Rushville Republican

Health

March 18, 2014

Purdue startup formed to help children, families affected by severe, nonverbal autism

WEST LAFAYETTE — SPEAK MODalities LLC is working to advance and commercialize a Purdue University developed technology to improve communication for children and families affected by severe, nonverbal autism.

The company’s technologies SPEAKall! and SPEAKmore! are iPad applications developed from research by Oliver Wendt, a Purdue assistant professor of speech, language and hearing sciences and educational studies who has worked with children diagnosed with autism for more than 20 years.

SPEAKall! is designed to help children with severe nonverbal autism by using photos and graphic symbols that represent what a child wishes to say and helps the child construct sentences from those images. SPEAKmore! is designed for children who have advanced beyond the initial app and now need to expand on vocabulary and complexity of messages.

“The app was launched in 2012 as an initial free version through iTunes and was quickly adopted by the autism as well as the augmentative and alternative communications communities,” said Wendt, who co-founded and serves as chief science officer for SPEAK MODalities. “Within a year the app was downloaded more than 10,000 times and proved to be successful for families and caregivers.”

It is estimated that up to 66 percent of the 2 million children diagnosed with autism are initially nonverbal and do not develop enough communication skills to meet daily communication needs.

“We are working to help these children and their families. The overwhelming success of the free app resulted in a demand for support and advanced features,” Wendt said. “We could not provide advanced support through the basic SPEAKall! program, so we started looking at other ways to meet this need.”

With guidance from the Purdue Foundry, the Entrepreneurial Leadership Academy and funding through the Purdue Innovation and Commercialization Center (ICC-IT) and the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization Trask Innovation Award, SPEAK MODalities was formed to further advance and commercialize the technology.

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