Mobile technology device assists with communication for nonverbal kids on the spectrum

Mobile technology device - Child using digital technology

Tech developed by Purdue University researchers is helping children on the autism spectrum during the pandemic.

Researchers at Purdue University have developed a mobile technology device app and platform helping nonverbal kids on the autism spectrum to be able to better communicate during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lockdowns have closed or limited access to schools and clinics for in-person learning and care.

Many of these resources have been forced to use remote options, which is challenging for children and parents at the best of times, but that has broader obstacles for kids on the spectrum who are nonverbal.

The mobile technology device is in the form of a SPEAKall! application. This award-winning app uses a smart device as a communication board and language learning platform. In this way, it teaches its users associations between images and the words that represent them.

The app works by letting its users select digital cards that they can move to the speech bar. The application then speaks aloud the words from the sequence of cards. This makes it possible for the students to hear how the words associated with the cards sound, encouraging the learners to attempt to say the sounds themselves.

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The mobile technology device app can be customized by caregivers, clinicians, and the users themselves.

Photos and images can be uploaded into the SPEAKall! app and paired with pre-recorded speech or iPad-generated speech. In this way, the program can be personalized to the specific individual needs of each learner.

Tech giving a voice to nonverbal people on the spectrum can be highly important and helpful. Estimates in a recent Purdue report are that as much as half (50 percent) of the more than 2 million Americans on the autism spectrum are initially nonverbal or have minimal verbal skills, requiring augmentative communication tech. This type of platform can cater to the daily communication needs of those individuals.

“It has been heartwarming and rewarding to see how our technology is helping to develop better speech and language and provide a much-needed resource during this pandemic that has deprived many families affected by autism of proper therapeutic services,” said the SPEAKall! mobile technology device app inventor Oliver Wendt, Mobile technology device - Child using digital technologyUniversity of Potsdam (Germany) professor and chair of cognitive and emotional disabilities. “The COVID-19 lockdowns across the world have shifted therapy to telehealth platforms, which can be challenging for nonverbal autistic children and their parents.”

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