By Nicole Hegewald
Lisa Domican has two children with autism. Sitting on a bus in Dublin, Ireland, she was struck by an innovative idea. Staring at an upcoming iPhone advertisement, Lisa was intrigued about creating an app that could be used by her children. Lisa’s daughter, Grace, 10, is nonverbal and uses Picture Exchange Communication System (Pecs) to create sentences. Her idea was to create an iPhone app that would work like a Pecs book.
Steven Troughton-Smith, a student at Dublin City University and software developer for the iPhone, has created a number of bestselling applications. When Lisa contacted him he took the description of what she wanted and turned it into a working version of a Pecs book, currently being called Grace.
The Pecs system allows kids to put sentences together using a book of laminated pictures attached to a board by Velcro. Troughton-Smith developed the application to replicate the look of the book. So, older children can use the iPhone exactly as they would use the Pecs as opposed to carrying around an impractical book.
“You are constantly having to replace loose cards and make new ones,” said Lisa. “With the iPhone, the screen looks like a Pecs book. It’s ok to have a four-year-old walking around with a Pecs book; it’s not ok for a 10 or 12-year-old. They’re very personal to the kids; it’s their voice. The [Pecs books] really stand out, whereas the iPhone is discreet and always there.”
Five devices in three schools are equipped with the app as a test to see if other children, parents and tutors can use it easily. If all goes well it will be submitted to and made available through the iPhone App Store.