Nine-year-old speech and language patient Kenzie Hughes will be the envy of his many friends this week, as he stars in an episode of popular children’s programme, Something Special.
Viewers of the much-loved CBeebies show will see Kenzie, whose cerebral palsy means he is unable to speak, interact with star Justin Fletcher using eyegaze technology that has given him a voice for the first time – and has also helped bring out a cheekier side to his character!
Kenzie, who also uses a wheelchair, was accompanied by his carer Michelle Hughes, 34, and specialist speech and language therapist Joanna Henfrey, as he showed Justin how he takes part in wheelchair football with Middlesbrough Powerchair Football Club at Rainbow Leisure Centre, Coulby Newham.
Joanna explained that the technology has given him a new lease of life and a sense of independence most children at the age of nine would naturally take for granted.
Joanna said: “With this communication aid, controlled by his eyes, he can make his needs known. He loves telling jokes with it and even told Justin a tiger had scratched his belly! He can also carry out schoolwork and activities on it.
“It’s mounted on his wheelchair, so it goes everywhere with him and as it can be linked to TV and lighting, the hope is it will give him more control of his environment in the long term.
“He can construct his own sentences and make his own unique phrases with it – Michelle tells me he will tell strangers to stop looking at him now if people stare at him!”
“With this communication aid, controlled by his eyes, he can make his needs known. He loves telling jokes with it and even told Justin a tiger had scratched his belly!”
Joanna Henfrey, specialist speech and language therapist
As fans of the show will know, a clown called Mr Tumble sends Justin to meet a new friend in each episode, complete with a bright yellow spotty bag containing clues about things they need to look for on their adventures.
Throughout the programme, Justin and the Tumble family use Makaton, a special language using signs and symbols alongside speech, which the South Tees speech and language department also use in their work with children.Last year, Justin travelled to Saltburn, left, and Middlesbrough, where Kenzie’s episode was filmed at The Rainbow Leisure Centre and Middlesbrough Sports Village.
Michelle, Kenzie’s permanent carer, said: “Kenzie has had a fantastic day with Justin, who is so lovely. The whole team have been just brilliant with him. It was a very long day for him, but he loved it.
“He’s very clever with that computer and can join in a lot more with other kids now. He takes notice of everything. He’s a bubbly boy – his sense of humour is terrific!”
Michelle added that since getting the technology, he is also “making more noises” and trying to say more words himself.
“It’s like he’s trying to copy off it,” she said.
“It’s also improved his muscle tone and head control. He’s using more muscles and holds his head up longer because he wants to be able to talk to you.
“It’s given him a lot more confidence especially as he can now tell you when he needs the bathroom and things like that.”
Michelle is pleased he is now able to get a better education thanks to the technology, which Joanna programs term by term with lessons just for him, with the help of his school Priory Woods, in Middlesbrough.
But she adds the best thing of all is that he can now do “what able kids do”.
“That’s his laptop or tablet,” she said.
“He can go on the internet and even takes pictures with it. If he sees something he likes, he will take a picture. He also likes to use it for his music.
Justin said he “couldn’t believe” Something Special was now in its tenth series – and praised all the families who had taken part as “stars”.
“This programme helps so many children and their families to communicate using the Makaton signing system and I am incredibly honoured and proud to be part of this wonderful production,” he said.
“A huge thank you to all of the children and their families who appeared in the new series. You are all stars!”
Kenzie’s episode of Something Special appears on Cbeebies on Tuesday February 9 at 9.45am.