Special thanks to Henry K., developer of the iPad app SpeechBox, for joining us today and for sharing the inspiration behind his app …
Have you ever experienced a moment in your life that embarks you on a journey that seems scary, appears utterly challenging, and instills fear for where it may lead you? That’s exactly what I faced when I learned my son had apraxia. But, rather than just sit on the sidelines, I came across an opportunity to help my son by focusing my energies into creating a tool to assist him. This is my story.
My son was diagnosed with severe Childhood Apraxia of Speech when he was 2.5 years old. My wife and I knew he had a speech delay, but we both assumed that’s all it was. Just to be sure, we decided to have him evaluated by several speech-language pathologists in our area. They all reached the same diagnosis and we knew quickly a new chapter of our life was about to begin.
We turned to the internet and read as much as we could on the subject. We were seeking answers most parents want to know: Will my child ever speak? Is this a lifelong disorder? Can it be cured? What’s the best therapy approach? Will insurance cover this? That was when we first came across Jake’s Journey, which has been a wonderful resource for us as parents. After some debating, we decided to skip the public school offerings and move forward with private therapy with my wife supplementing his therapy at home with a variety of activities. We believe it was the right path to take in our situation.
Being a technology guru, my next thought was to find every app out there for my iPad that could supplement my son’s speech therapy. I got the names of the apps that my son’s SLP used, and then researched some on the internet as well.
Upon opening up several of the apps I purchased for word practice, I quickly discovered how complex some of them were. I had no idea how to get started. When I finally got through all of the menus and was ready to work, I found myself skipping most of the words because they were just not simple enough for my son to practice with. I also found him getting bored with many of the pictures.
That’s when I saw an opportunity to put my app development skills to work. I figured I could create a beautiful, fun, and engaging app that would contain only simple words to work on with my son. I developed a few concepts, and after some testing with my son, I decided on simulating a box where the photos would be randomly placed, just like a real photo storage box. My son thought it was really fun to dig around in the box to select the next photo.
I came up with a name for this app pretty quickly. My son’s SLP, Cynthia James, would send him home with these little boxes full of items to practice sounds with. We always referred to them as “Speech Boxes” in our home. Thus, I decided to name the app “SpeechBox.”
The next task (which ended up being the most time-consuming and difficult for me) was compiling the words and recording the word prompts. With some direction from my son’s SLP and online research, I created a list of sounds and categories I wanted to focus on. I then gathered 700 simple words and scoured photo catalogs to find the perfect photo that represented each word. Finally, I had them professionally recorded by a local audio production company. The first version of SpeechBox app was just about ready to go.
After presenting SpeechBox to my son’s SLP for her thoughts, I began seeking other SLPs to provide some feedback. I received some really great comments that helped to further refine the app and to plan for future enhancements. In addition to the fantastic advice from my son’s SLP, another person who was a great help early on was Dala, a fellow parent of a child with apraxia and the SLP behind the Testy Yet Trying blog.
Finally, after six months and hundreds of hours of development and testing, SpeechBox was launched in October 2012. After being released in the App Store, it turned out that many parents and SLPs shared the same frustrations as I did using other apps for children with apraxia. I started receiving comments from people all over the country that their child loved working with SpeechBox and how they appreciated the use of simple words and it’s easy to operate interface. One parent even sent us a note that their children would fight over whose turn it was to practice with SpeechBox. It was really encouraging to learn my quest to help my son has also helped many other children.
Fast forward to today, my son is making great progress. He’s gaining confidence in his ability to communicate. He’s even starting on simple sentences, so I guess that means I need to get started on an app for sentences! He will be starting preschool this fall to help develop his social skills and foster language.
Although this journey is far from over, it has become less scary, not as challenging, and the fear has subsided. The experience of being able to develop a tool to help my son has been very rewarding. I am energized and dedicated to building more apps for children with apraxia and other special needs. SpeechBox is just the beginning.
For more information about SpeechBox, please visit http://www.speechboxapp.com. To contact Henry, you may email him at henry [at] speechboxapp.com.