I created these applications to allow my daughter Nicoletta (Niki), autistic and nonverbal, to communicate effectively. My name is Alessandro La Rocca, I am a software developer living in Italy.
Niki Talk was born in the hot summer of 2012…
Nicoletta had already learned to use the PECS book. At first stage with very simple requests, picking a symbol from the velcro strips and giving this to the interlocutor. Afterwards she started to create simple sentences (verb and object) moving more symbols on the horizontal velcro strip.
Nicoletta handled very well my smartphone, and smashing the ants with her fingers was the favorite game… This was a demonstration that gestures of these devices are natural and immediate, especially for children.
It was clear that a touch device would have been the perfect upgrade of the PECS book, adding speech capabilities, overcoming physical limitations, and eliminating the need to print and laminate.
In collaboration with Stefania La Rosa, a therapist specialized in the AAC and assistive technologies, we evaluated several solutions on the market. On impulse I even purchased two of the most popular apps, spending a few hundred dollars. Unfortunately the initial enthusiasm died away with the practice, because of the poor usability or the lack of important features.
It was then that I decided to create a brand new application, taking in count both social and functional aspects. The app should have been cheaper, at a fair price just to finance development, maintenance and third-party services (text-to-speech and cloud computing).
As a parent myself, I considered very useful to have the same application and its contents on more than one device (tablet, smartphone) in order to never have to do without it. And most important, without additional costs. Moreover an online service to design own album without the need to put the hands on the device. This would allow to work on the boards even when the child was in school, and in collaboration with therapists and teachers.
Stefania designed the main features of the app, based on her daily experiences with children: extreme usability, a strip to compose the sentence, a familiar PECS look to make the change easier, a drawing board to replace temporarily missing symbols, and a lot of customizable options…
The story could end here, but leaving out one of the most important aspect of the project, that is the social aspect. By means of the Internet, particularly the Facebook page, parents and therapists from all over the world, with their enthusiasm and valuable suggestions, contributed greatly to the development of the Niki apps.
Thanks for your invaluable support.
Alessandro La Rocca