Amazing Technology Animates Photos, Helping Kids with Autism Learn to Speak
Communication challenges are at the core of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). To tackle this challenge, iTherapy used the expertise of speech-language pathologists to design a communication app that is tailored to children and individuals with autism.
The most powerful aspect of InnerVoice App is the avatar-mediated communicative interaction, which allows users to see themselves speaking. Watching oneself perform speech movements can stimulate key neurological structures that enable imitation. Research shows that video self-modeling is an effective way to teach skills to people with autism -- possibly because it stimulates these structures called mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are key to learning pretty much any motor activity, including speech development. When users communicate with InnerVoice, they see themselves speaking clearly -- while, at the same time, being engaged.
Research shows that engagement is crucial to learning. When children on the spectrum learn -- they need to be engaged, but the trick is to find a way to make learning fun. Speech, for example, is a motoric activity that requires a lot of practice and repetition to master: this can be frustrating. And frustration interferes with learning. On the other hand, engagement activates reward centers in the brain, such as the dorsal striatum, which play crucial roles in learning. InnerVoice seeks to stimulate mirror neuron and dorsal striatum activity: the combination of which encourages imitation, increases engagement, and stimulates communication behaviors.
•"I've always had difficulty getting students on the spectrum to use their AAC systems. Using the 3D avatars, the puppy is the favorite, my students actually have fun communicating.... communication is supposed to be fun!"
In addition to 3D animated avatars, InnerVoice introduces a new level of prompting -- Remote Prompting (RP). InnerVoice is the first to incorporate RP as a technique to support communication and the acquisition of skills for individuals on the spectrum.
This technique allows learners to receive a prompt on their mobile device that guides them to the correct response. Using InnerVoice, prompts are sent via Bluetooth from the educator's device to the user's iPad to ensure the child will perform the correct skill in a natural environment and reduce the probability of errors and frustration.
•"Most importantly, remote prompting reduces confusing verbal explanations that interfere with learning complex communication-related concepts," said Matthew Guggemos, MS CCC-SLP, speech-language pathologist, co-developer, and winner of the 2013 Mensa Intellectual Benefits to Society Award.
From another perspective, though, InnerVoice's animated avatars serve as electronic diplomats -- which pique the interest of people with autism and, thus, stimulate dialogue between neurotypical and children with autism.
•"'Kudos to you for InnerVoice and [for introducing] a different paradigm for AAC apps! About time someone 'broke the mold,'" writes RJ Cooper developer of software and hardware products for persons with special needs.
For more information visit innervoiceapp.com.