Why did you decide to create the Grace App?
I discovered that picture exchange communication was the best way to prompt and reward independent communication for both my children with Autism. I could observe their interests and needs, then create a picture with which I could prompt them to communicate their wishes and get the reward.
With my son, I could model speech with the images which he imitated and within three months, he started talking independently.
With my daughter, it took longer, and I had to create and store over 400 pictures in her vocabulary file before she began trying to imitate the words.
I wanted to keep encouraging communication but needed to make it easier to bring the pictures everywhere. In 2008, I had the idea to create what became the Grace App.
What is the concept behind the Grace App?
Picture exchange communication is a very effective way to develop independent language as with practice; the user learns to attempt their vocalizations with the images.
The goal of the Grace App is to keep building social interaction with the user taking control of what they want to say.
The App does not work unless the user finds and engages with a listener, to share the picture-sentence they have created.
The App ensures the user engages with his or her listener to have the sentence “read” and then gives the user the opportunity to model the words hence rewarding the user’s communication attempts.
This is an important feature of the Gracie App that Talking Apps don’t do!
I understand your kids use the Grace App.
Gracie goes to a special school, where they do cook once a week. Gracie likes making the rice crispy buns because they are made of chocolate.
However, the idea is that the children will learn to try new foods, so the recipe changes every week.
One day they were making chocolate brownies in the classroom, and the tutor working with Gracie was surprised to find that Gracie did not want to co-operate with measuring out the ingredients, as she usually likes to do.
She kept trying to prompt her, but Gracie picked up her i-Phone and asked for “kitchen” where the breakfast foods were kept.
The tutor thought it would help to see what she wanted, so together they went downstairs to the kitchen. Gracie opened the Grace App, took a photograph of the Rice Crispie breakfast cereal then put it on her sentence, “I want, Rice Crispies, Chocolate, Bowl” – She wanted to make rice crispies buns AGAIN! The tutor thought the communication was very effective, and let her make them, and EAT them of course.
How can the Grace App help non-verbal travelers with autism communicate?
Grace App is intended to be the “voice” of the user so they can control it to say what they want.
The App can be totally customised using the camera or by searching and saving images from the internet so the user can request whatever they want, wherever they are.
So if they are in a restaurant, they can request exactly the food they want.
Caregivers can use these to explain where they are going and what will happen first or next to reduce anxiety.
If the person is unwell and needs to visit a doctor – they can use the “My Body” folder to say where they have pain. This can be helpful if the Doctor does not speak your language.
And of course, it has the most important picture for traveling “I want a toilet”!
Any plans to add features and make it available in other languages?
Currently, the Grace App is used in over 40 countries around the world.
Picture exchange is universal, and I have used it myself to go shopping for clothes in Spain; I just showed the shop-assistant the photo of a dress, and the number “12” for the size I wanted.
As of February 28th, 2013, the App was updated to be used in 7 languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Danish, Arabic or Brazilian Portuguese. Now with the upgraded version the App can be switched back and forth to each language without losing any saved content.
Lisa and The Grace App have been awarded some international awards including the United Nations World Summit Award for Moblie Learning and Education and the David Manley Award for Best Social Entrepreneur in 2012. Lisa was also recognised as 1 of “100 unseen women who change the world” by One World Action in 2011.