Laos Autism Talks
In 2015 and 2016, The Association for Autism in Laos developed an application – ‘Laos Autism Talks’, an app which enhances communication between people with autism or communication difficulties and non-disabled people. The target users were initially people with Autism spectrum disorder, but it can also be used by: People with down syndrome, people with hearing impairment, persons with communication difficulties, people recovering from stroke, people with acquired brain injury or even people wanting to learn Lao language.
“Children with ASD to be able to live a fulfilling life in an understanding environment”
“Give children with ASD a voice”
Many people with autism do not develop speech, and often they are unable to express their needs. This leads to, frustration and, as an alternative to words, they may use behaviors that may be considered naughty or rude by other children or people.
As a result, parents often do not take their children into the community and children with ASD are often excluded from school or participation in community activities.
The Vientiane Autism Centre (VAC) arranged workshops inviting German experts to introduce the staff and children to Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC). Best practice and research shows using electronic apps is particularly engaging for young children with autism. This method uses pictures to help children to communicate their needs and desires: for instance the child can select a picture to ask for a toy, some food or explain an activity that s/he wants to do.
Following the workshop, a research and development plan was designed to outline the app development, training of staff and teaching the children how to use the app. Many meetings were held to choose key Lao words and related pictures.
Each word was then recorded and a word and sound linked to a button. The app was piloted and tested.
Parents and teachers attended education sessions on how to use Lao Autism Talks. The children with ASD required regular practice each day to be able to access and use the app. The parents also worked with the teachers to develop a customized word bank from the 1500 words that are preloaded into the app.
During the pilot phase, modeling by teachers, parents and professionals as well as other communication partners was needed to teach the children with ASD to use the app
Users are able to customize the dictionary by selecting from the 1500 word library organized into 12 categories i.e. About Me, Actions, Family, Leisure, Drink and Snacks for easy use. Users touch a picture to highlight the image and place it into a sentence slot and can press the speaker button to hear the words. The app is preloaded with a starting dictionary of 175 words to touch and talk.
Lao Autism Talks is a wonderful example of functioning communication and cooperation. AFA partnered with many different groups to make the development of this App a success Lao Autism Talks through cooperation with:.
- An Australian Volunteer for International Development (AVID) who supported the development of the pictures and collaborated with the AFA leadership team to create the word bank. Pictures needed to be hand coloured to represent Lao skin tones, photographs of local foods and words were taken and symbols developed for the word bank
- Thai trainers who shared their experiences in using apps and assessing children’s skills and communication needs
- TRUE Group, a telecommunication public company Thailand, who founded the True Autistic Thai Center, with the aim to improve the quality of life and occupational potential by using its communication technology and innovations designed for people with disabilities provided 45 tablet computers for families with low income
- Lao IT Dev, a Lao company, who developed the software and programming for the app
Lao teachers at Vientiane Autism Center who were the first to make practical use of the app.
Success & Testimonials
The app has won a number of awards including first prize in the Lao ICT Awards aimed to promote creativity and innovation among Lao ICT companies as well as a silver medal at the ASEAN ICT Awards in Cambodia in November 2017 which aims to recognize the best ICT achievements among entrepreneurs across the ASEAN region
Statistics available on Google Play Store indicate the app has already been downloaded between 100 and 500 times.
Mother of a child with autism who is now 8 years old explained:
“My child rapidly understood the communication techniques and can now communicate using sentences. My child learns from the pictures in the app and uses it in his daily life routine: for example, he will press the word ‘alm giving’ every morning before we do it. After breakfast, he will also press the word ‘brush teeth’ then we go brush his teeth”
“I am so pleased because since we started using Lao Autism Talks and the other techniques that I learnt at the parents training, my child now goes to school for half a day every day.”
Bernard Franck, WEL-TEAM Technical Director, said, “The development of this communication app “made in Laos” is a great example of creative and innovative solutions that can be developed locally to help people with impairments to function better in their day to day life.”
Association for Autism (AFA)
Website – http://www.laoautism.org/
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/laoautism.laa/
App Downloadable at – https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=laoitdev.com.laoautism
Tel: (85621) 330409
Mobile:(856 20) 5523 1826