Even if you’ve only followed autism in the headlines for a short time, you’ve likely discovered that a good percentage of autistic people are non-verbal, meaning they don’t communicate through spoken word.
Some do nothing, some dwell on what could have caused a child to become truly speechless, but one British father decided to create a software program to help his son communicate. Speaks4Me is compatible with Windows from XP onward, and plans are underway to sell a software-only platform and a version for gaming consoles and mobile devices. As of now, Speaks4Me is only available through a touch-screen media player. The program works by dragging and dropping images from one area of the screen to another. When a sentence is complete, the user presses “verbalize” to have the computer program audibly repeat what the user wants to say. Stephen Lodge, the designer of the software, believes the program would also benefit stroke survivors who can no longer speak.
The fact that Speaks4Me could benefit several communities of disability makes the story noteworthy. There’s also a secondary message of how addressing issues of a disability versus gloating about them can lead to real changes in the way people handle those who fall outside the neurotypical realm. The article also highlights a rare connection between autism and technology. Often, technology is mentioned only when vaccinations are included in the article’s storylines (and that’s a stretch in terms of defining technology). However, the last instance of technology relating to autism on this blog wasn’t that long ago, when I discussed how movie theaters were offering autism-friendly screenings.
Speaking of screens, this program stands to have a very good chance of success because of the visual nature of the program. Verbal or not, autistic people are often visual learners. They enjoy repetitive tasks because they’ve observed and memorized them. They use visual images to understand messages because it requires little or no interpretation (live sports coverage is a sightly heaven if there’s an interest in athletics). Users can quickly associate images with words or phrases on Speaks4Me, which also could spark a creative surge beyond using a computer to speak.
The United Kingdom will remain a fruitful source for autism stories, but don’t be surprised if you see a report or two on this software pop up in the states, especially if the software itself can be sold for installation on our home computers. If successful, expect at least a possibility of a cross-platform version for Mac compatibility. In the whirlwind of autism, technology will constantly remain a bright spot, offering hope that otherwise may not exist.