Today sees the official launch of a new iPhone application (app) that it is hoped will help children with autism better develop their communications skills.
The development of the new app has been supported by O2, which supplied iPhones for the creation and testing of the app, and funded the original artwork used.
The app which was developed by a Parent of two children in the school; Lisa Domican; has already been successfully trialled here in Saplings and is called “Grace” after Lisa's daughter and co-developer 10 year old Gracie.
The new app is designed to be used in a similar way to the existing Picture Exchange Books which are used by parents and tutors of children with autism; allowing them to build sentences using a 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.
Gracie has emerging speech which cannot be understood by everyone, so it is important for her to always have a picture of her preferred items to point to and "read" with all her caregivers.
The iPhone app came about after Lisa saw an advertisement for iPhone, and approached O2 for a phone to try to use with Gracie, to see if her picture vocabulary could be transferred.
She then sought out an iPhone developer: Steve Troughton-Smith who converted their working prototype into a single application with the added ability to put a row of pictures together on screen in order to make a sentence. Steve listened to how Grace had been using the phone and created exactly what was needed.
Gracie was now able to request her preferences on the phone by size, shape and color. Steve also integrated the photo aspect into the App - after Gracie took the phone and tried to take a photo independently one day.
The main benefits of the new app are that it is simple and works in real time on any iPhone or iTouch. It can be customised instantly to the individual using their picture and photo vocabulary and the iPhone is compact but can hold hundreds of images.
Adding new images and sharing them with all users is simple and instant, and this encourages consistency in language development.
The app once created was then loaded onto a further 3 phones donated by O2 for testing with several other children in Saplings Rathfarnham.
The trial was supervised and implemented by our qualified Senior Tutors and overseen by our Director of Education. This ensured that data was taken and measured against the existing communication used by the pupils, and improvements noted.
O2’s charity of choice,Irish Autism Action, includes Saplings Rathfarnham as a Centre of excellence as a school for autistic children.
In addition to providing funding, O2 supports IAA in a number of ways, including employee fundraising initiatives, customer fundraising initiatives, employee volunteering and in this case equipment for improving the potential of all people with autism.
Anne-Marie Donovan, Director of Education at Saplings Rathfarnham said: "The grace app trials have been very successful for the children here in Saplings and this app will have endless possibilities for so many individuals. We are delighted to have been a part of the development the Grace app, Congratulations to Lisa for envisioning such a brilliant technological tool for our children"
Communications Minister Eamon Ryan, speaking during a visit to the School said “The potential of new technology is limitless, constrained only by our imaginations. I congratulate Lisa and wish her well in her continuing work.”
The new app is now available in the official iPhone App Store. It will retail at €29.99 for up to five users, to facilitate family members accessing the app