Application for Autism: Niki Talk
Niki Talk is an Augmentative and Alternative Communication application for iPad, iPhone and Android devices. This app can help children with autism, cerebral palsy, down syndrome, stroke or any disability that impairs the ability to communicate.
This project was originated from Alessandro La Rocca, an italian software engineer, for his daughter Nicoletta (Niki), 8 years old autistic and non verbal. In collaboration with Stefania La Rosa, a therapist specialized in AAC and assistive technologies, he searched for a solution to allow his daughter to communicate effectively.
Nicoletta had already learned to use the PECS book. At first stage taking just the pictogram of what she wanted, afterwards creating simple sentences. Considering even her ability to play games with the father’s computer and smartphone, it was clear that a touch device would have been the perfect upgrade of the PECS book, adding speech capabilities and overcoming physical limitations (more than 50 cartoons are not easy to dispose on the velcro strips).
They started purchasing and trying some of the best selling applications available on the market. But after the initial enthusiasm, they realized that most of these applications were not easy to use as they should be, and some key characteristics were not present.
At this time Alessandro had got the idea to create a new solution, taking in count both the social and the therapeutic intents. This project should be profitless and have a cost effectively price, needed to finance development and support. As parent himself, Alessandro considered very useful to have the same application and contents on more than one device in order to never have to do without it. And, most important, without additional costs. Furthermore, the Android version allowing the adoption of cheap products.
Stefania designed the main features of the app, based on her daily experiences with children: extreme usability, a familiar PECS look to make the change easier, the message bar, a drawing board to replace temporarily missing symbols, and a lot of customizable options…
Finally, parents did the rest. Through the Facebook page liked and supported the project even suggesting new features, mostly implemented immediately.
All this is now Niki Talk, an application available on the App Store (for iOS devices), Google Play (for Android) and Amazon (for Kindle Fire). Niki Talk plays an album, that is a collection of pictures (including text and speech) costomized to meet the child preferences. Pictures are organized by categories (verbs, foods, drinks, places, toys, …) and the child taps pictures to indicate the desired activities and construct messages.
In order to create and publish a personal album, an internet connection and a subscription to the Niki Talk Designer is required. The Designer allows to easily build own album using favorite symbols and text-to-speech that supports 31 languages and 70 voices.
The app is available for free on the App Store (for iOS devices), Google Play (for Android) and Amazon (for Kindle Fire). By this way, the app can be downloaded on all the devices the family owns and playing the same album. Parents can even collaborate sharing the account on the Designer with therapist, teacher or anyone caring for the child.
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