Revolutionising assisted communications for speech-impaired and developmentally delayed children

15 November 2013

The  Institute in conjunction with software development studio Revolutionary Concepts have developed a world first application that empowers non-verbal children and teens to communicate.

The aacorn app is the result of three years of intense research; its design was based on research done at the Institute working with children with communication problems and developmental challenges.

Professor Sheena Reilly, who is Associate Director of Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and head of childhood language research explains, "Having worked with children with developmental disabilities for over 30 years I could see there was a huge gap in these types of devices and methods with children.  I was also frustrated that programs and devices didn't take advantage of new technologies." 

 "I was really excited to be involved in the creation of the aacorn app. Aacorn is not only visually appealing and easy to use for children; it also incorporates the latest technology and really engages the child.  As I understand the challenges faced by these kids, I wanted to make sure we developed an app that would give the children a 'voice' but be something they would want to use as well."

With aacorn the team went back to the drawing board to develop an alternative that would enable children to express themselves more freely.

Aacorn founder and creator Wayne Whatford describes the innovation, "Our findings showed that the decades old system of offering a handful of words via a grid of folders and stick figure drawings very often prevents children from being able respond as quickly as they are actually capable of."

"Our approach was to instead create an entirely new solution that has the abilities and needs of each individual child at the heart of its design, and the result is a unique 'word tree' arrangement of branching pathways with an artificial intelligence that actually learns and adapts to each child's unique communication style."

The predictive capability makes words easier to find by presenting them as they are needed, eliminating the need for hunting and pecking and empowers previously non-verbal children to speak both simple and complex sentences, while also encouraging children to expand their vocabulary.

The app is now available on iTunes