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Olivia finds her voice to star in new Stormont exhibition

By Joanne Sweeney

Published 06/11/2015

Claire Golden had to wait for nearly six years before she heard her only child say the precious word 'Mummy'.

Her daughter Olivia Curran will turn seven next week and her hopes are high that her speech will keep improving.

For Olivia, the ability to talk just like other children her age is something that has eluded her as she was diagnosed with a condition called Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at the age of three.

ASD is a lifelong, complex developmental disability that affects communication and social skills.

The Belfast girl is one of the stars of a new campaign aimed at raising awareness of people in Northern Ireland living with communication difficulties.

She is the youngest person selected to take part in a multi-media portrait and story exhibition called My Journey, My Voice, currently on display in the Long Gallery at Stormont.

The fact Claire has sufficient language to be featured in the exhibition, which features nine portraits by local photographer Laurence Gibson, is something her mother is extremely proud of.

"When I heard that Olivia was chosen for the exhibition, it was a very emotional moment for me," Claire said."It made me so proud of my little girl.

"Now that Olivia has started to say words, she can't stop talking. We believe that her words will keep building and her speech will improve even further."

Speech for Olivia now is a mixture of her using sounds of the words she is trying to communicate, such as a car noise to signify a car, or the sign language Makaton and PECS pictures to tell of her need for a drink or whatever she wants.

Her speech can still be unclear to people who are not familiar with her.

And Olivia's frustration in not being able to communicate is something that has caused much pain for her and her single-parent mother.

Claire said: "A few years ago I was reluctant to go out with Olivia as when she did become frustrated at not being able to communicate, she would cry and lie on the ground. Some people, particularly older people, could be very hurtful and ask if I could not put manners into my child.

"I hope this campaign helps to raise awareness of the issues for people with communication problems so that the wider public just accepts them for who they are and does not judge them."

Claire is full of praise for the speech therapist Alison Ferris from Brookfield School in Moira, which Olivia attends, for the progress she has made with her daughter over the last year.

"Alison refused to give up on Olivia and has worked wonders with her," she said.

The exhibition was commissioned by the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists and is supported by Disability Action and the Northern Ireland Health and Social Care Board.

The other participants are: Clodagh Dunlop (35), from Magherafelt; Ryan Walsh (32), Downpatrick; Neill Birnie (47), Templepatrick; Molly Bradley (12), Londonderry; Margaret Rice (59), Holywood; Christine Birney (22), Kesh; George Lilley (37), Lisburn; and Jemima Carlin from Bangor.

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