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Image of a child wearing a virtual reality headset using the withVR software.

The award-winning Barnsley children’s and adult’s speech and language therapy team have received over £900 from EyUp! to purchase two virtual reality (VR) headsets to support children and young people who stammer.

The headsets will be used in conjunction with the software ‘withVR’, which enables people to be immersed in real life situations where they would be likely to speak – such as asking questions in a classroom or ordering food. This enables children and young people who stammer to experience everyday speaking situations in a safe space with the support of a therapist by their side.

South West Yorkshire Partnership NHS Foundation Trust is the first Trust in the country to use this software for stammering. The software benefits the children and team who are working with children who stammer to help them to speak out. It also gives parents and carers the opportunity to understand stammering more and to help them support their children.

It is understood that up to 8% of children and 1% – 2% of the adult population will stammer. There are approximately 10 stammering clinics across the borough, with staff delivering services online and via school appointments.

Nicola Maddy, speech and language therapist said “I’m really passionate about supporting children and young people who stammer, and making a difference to their lives. For the children coming in for speech and language therapy, they do have a really hard time. I’m keen for children to know that their voice however they talk is valuable and important.”

Feedback since using the VR headsets has been positive and children and young people are enjoying being able to improve their confidence and speech.

“I really like using the VR headset, I’ve been able to practice my speech.”

“I have built the confidence to go and use the VR headsets without hesitation.”

“Using the VR headsets, I can practise ‘voluntary stammering’, which is when you stammer on purpose with the basis that you’re open about stammering.”

The team are continuing to raise awareness around stammering and the difference that they are seeing from their service users using the software. Nicola Maddy is speaking at the National Stammering Network Clinical Excellence Network and Yorkshire and Humber conference to share their learning.

Nicola continued: “The funding from EyUp! has enabled us to better meet the needs of the people we’re seeing, particularly the older children. Younger children tend not to be as aware of their stammering but as they grow older their awareness increases and their perceptions of how people around them start to react increases.

“There is research that shows that stammering does impact on career prospects, educational prospects, and on mental health and wellbeing. There is a high correlation with social anxiety and stammering.

“I know the potential of the VR headsets and the difference they can make to enable and empower children and young people we see to use their voices.”