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Who's Behind iasku? And What's It All About?

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Amy Cummins BSc (Hons), Reg MRCSLT

I am a Specialist Speech and Language Therapist and I work in a Child Development Centre with children with complex communication needs. I have a special interest in working with pre-school children with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder.
A registered member of the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists (RCSLT) and Health Professions Council (HPC)

Alison Winterton C.Psychol, BSc (Hons), MSc (Ed Psych), PGCE

I am a Chartered Child Psychologist specialising in the assessment and support of pre-school children with an Autistic Spectrum Disorder. I primarily work in a Child Development Centre within the NHS.
A registered member of the British Psychological Society (Division of Educational and Child Psychology) and the Health Professions Council (HPC)


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Reason for designing app

iasku is the outcome of our experience teaching children with ASD to communicate. Children with ASD need opportunities to communicate purposefully across all environments. Until now we have relied heavily on the use of paper symbols as a means of encouraging children to let those around them know what they want. We have supported parents and teachers in encouraging children with ASD to select symbols from a folder and to exchange them with an adult as the basis of communication.

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Symbol exchange has proved to be an effective communication tool for many children. However our experience tells us that creating opportunities for truly purposeful communication using this system is difficult in all environments. For example, communication can be limited when children lose symbols or the appropriate symbol is not readily available. In addition, taking a large folder of symbols from one room to another can be a nuisance, never mind taking it out to a cafe or the park!

Over the last few years we have been struck by how motivated children are by technology. We have observed parents using smart devices such as the iPad and iPhone to engage and reward their children. This led us to consider using a more 'high tech' approach to encourage communication. Unfortunately, nothing on the market fitted exactly what we wanted for our children, i.e. an app that was motivating and easy to use, allowed them to communicate for a range of needs and to communicate across a range of environments.

We decided to create our own app

We wanted iasku to maintain the principles of good communication – an interaction between two people. Effective communication is an exchange between two people; this includes making a request and receiving a response. Paper-based systems encourage children to find a person with whom to communicate, therefore teaching and developing spontaneous interaction and communication without needing to wait for verbal prompts. We wanted iasku to follow similar principles and did not want a child with ASD to become adept at communicating with paper symbols only to lose this with the introduction of a smart device.

Apps currently exist which offer children with complex difficulties opportunities to communicate. However, nothing on the market encourages spontaneous communication for children with ASD. Some apps enable the user to select symbols and make a sentence, possibly even using voice output to say the words. However, nothing in the app reminds the child to direct their communication to a person – it is too easy for the child to simply read the sentence out loud or to press a button and allow a synthetic voice to do it for them. While this might work if a helpful adult happens to be nearby, it does not work if they are out of earshot!

Some apps are also too complex, for example allowing the child to select from a vast array of symbols. Others allow the child to make nonsensical requests such as 'I want drink trampoline' or to construct grammatically incorrect sentences e.g. 'I want jumper red.' These apps eliminate two-way interaction and spontaneous communication.

iasku is the future for streamlining spontaneous two-way communication.