Aussie Mum Wins With Autism App For iPhone

  • App developed by mother with autistic children
  • Available for iPad, iPhone, iPod
  • Retails for $45

Irish-based Australian mother of two, Lisa Domican, recently launched a new iPhone app that she hopes will help children with autism better develop their communications skills.

Domican, who is originally from Melbourne, is the mother of two children with autism, Liam, now 13 and Grace, 11. Knowing the hardships of trying to teach children with the condition, Lisa was inspired not only by her kids, but by how technology could provide another avenue of trying to reach children.

“Liam learned to talk using Picture Exchange when he was four, while Grace was functionally non-verbal until the age of almost eight,” said Domican. “Grace used traditional picture exchange books for seven years until [I] saw an advertisement for iPhone on the side of a bus.”

To Domican, the main screen of the device in the ad, which featured a range of colourful app 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 app with Steve Troughton-Smith an up-and-coming games developer.

The new app is designed to be used in a similar way to how the existing autism learning programme – the Picture Exchange Communication System – is used by parents and tutors; allowing 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. Domican says that althoughthe existing system is very effective in the home or classroom, it is not very portable for everyday situations outside of these settings.

“The main benefits of the new app are that it is simple and works in real time; it can be customised to the individual child using their picture and photo vocabulary,” says Domicon. “The iPhone is compact but can hold hundreds of images; and adding new images and sharing them with the child’s parent / carer / tutor is simple and instant which also encourages consistency in language development for the child.”

Domican gives Grace as an example, who has 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. Domican 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.

Irish Communications Minister Eamon Ryan, speaking during a visit to the Saplings School in Rathfarnham said “The potential of new technology is limitless, constrained only by our imaginations. I congratulate Lisa and wish her well in her continuing work.”

After a trip the Irish Web Awards this year, the Grace App has now been recognised on the world stage. It has won the United Nations World Summit – Mobile Award for m-Learning and Education. The World Summit Award Mobile (WSA-Mobile) is a global initiative to select and promote the world’s best in mobile content and innovative applications within the frame work of the United Nations.

Grace App was also chosen by a jury from the best mobile contents and applications out of over 400 nominations from nearly 100 countries.

The new app is available in the official iPhone App Store. It retails at around $45 and can be installed on up to 30 devices per iTunes download. It works on the oldest iPhones and iPod Touch and was re-coded to suit iPad and for Retina Display on iPhone and iPod Touch 4.