YOUR HEALTH: Helping voiceless children speak

ORLANDO, Florida – "This is something that calms her down."

Music and dance are soothing to four year old Anna Stinson.  Anna has autism and has not formed many words.

"I'd see the pain in her eyes," said her mother, Angelique Hall.  "Because she's literally trying to tell her mommy something and she knows her mommy doesn't understand."

But for the past few months, Angelique has opened a window into Anna's world using a specially designed app that displays images that are personal to her.

Livox is a new app developed five years ago.  It allows for easy communication between caregivers and people with special needs, like autism or cerebral palsy, who have trouble verbally communicating.  It can be adjusted based on a persons needs, with simple pictures, words, colors, and lighting, organized by categories to assist a person based on what they are looking to communicate.

Anna often repeats the words she`s learned on the device.  Angelique says in several months, her daughter has gone from one word to short phrases.

Brazilian engineer Carlos Pereira created Livox to communicate with his daughter Clara who was born with cerebral palsy.

"Livox means liberty through voice," he explained.

It is available on the Google Play Store for $250. The Livox team of engineers is currently working off of a $550,000 grant from Google to improve the new technology even further.

"We have a deep understanding of the needs of people with disabilities and how to transform those needs into software," says Periera.

Livox has more than 20,000 users in Brazil.  Now, Florida Hospital in Orlando has partnered with Periera to test the system with their pediatric rehab patients.

"It provided access to a group of patients who weren't getting it because of the cost and because of the types of tools available in that space," said Ashley Simmons, director of Innovation Development at Florida Hospital.

Periera says because Livox is considered an alternative communication device, it`s important that families work in consultation with their speech therapists when using it.

Angelique Hall hopes the hands-on touch and talk technique will make all the difference for Anna.

STANDARD TREATMENT: There are various options for communicating with someone with special needs. Whether it`s text to speech or eye tracking technology, using a voice synthesizer or sign language, sometimes rudimentary forms of body language, most people can somewhat communicate even if they are nonverbal. Augmentative and alternative communication or AAC is a blanket term used to describe these methods of communication, which do not involve direct speech. They are comprised of low-tech forms of communication like sign language, gesturing, and manual language boards as well as high-tech assistive devices such as touch screens, speech-generating systems, electronic keyboards and even iPads or iPhones. Some of these devices vary in pricing and accessibility, and can be easy or difficult to use/learn depending on the method and person.  (Source: http://www.cerebralpalsy.org/information/communication/communicating-effectively)

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.comor Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.