan to explore whilst we all went to the kitchen for a coffee.
Within a minute of being left to his own devices, we suddenly heard a cow mooing! Alan had chosen to explore the farmyard programme! This was swiftly followed by a pig, a sheep and a whole load of other animal noises......and.....Alan's laughter. He was having a ball!!! :-)) OMG! I can't describe how I felt when it quickly became apparent that he had picked up how to "work" the technology without even being shown!
Next thing we knew music was playing and that's when we knew for sure that he'd got the hang of it. There were lots of music choices, from brass bands, Joan Baez, the Rolling Stones (all Mark's musical tastes :-)) as well as more contemporary selections. And what did Alan chose to play? All the stuff he likes - Britney Spears, Busted, Beyonce!!! :-))
Mark nipped back through to see Alan and had a quick discussion with him about music, saying "here's who I like to listen to Alan" and left Alan listening to Bob Marley. Within seconds of Mark leaving the room, Alan had ditched Bob Marley and had his preferred tunes playing again! :-))
I can't begin to describe how excited we all are about this!!!! Alan included. When asked if he wanted to have one of these computers all of his very own, he lifted his right hand above his head and crashed it onto his lap....a resounding YES!!!! :-)))
All being well, Alan should have his own eye gaze tablet computer within 3 weeks! I could weep with happiness! :D
After Mark left and we'd had lunch I had to get out of the house for some fresh air and release the intense emotions of the morning. It was wet and horrible so I didn't venture far, just 15 minutes up the road to this little row of cottages that always make me smile. :-)))
Happy Monday Peeps and if you've managed to read this far, well done you!!! :-)) xx