The number of children diagnosed as autistic has been growing. The reasons as to why are unclear: is the disease simply more prevalent than it was, are newer definitions of the condition including a wider spectrum of children, or both?
As numbers rise, and technology advances, designers have been looking for ways to help autistic children communicate. The focus has been especially on those with severe speech impairment. For instance, therapists have been experimenting with iPad applications that focus on improving communication, behavior modeling and activity planning.
Most communication systems that have been developed in the past are text or voice based. This is where Talkbox, a new concept that is being developed, seeks to change the current methods of communication, delivering a personalized visual language to the kids using it.
Talkbox's aim is to facilitate an autistic child to interact and communicate with others in a language that they know and understand. To do this, Talkbox will take the repetitive behaviors seen in autistic patients and create an organized "connection list" as well as a time or place based dictionary and vocabulary.
The concept features a speech processing engine that works with a system that finds and recognizes different objects. It uses a multitouch screen for animation playback, and a simple button to take pictures of things and people that surround the child.
A panel displays photos of people a child may need to communicate with, and the child can communicate from Talkbox to a smartphone via the Internet, and the phones can be used to respond by accessing the vocabulary online.
The images taken by the child can be printed out to serve as what Talkbox calls "story makers," to help the child connect the images they see. The creators of this system see this as a way to let children interact directly with others by building stories.
Talkbox uses this "visual vocabulary" to connect the child to others, but also to help the parents of autistic children form a new sort of community. They can upload videos and images of the new vocabulary to the Talkbox website to help connect to and learn from each other.