Oliver Wendt, an assistant professor of speech, language and hearing sciences who worked with the students developing the, said the app, called SPEAKall!, allowed the children to construct sentences by choosing photos and graphic symbols.
The app speaks the sentence, which allows a child to communicate a thought and helps a child learn to talk. Available since November on iTunes, the free app has been downloaded almost 3,300 times, Wendt said.
With the app, a child could take an iPad into a fast-food restaurant, construct a sentence saying, "I want a cheeseburger," then play it for the order-taker. Hearing how the sentence sounds can help the child develop his or her own speech and language skills, Wendt explained.
"Fifty percent of children with severe autism are non-verbal, meaning they don't develop speech or language skills needed to communicate," Wendt said in a statement. "One strategy to get the children started with functional communication is a low-technology approach where they learn to pick up a graphic symbol card and exchange it for a desired item. The last couple of years, we have been looking at how to move children on to more sophisticated solutions, such as speech-generating devices that facilitate natural speech and language development."
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