They said teenager Declan Gould had been “robbed of his voice” after thieves stole a speech generator he uses every day, similar to the technology used by world-famous physicist and author Stephen Hawking.
Declan, 14, is lost without the hi-tech computer, because it is vital for talking to classmates and teachers on courses he is undertaking in a bid to gain NVQ qualifications.
Police said the £8,000 Liberator Essence Pro computer was taken from his parents’ car by a sneak thief as they were just yards away, but added the device would be totally useless to anybody but the teenager.
Last night the family appealed for the return of the vital piece of kit and told of their anger at the theft which happened at the family home in Thrybergh, near Rotherham.
Declan’s condition means that he can barely speak, so only his close family can understand much of what he says.
But for several years he has been able to type on the Liberator’s keyboard which instantly translates his thoughts into speech.
His stepmother Lynette Gould, 35, said the device would be of no use to anyone who can speak normally and said she was convinced that the criminals involved mistook the specialist computer for a normal laptop when they snatched it from the car.
She said: “The bag it was in might have looked like a normal laptop case and the Liberator inside is a bit like a flat screen monitor.
“But it’s no use to anyone but Declan. Whoever took it wouldn’t even be able to switch it on. It’s vital to him. It gives him his independence and gives him confidence in himself.
“It helps him get across to people what he wants to say. He uses it all the time at school. The school is trying to get him one on loan but so far they haven’t had any joy with that.
“Declan has had it since he started school, as a communication aid. His speech isn’t very good so it speaks for him. We call it his ‘talker’ .
“It’s similar to the sort of thing that Stephen Hawking uses to speak. Declan inputs what he wants to say.”
Declan is studying for an NVQ in alternative communication, despite his condition, known as cerebral palsy spastic quadriplegia, which affects his mobility in all four limbs.
Mrs Gould said she and Declan’s father John, 38 could not believe it when the device was stolen from the car which was on the drive of their home because they were standing nearby at the time.
She added: “We just want Declan to have his voice back. If you spend a lot of time with him you can vaguely understand what he says, but obviously he gets himself across to people so much better with the Liberator.”
A spokesman from South Yorkshire Police also appealed for help to find the computer and those who had taken it from Declan and also issued a warning to people to take more care of valuable items and remove them from their cars.
The spokesman added: “We would remind residents to ensure that they keep their vehicles locked and secure at all times whenever they are not in use.
“Opportunist thieves need only seconds to steal items, so taking this action reduces your chances of becoming a victim of this type of crime.”
Anyone with information about the theft, or who may have been offered the stolen Liberator computer, model Essence Pro, for sale, is asked to contact South Yorkshire Police on non-emergency number 101.
The theft happened at around 1am on Monday, February 13 outside the family home in Thrybergh View, Thrybergh.
It is thought the offenders ran to a waiting getaway car to make their escape.