Dani Hartell is seven-years-old, but his mum has barely heard him speak. His ‘superpower’ is locating statues around the world, but sadly he’s also as silent as one. To give him the power of speech, Satan’s Little Helper invested in a tablet loaded with a specialist app.
Dani is non-verbal. He has global development delay (GDD) and eczema so bad he’d scratch it until it turned infectious if he wasn’t watched. Imagine being that itchy all the time and you can’t even tell your mum how you’re feeling.
“He’s the most precious damn child,” says his mum Mel. “He’s had a rough go with everything in life. When he was two-and-a-half, he was diagnosed autism and GDD but he’s doing a lot better now.”
Lots of kids who have autism love structure and Dani is no different. It’s partly why he loves school so much – and gets upset when he can’t go – although Mel says he’s also an information sponge.
“He loves learning as much as he can. For example, he’s obsessed with statues and he can pinpoint heaps of statues on Google Earth. The Statue of Liberty is his favourite, but he even knows all the random little ones around the city! It’s like his superpower,” she chuckles.
Dani attends a special school, where he communicates using a tablet, but outside of that environment there’s not much publicly funded support available to him. Satan’s Little Helper thinks every kid deserves a voice, so we funded a device for him to use at home. Mel installed the Leeloo app and Dani was away!
“The first time he did it properly, he wanted a drink, so he pressed the button and the app talked to ask for a drink. When he heard that, he looked at me with a big grin on his face and it was so sweet! I cried, not going to lie.”
Mel talks with such emotion, love and strength of feeling about her son’s new-found verbal ability that it gives you a lump in your throat too.
“Dani gets so overwhelmed and frustrated when he can’t tell me what he wants that he loses the plot and there’s nothing you can do. We try to ‘burrito’ him in a blanket to calm him down. He likes having his head scratched and then we have to ask him 101 questions until we find the right thing and he’ll react.
“But now, we don’t have to go through all that. For example, he was going through the feelings section of the app and he told me he was happy. He’s picking it up so fast, it’s unbelievable.”
The hope is that the app will help Dani learn more words in the future.
“He can read the words out loud, but he can’t use them in the way he needs to. But, if he can keep vocalising like that, I think it’ll be really important for his development.” It’ll be a long journey for Dani, but Mel is relaxed and happy to enjoy the little moments.
“When your children start talking to you when they’re one or two, you don’t understand how amazing it is. With Dani, he first called me mum when he was six. I had to wait six years for that. People take it for granted being able to talk to their kids. To be able to know exactly what he wants is massive. We’re really, really thankful.”