We developed app2vox as an alternative communication system as a way to enhance interaction for non-verbal people. Communication plays a vital role in daily life, in fact some people think it is as important as breathing! It not only helps to spread knowledge and information between people, but it is also the foundation of human relationships. As you can see then, communication is really important. So imagine how difficult it is for those people who find it challenging – for example, people who have been diagnosed with autism. We developed app2vox as an alternative communication system as a way to enhance interaction for non-verbal people. What is autism? The National Autistic Society defines autism as: "a lifelong, developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them." What this basically means is that they view the world in a different way to other people. It is not a disease and it cannot be cured, and it is what is termed as a spectrum condition meaning that people who are diagnosed as autistic may have the same difficulties, but they will be affected by them in different ways. What are the signs of autism? One of the main signs of autism is that those who have been diagnosed with autism often find it hard to communicate and also have problems with social interaction. Diagnosis is usually made before the child is three if they not babbling or making other vocal sounds. Other signs can include having difficulty with keeping eye contact, a lack of awareness or interest in other children, and finding it hard to understand other people's feelings. If you have any concerns about your child's development then you should talk to your health visitor or your Doctor. You could also talk to your child's nursery or school and discuss your concerns. Understanding how autistic people communicate? As we have said before, many people who are on the autism spectrum have difficulty interacting with other people. A lot of parents may ask 'what are the signs my autistic child will talk?' But it isn't as straightforward as this, some autistic children are delayed in the development of their speech and some autistic adults may not use speech at all. This is not to say that they will not communicate with you at all, they may: Cry Use challenging behaviour Use gestures Look at the object that they want Reach for things rather than asking for them Repeat the words that you or other people say to them Taking you by the hand to the object they want What are the stages of communication? The Hanen Programme, a not-for-profit charitable organisation dedicated to improving the language and literacy skills of young children, has defined the four stages of communication as: Own agenda stage – communication in this stage is mainly pre-intentional as the child will tend to play alone and not be interested in others. Requester stage – the child starts to realise their actions have an effect on other people, and will start to communicate their wants and will pull other children into their game Early communicator stage – interactions with other children will increase in length and become more intentional and they will begin to engage in two-way interaction Partner stage – the child will be using speech and be able to carry out a simple conversation. How to support communication development There are ways that you can help to support the communication development of children, and adults, who have been diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum, and these include: Following their lead – try not to direct the communication in any way but follow their lead instead, as this will mean that they are more likely to focus on the same things as you and pay attention to the activity Use single words – in the early stages keep things simple and just use single words. You could try labelling their favourite food and repeating the word to them when they reach for it. Don't do everything for them – it can be tempting to do things for people when they struggle to communicate it for themselves, but if you constantly do things for them it means they are losing out on an opportunity to communicate and ask for help. Make sure you are face-to-face – if you bring yourself down to the child's level and make sure you are facing them, then they can see your facial expressions which can help them to learn. Use imitation – Begin to imitate any words or actions the child uses as this will usually cause them to pay attention to you. They may even begin to start imitating words or actions you use as well which will open up other communication avenues Try visual supports – using visual supports can be a great way to increase the child's understanding and help increase communication Using Alternative Communication Support Alternative communication supports, such as app2vox, can help people on the autistic spectrum with their communication in a social way. If they have no spoken language then they can express themselves by using challenging behaviour which can be difficult to deal with. Using an alternative communication device offers them another way of communicating. The app2vox app uses the picture exchange communication system (PECS) alongside clear captions and illustrations. PECS was developed in America in 1985, and it is based on a book entitled 'Verbal Behaviour' by B. F. Skinner and it consists of six stages. The stages of PECS that relate to app2vox How to communicate – Children learn to exchange single pictures for activities or items that they want Distance & Persistence – Children are using single pictures still but now use them with different people in different places and across distances as well. Picture Discrimination – Children learn to choose between two pictures to ask for what they want. Stages one to three of PECS are covered in our app with the use of clear universal illustrations. The app2vox app also allows users to take photographs of the childs favourite items and store them along with their name so that you can personalise the communication to the child. Sentence Structure – Users can start to build their own sentences by adding picture cards to the phrase bar – such as 'I want a' How app2vox can help app2vox was developed in association with Autism Together with the aim of helping autistic and non-verbal people to communicate and also to enhance their daily interaction as well. Autism Together is based on the Wirral, but provides support all over the UK to people with autism and their families. One of their main values is to be person-centred in order to take positive actions that effect people's lives. We wanted our app to be a more autism-friendly app than was currently available on the market, and we wanted it to be free so that it was accessible to all. Once we knew what people on the autistic spectrum needed from the app, we talked to CCL Digital who custom wrote the software for us. It really was a team effort, just like caring for a person who is on the autistic spectrum can be. If you have any questions about our leading app, please call our dedicated and friendly team today on 0161 974 7400 or use the contact us form on our website and someone will be in touch. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.