New app offers modern form of help for nonverbal
A team of MSU researchers is working to determine if an app for Apple products that aims to provide nonverbal children and adults with a voice is doing its job well.
Summer Ferreri, an assistant professor of special education, and Sean Strasberger, a doctoral student in special education, are conducting research on Proloquo2Go is, an app in the Apple App Store that can “speak” words, phrases and sentences — something that can be especially helpful for
children with autism, Ferreri said.
“It gives them a voice,” she said.
The app has about 4,000 vocabulary words and is a more modern form of traditional voice output communication aids, or VOCAs, Strasberger said. It can be customized for individuals from preschool age to adults, and the team currently is working with five children with autism in the Lansing area between 4 and 8 years old, he said. They are testing the app’s effectiveness for teaching students how to request things and the impact it has on children’s verbalization skills, he said.
Right now, the app is available for the iPhone, iPad and iPod touch for about $190, Strasberger said.
“Past VOCAs have shown to be effective, but a lot of times they’re very big and not very portable and very expensive,” he said.
The app is a form of picture exchange communication, so users have to press a picture of what they are trying to say and the device will speak for them, he said.
Ferreri said many nonverbal children get frustrated at not being able to communicate their needs and resort to tantrums or crying to express what they want. Apps such as this can help lead to a reduction in those behavioral problems and lead to them possibly learning to speak over time, she said.
“Every time they use it, they hear the word,” Ferreri said. “Sometimes when you have that pairing occur all the time, you might get spontaneous verbalization.”
The team received about $5,000 in grants from the MSU College of Education for their research, she said. If the app proves to be an effective means of communication for the children involved in the research, the researchers will give them an iPod touch loaded with the application at the end of the project, she said.
Anne Carpenter, an Ann Arbor resident with autism who works at the Okemos-based Autism Society of Michigan, said she would like to see the cost of apps such as these go down so parents of autistic children can afford them, she said.
Carpenter is not nonverbal, but she said organizational apps for things such as shopping lists and calendars would help adults with autism to navigate through daily life.
“Normal apps that business executives use might be helpful for people with autism,” she said.
Special education senior Mary Rigan also is assisting with the research project — which began about two weeks ago — and said the children have been picking up on the technology quickly. Rigan said she’s worked with nonverbal children in the past who have had to carry around big voice boxes that can be embarrassing and heavy for a 6-year-old, she said.
“Now they’re carrying around an iPod touch, which is cool for everyone to have,” Rigan said. “They’re not getting funny looks.”