Mobile app helps autistic children communicate

By Brian Dolan

Proloquo2GoHeavy, expensive and huge text-to-speech machines may be a thing of the past for parents of autistic children or for families caring for a loved one with Lou Gehrig's Disease, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, ALS or who had suffered through a stroke. Mobile health applications are set to disintermediate the bulky text-to-speech machine market, according to a report in USA Today.

iPhone app developer and Penn State doctoral student Samuel Sennott created Proloquo2Go for anyone who wants a cheaper and easier way to convert text to speech. For the parents of one autistic child that the newspaper profiles, the app has enabled the family to communicate like never before -- the child even uses the app to communicate commands to his helper dog, Roscoe, now.

Sennott said that the iPhone and iPod Touch allow developers to democratize a system that has until now relied on expensive dedicated text-to-speech devices that were difficult to customize. At $149.99 Proloquo2Go may be one of the more expensive apps in the iTunes AppStore, but it is a far cry from the $8,000 to $10,000 legacy text-to-speech machines cost. Sennott did not disclose sales to date but he said they have been "extremely brisk."

Sennott believes that for an autistic child, talking to friends through the iPhone brings "this very hard-to-quantify cool factor."

Coolness aside, not everyone is onboard with the idea of autistic children speaking through iPhones: Ronald Leaf, director of Autism Partnership, prefers to help autistic children without gadgets.

"If we could get children to talk without using technology, that would be our preference," Leaf said.

For more on Proloquo2Go and iPhone apps for autistic children, check out the full report from USA Today.
Here's a video demo of Proloquo2Go in action.
Also, visit the Proloquo2Go website.

Photo Credit: Copyright 2009 Tommy Reynolds & Jaime Alvarez of Fat Bird Studios