From our CEO:

Many parents like me were told that if our children - diagnosed with autism and speech delays - didn’t acquire speech by age 4 or 5, most likely they never would. Needless to say, devastating news.

As parents desperately seeking solutions, we were taught that the most conventional means to teach nonverbal children to communicate were via the following methods:

- Picture Exchange Communication Systems (PECS): The child hands a picture to you to get something he or she wants

- Sign Language: Self-explanatory

- Augmentative Communication Devices (AAC): Heavy, portable computer with proprietary software that generates speech when the child hits a series of buttons

These techniques have their strengths and weaknesses. For me, I found them to be cumbersome and unnecessarily time consuming. Yes, they have certainly helped some kids learn to communicate, but they do not motivate the children to use their own verbal voices.

The most effective method to teach a child to speak and communicate – I suggested – would be to pair verbal speech training alongside these systems. Why not get the best results from using both methods in tandem?

I was met with a lot of resistance and eye-rolling that drove me mad. Some of it was understandable given budget cuts and time constraints of educators, but I kept insisting.

I couldn’t figure out why it was automatically assumed that our kids would never use verbal language to communicate, and I refused to accept the declarations that my son would never speak.

As it turned out, in 2013 researchers from the Kennedy Krieger Institute's Center for Autism and Related Disorders and John Hopkins University School of Medicine conducted a study involving 535 children, ages 8 to 17, with autism and severe speech delays.

And they found that nearly half became fluent speakers. This amazing study further fueled my journey to help my son practice his speech to communicate.

As of this year, one in every 45 children born are being diagnosed with autism. 25% of those are labeled nonverbal.

With 33.5 million children being diagnosed worldwide every year with autism and severe speech delays, there is huge market potential for technological innovation.

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Palmer loves his iPad, as do most children, but children with autism in particular. I was astounded that with his lack of interest for most activities, how motivated he was to play with the iPad. There is something about the reliable and consistent feedback from a computer that is so appealing to him.

I thought that if there was a speech activated app that would require him to use his voice, he might be motivated to speak for fun, independently and regularly. So I founded Appropo Software to develop educational game apps for my son.

I am developing educational game apps that use speech recognition software with the intent to give incentive to individuals with speech delays, and others, to speak for fun and gain practice using their voices.

Early language learners follow the same journey.

Also, through my journey, I learned that the same early language learning techniques that are encouraged between parents and their babies are the same techniques I use for continued practice with my son.

The synergies between these two groups are unquestionable.

* * *

My handsome son is now a teenager, and because I did not give up hope, he has several phrases and a growing vocabulary that has opened up his world.

He can say he’s hungry, wants water, wants a hug or a tickle, wants to go home, needs to go to the bathroom—pretty critical, we can all agree. For him to use his own voice to get what he needs, and the positive affect it has on his life and those around him, is much too overwhelming to capture here. Let’s just say… it’s game changing.

We need options for our caregivers, educators, speech therapists and parents to practice with our children early on in their lives.

Everybody deserves to communicate.

Nea Hanscomb

CEO & Founder of Appropo Software LLC

Producer of Sayin‘ It Sam™