How a Mother Started a Start-up in Silicon Valley

The first word I taught my 4-year old son was “bubble.” No small feat since he has severe autism.

I was told that if Palmer did not speak by the age of 5, he probable never would.

Palmer had been in a home-based, intensive early intervention program since he was diagnosed at the age of three. Over that year we had a revolving door of young therapists coming to deliver 35 hours per week of highly structured Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy.

Using ABA therapy I learned to withhold a preferred item from my son until I gained his cooperation. That’s how I taught him to say “bubble.” I would hold up the bottle and ask Palmer if he’d like some bubbles. When he started to imitate me, I rewarded him by blowing bubbles… and blowing and blowing and blowing until I nearly passed out.

And Palmer said, “bubble.” Verbal imitation worked! It was a moment I'll never forget. 

Needless to say, I was prepared to blow many bubbles for my son.

Armed with Palmer’s progress, I suggested to his therapists that they begin a verbal imitation program. His accomplishment proved to me that if he used his voice more, he could better communicate with the world around him.

Their jaws dropped when I suggested it. They looked at me like I was crazy, or, they pitied me for thinking that such therapy would work. 

That’s How It Continued to Go for Another 10 Years 

Many educators and speech pathologists argued with me that augmentative communication devices were better for Palmer’s therapy. 

But these devices replace speech. I didn't request that his therapists drop the commonly-accepted forms of therapy they were using: I asked them to augment his learning by pairing with his speech.

It seemed obvious to me that my son could, and would, use his voice. So I was not deterred. My perseverance got my son kicked out of a couple highly-sought-after schools. (That’s another blog.)

My Son Loves the iPad

By the age of eight, Palmer learned to play the iPad and couldn’t put it down. Before that I tried to get him excited about the desktop computer and mouse, hoping he would take to it. This was a battle filled with cuts and bruises until he began independently playing his games with delight.

I was amazed at how readily he took to the iPad when he lacked interest in most other activities. There is something about the iPad that captivated his attention. I sat down with this tool and started searching for games that used speech recognition software (SR) that would entice him to use his voice.

There were no such games. All I could find was speech-to-text type games. That would be great if he could speak. And there were text-to-speech ones too. Well, he couldn’t write much less type so that wouldn’t work either.

My mother always said if you want something done right you have to do it yourself.

So I Started My Own Start-Up 

I started my own start-up to build fun and educational apps to motivate my son and other children to speak, using speech recognition technology.

I have 30 years experience in graphic design, illustration, website design and marketing. I live in San Francisco - in the heart of Silicon Valley - where technological innovations are imagined, and then realized. I've read and studied autism and worked alongside speech pathologists and other professionals in the field for over 10 years.

The Future of Speech-Recognition Software is Wide Open

I believe SR technology can be used to motivate children to use their voices. I am on the vanguard of using this technology  that will help motivate children to speak.

Sayin' It Sam is my newest app and it's set to go-live soon. Here's a peek at a bit of the animation. Speech recognition integration is happening as we speak: 

My journey started three years ago. I turned tragedy into triumph -- though I had no idea it would consume my life. But it has been, and continues to be, a blast.

It’s scary, risky, adventurous, mind-numbing, exhausting, expensive, exhilarating and more. Helping kids like my son will be the most rewarding achievement ever.



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