The Life-Changing Tech Helping Young Canadians With Verbal And Physical Challenges

Plus, the organizations making it accessible to families in need.
The Life-Changing Tech Helping Young Canadians With Verbal And Physical Challenges
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When Olivia was born, Stephen and Elana Terry were excited to be first-time parents. They recall Olivia being a happy baby—smiling, rolling over and experiencing many developmental milestones in the first year of her life. But as Olivia grew older, she wasn’t able to keep up with other kids her age.

Olivia was at first diagnosed with global developmental delay, but that eventually changed to a diagnosis of Rett syndrome.

“Rett syndrome is a genetic condition where a child progressively loses the abilities that they gained in the first year of their life, such as speech, movement and coordination of the body,” says Dr. John Anderson, medical director with the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital’s Brain Computer Interface Program. “You can imagine as a parent seeing your young infant develop and then all of a sudden begin to lose those abilities. It’s devastating.”

Turning thoughts into action with technology

Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital (HBKRH) in Toronto has pioneered the development of pediatric brain-computer interface (BCI) technology as a communication pathway for children with severe speech and motor impairments. BCI is a non-invasive technology that turns brain signals into commands using a computerized headset. By integrating leading-edge research with clinical care and teaching, the hospital’s program can unlock opportunities for young people with disabilities and help them feel more connected through play and communication. This, ultimately, provides a life with more independence for those with significant neurological challenges, often resulting in improved mental health and overall well-being.

With funding from TELUS Friendly Future Foundation (TFFF) Innovation Grant, HBKRH Foundation is providing access to life-changing BCI technology for children like Olivia at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital (GRH). By harnessing the power of this innovation, the organization and partner hospitals across Canada are empowering young people to express themselves and perform motion-control tasks in ways that they could never imagined would be possible.

See how BCI technology is changing Olivia’s life and capabilities.

Granting access to families in need


In Edmonton, hundreds of children and youth live with severe neurological disorders and have complex communication needs like Olivia. Thanks to a grant from the TELUS Edmonton Community Board, with funding from TFFF, the GRH Foundation can provide a specialized BCI device-lending library. Getting this tech out of the lab and into the community and families’ homes provides the crucial access and support needed by the young people living with these severe neurological disabilities.

Today, Olivia is using BCI to learn how to control her wheelchair, push and pull objects and play independently with her sister and pet dog.

“It is absolutely mind-blowing to see what Olivia has been able to do,” says Stephen Terry, Olivia’s father. “My heart is filled with joy to see her engage with other kids and have other kids engage with her.”

Thanks to the support of donors—and visionary organizations like HBKRH Foundation and the GRH Foundation—TFFF is helping change the lives of children and youth with severe neurological challenges. What was once seen as a loss of abilities can now be viewed as gaining a more independent life and meaningful connection with others.

Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation and the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation are two of the many charities to receive funding from TELUS Friendly Future Foundation. Every year, TFFF provides millions of dollars in grants to more than 500 charities across Canada, including provincial and national organizations that offer health or education programs, many enabled by technology. To donate directly to TELUS Friendly Future Foundation and help youth in our communities reach their full potential, visit