Friday, June 09, 2006

Parents hear their six years old son speak for the first time, thanks to dolphin therapy

A SIX-YEAR-OLD boy who lived in silence because he was born with part of his brain missing has spoken his first words, after dolphins helped him learn to talk.

Unable to talk or play or even cry, Ivan McGaw had been cut off from his family all of his life. But after Alan and Wendy McGaw took Ivan to the US for special 'dolphin therapy', they were overcome with joy to hear their son say the words "Mama" and "Daddy".

They also saw tears trickle down Ivan's face for the first time since he was a baby. Doctors diagnosed Ivan's unusual behaviour as agenesis of the corpus callosum, a rare condition where babies are born without the part that connects the left and right side of the brain.

Ivan didn't seem to show any emotion and stopped crying when he became a toddler. He functions at the level of an 18-month-old, has cataracts in both eyes, has to wear nappies and is smaller than his three-year-old brother.

Ivan communicated with just one or two simple hand gestures for "hungry" and "biscuits". He showed no interest in interacting with others, preferring to sit alone, and seemed distant and cold.
His mother, Wendy, said: "It was so frustrating for Ivan and for me - he could never tell me what he wanted. I just felt so helpless as a mother - I felt terrible that I didn't know what my own son needed."

Ivan wouldn't go near strangers or other children and clung to his mum and dad. He did not even play with his three-year-old brother, Shaun.

The family searched desperately for a solution, but nobody seemed to be able to help their little boy. But on a holiday to Majorca in 2004 staff at a water park gave Ivan a treat by letting him stroke a dolphin.

Mrs McGaw, 30, of Dunfermline, Fife, was shocked that Ivan would even reach out to the animal, but she was stunned when he began to giggle as the dolphin squeaked at him.

There seemed to be an instant connection and when Mrs McGaw spotted a dolphin therapy treatment on the internet, she knew she had to find a way to let her child try it out.

In March, the family finally flew off to Key Largo, Florida, for a three-week visit to the Island Dolphin Care centre. Each day Ivan spent an hour working one-to-one with a therapist in a classroom and another hour swimming with specially trained dolphins.

Mrs McGaw said: "On the first day in the pool, Ivan didn't want to let go of his therapist, but the dolphins seemed fascinated with him.

The dolphins are so soothing and Ivan just seemed to relax with them around. But most importantly, being with them boosts his courage - his confidence is 100 times what it was before we went to America.

"As the days went on, you could see him progressing before your eyes. By the end of the three weeks he was fighting to be let go so he could play with the dolphins."

She added: "On the day we were due to leave, we had said goodbye and we all got in the car. Ivan was making a funny noise, and I turned and looked at him and there were tears running down his face. It was the first time I have seen that since he was two years old."

When Mrs McGaw and her husband returned home, they were concerned that Ivan would forget everything he had learned. But their fears proved to be unfounded. Mrs McGaw said: "Me and Alan were in the kitchen and Ivan came in and walked straight up to Alan and said 'Daddy'. We just looked at each other, and said: 'Did we just hear that?'

"Alan was choked up, and we kept making him say it all day long just to make sure we hadn't been hearing things. Then we started encouraging him to say 'Mummy', and a few days later he looked at me and said 'Mama'. Now he wants to interact all the time - if he thinks you've forgotten he's there he'll come up and poke you on the arm."

The couple are now trying to raise £5,000 for another trip to the dolphin centre.
This article:

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"