Alabama NewsCenter is highlighting apps developed in the state. This is the second story in a series.
As children grow they learn to communicate at first through sound and body movements before advancing to words and language.
But for children with nonverbal autism, communicating needs or wants can be more difficult.
A nonprofit in Alabama is working to help these children by developing a mobile app to assist with communication. Based in Mobile, Autism2Ability aims to develop programs for families with special-needs children.
Autism2Ability founder Ray Miller saw how these families needed tools to enable clearer communication, so the nonprofit partnered with an Apple developer and began building the new technology.
After years of development, App2Talk launched on the app market in November 2014 for a one-time cost of $99.99.
Miller said the hard work was well worth it given that 25 percent of children with autism don’t speak.
“I felt there was a call for me to do something – it was providential,” Miller said.
The app has many customizable pictures allowing words to be communicated visually when the child needs something.
For example, if a child wants popcorn, he or she presses the popcorn image on a smartphone or tablet and a voice says the image pressed, meaning parents and educators can hear the request.
Since its official launch, the app has evolved with each update.
Miller works with experts in various fields while developing updates for the app, including speech-language pathologists, occupational therapists and special-education teachers.
He said each update makes the app more robust and ensures the autistic community will get maximum usefulness while using App2Talk.
“These children are very smart people. A lot of them just need an outlet to show that off, so we try to make sure we give them the best one,” Miller said.
The three levels of learning on App2Talk – elementary, intermediate and advanced – give children an opportunity to grow and progress when communicating. The app also automatically tracks their progress, giving parents and educators an avenue to analyze what the child has mastered and what’s still difficult.
Educators like Jennifer Williams see positive feedback when using the app.
Williams is the behavior specialist manager at the Mobile County Public School System and uses the device when she’s working with kids. Because many behavioral problems are rooted in a lack of communication, she has used App2Talk to help bridge gaps with children undergoing struggles they can’t necessarily voice.
Williams said a child has also used the app to communicate while in pain.
“Throughout his childhood, the pain was indescribable. It was beyond words,” Williams said. “The child couldn’t tell anyone where he was hurting or how much the pain stung, and the frustration would lead to self-inflicted damage. App2Talk changed that.”
Using the app, the child selected pictures of the body parts in pain, and the parents were finally able to help the child.
“We know the need is there,” Miller said. “We just have to keep pushing, and keep helping out the kids because they’re our future.”