HELP Grant assists Ari to build communication skills

12 February 2020

Royal Life Saving WA is committed to reducing the impact of drowning in our community. Our primary aim is to prevent drowning from occurring through education to assist all West Australians in understanding how to keep themselves and their families safe around water. However, should a fatal or non-fatal drowning incident occur we’re also determined to provide support; both practical and emotional, for families and individuals affected.

For every child who drowns in WA up to 10 are hospitalised following a non-fatal drowning incident, with up to four of these suffering serious lifelong health implications including brain damage. Our Royal Life Saving Community HELP Grants are designed to assist families as they deal with these lifelong health impacts and enhance the life of the non-fatal drowning survivor.

Ari with therapist Yvette Theodorson practising with the Tobii eye tracker systemRecently 11-year-old Ari Morrison and his family received one of these grants to fund a three-week intensive speech therapy course. Ari was just three years old when he fell from a houseboat during a holiday with family in the United States. Ari was not in the water for more than a minute, but he was left with severe brain damage.

The recent speech therapy sessions enabled Ari to train in the use of the Tobii Eye Tracker system, which tracks his eye movements and allows him to choose and navigate items on a computer screen, from controlling Spotify to play music, choosing content on Netflix, to communicating with words and sentences by selecting icons on a screen.

Ari’s mum Simone Soto-Flores, a Royal Life Saving WA Keep Watch Ambassador, says the therapy has been amazing for her son. “Ari loved the sessions and the fact this system enables him to choose and navigate for himself. You can really see how much he wants to say just by how hard he tries. Like any 11-year-old he loves the fun stuff first – games, movies, music. We were at the sessions 5 days a week for the three weeks, which is exhausting for his eyes, yet he keeps trying even when he’s tired. He built up stamina as the sessions progressed which just proves to us that these intensives really work.”

The Community HELP Grants, of up to $2,500 each, can provide financial assistance for counselling, therapy, equipment, modifications, technology purchase or other resources or items to help make a difference in the lives of children impacted by a non-fatal drowning incident.

Simone says the therapy Ari recently attended was only possible for them because of the HELP Grant they received. “Without the funding from Royal Life Saving we wouldn’t have been able to access this intensive as it was out of financial reach. We are so grateful for the opportunity, belief and investment you have made in Ari’s potential and future!”

Simone’s hope is to see Ari able to continue to build on these skills at home. “We’d love to see the eye gaze being a constant piece of equipment in his life so that he can access his needs, tell us and those around him what he wants and feels. Essentially this equipment will give Ari his voice. The goal is for him to be able to use words to build sentences for communication and to access whatever he enjoys like games, movies, books and music.”

If you, or someone you know, is dealing with the impact of non-fatal drowning and would benefit from a Community HELP Grant please click the link below to find out more and apply online.

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If you'd like to assist us in providing HELP Grants to those affected by drowning in our community you can make a donation at the link below.

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