The Real Toy Story: Matthew

Matthew holding a toy hedgehog, with his mum in front of a Christmas tree

Matthew is five years old and he learned how to sign four years ago with the help of his support worker and his best friend, Teddy – a toy monkey.

Matthew has limited sight and hearing and learning to communicate was the main milestone that his parents were told he might not reach.

However, he’s always proved everyone wrong and overcome many obstacles in his short life. When his support worker at his local Sense centre realised that Matthew copied everything his toy monkey did, she used Teddy to teach him to sign.

His mum Helen said:

“When our support worker first visited us it was the first time we felt someone understood Matthew and could show us how to maximize his potential. Using his favourite toy to teach him sign language allowed him to learn while playing without feeling pressured or rushed.”

Matthew also has cerebral palsy as he suffered a brain haemorrhage shortly after he was born. The first few years of his life the doctors had no way of knowing what health issues he’d develop later in life.

“The assessments Matthew had, focused on all the things he wasn’t going to be able to do, never on what he could do. It was very lonely for him, because, as he doesn’t see or hear as well as other children, he couldn’t talk to anyone and no one could understand him.”

Learning to sign meant Matthew could talk with his family and play with other children. Four years on he now speaks and is learning how to read and write. He attends a mainstream school and he loves singing.

Monkey face with Santa hat illustration

“I feel Matthew wouldn’t have been able to take to school so easily if it wasn’t for the support he got so early on. He still has lots of challenges - the challenge now is to grow and find ways to enjoy the things other kids his age do.

"He’s always been a fighter - with everything that’s been thrown at him, he always proved everyone wrong, but he’s so much more independent now, the difference is immense.”

Teddy the toy monkey mostly stays at home now, as Matthew feels able to do things on his own. His love of animal toys hasn’t waned though – his new favourite toy is a fluffy little hedgehog called Brian.

Toys can help motivate deafblind children develop their communication skills and build a shared language with their parents.

Many parents can feel unsure about how to communicate with their children. We can help deafblind children and their parents find ways to communicate. We can also offer practical tips on suitable play activities and sensory toys tailored to each child’s needs.

Find out about Sense Children's Specialist Services.

Help pay for a family visit from a Sense support worker – donate now.


First published: Thursday 13 November 2014
Updated: Tuesday 1 December 2015