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Thursday 21 August 2014

Rugby star and children in tune with app that aids speech

Ralph Riegel

Published 26/03/2014 | 02:30

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Damien Varley with Destiny Russell Warrington and Amber Bowen at the COPE Foundation, Cork, for the launch of the app ‘Signalong Songs’. MICHAEL MACSWEENEY/PROVISION
Damien Varley in action for Munster
Damien Varley in action for Munster

MUSIC is the language of the heart.

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Now the power of music and song is being harnessed by a revolutionary Irish-developed computer app to help children with severe communication problems.

It aids them in learning vocabulary and sign language all on their own.

Munster rugby hooker Damien Varley – a keen musician – gave his enthusiastic support to the 'Signalong Songs' app launch, which the COPE Foundation believes will help revolutionise how children with intellectual disabilities are taught.

The rugby star said it was "absolutely amazing" to see how children respond to music – and how it could help them transfer learning from the classroom into their homes.

"This is a wonderful development and I'm just proud to be here to support it," Varley said.

The app uses nursery rhymes such as 'Ba Ba Black Sheep', 'Rain, Rain' and songs such as 'Splish Splash' and 'Things I Like To Do' as part of a special interactive programme to teach youngsters words and sign language gestures.

Critically, it also involves parents and family in the child's development – so that learning takes place in the sitting-room as well as the classroom.

For little Grace Prendergast (3), from Youghal, Co Cork, her favourite nursery rhymes are now key to helping her learn to communicate.

"It has been incredible to see how she loves using the app and how she has started to learn from copying the interactive elements of it," her mother Susan explained.

"It is a fantastic development."

It is a similar story for Naomi Foley (4), from Watergrasshill, Co Cork, where her favourite rhymes and songs are now helping fast-track her communicative development.

The app was developed by a team drawn from COPE and special software designer DonateCode.com.

The team comprised software designer James Sugrue, music therapist Eamon Nash and language therapists Aine Byrne and Vanessa Sheehan.

All donated their services free – and it is now hoped that the app can be used by special education centres worldwide.

Irish Independent

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