New tool to aid children with autism

  • Deborah Condon

A Wicklow-based mother of two has launched a new iPhone application, aimed at helping children with autism to develop their communication skills.

Lisa Domican’s two children have autism and the application, which has already been successfully trialled in a Dublin school, is called ‘Grace’ after her daughter.

It has been designed to be used in a similar way to how the existing Picture Exchange Communication System is used by parents and tutors of children with autism. This system allows them to build sentences using a book of laminated pictures attached to a board by Velcro. As the child learns new words through pictures, they are added to the book, reflecting the child’s growing vocabulary.

However, while the existing system is very effective in the home or classroom, it is not very portable for everyday situations outside of these settings.

The inspiration for Lisa’s application came to her when she spotted an advertisement for the iPhone on the side of a bus in Dublin. She noticed that the main screen of the device in the ad, which featured a range of colourful application photos, looked like an electronic version of a Picture Exchange book. At that point, she realised the phone’s potential as a portable alternative to the existing system and set to work in developing the new application in conjunction with software developer, Steve Troughton-Smith.

The main benefits of the new application are that it is simple and works in real time. It can be customised to the individual child using their picture and photo vocabulary and it is compact but can hold hundreds of images. Furthermore, adding new images and sharing them with the child’s parent/carer/tutor is simple and instant - this encourages consistency in language development for the child.

For example, Lisa’s daughter Grace now has over 300 symbols and photos stored on her iPhone to reflect her current vocabulary, to which she can instantly add new photos at any time as her vocabulary grows. Lisa can also share new words and interests instantly with Grace’s carers and tutors in school using the phone to ensure they are aware and can use the new words in their interaction with Grace.

The development of the new application has been supported by O2, which supplied iPhones for the creation and testing of it and which also funded the development of the final artwork used.

“I’m absolutely delighted that thanks to Steve and O2, we have been able to bring this project to fruition. As the mother of two children with autism, I know it works, I’ve seen the positive impact it has had on my own children and therefore I can confidently recommend it to other parents and tutors of children with autism,” Ms Domican said.

The new application is now available in the official iPhone Application Store. It costs €29.99 for up to five users, to facilitate family members accessing it.


Anonymous - 22/03/2010 16:49

Nice to see a good news story

Nickname: to be used for all future posts.
Notification: Tick this box if you wish to receive e-mail notifications of further posts on this topic