E-Mintza: A Free Application for Augmentative Communication

Friday, May 18, 2012
Sheraton Hall (Sheraton Centre Toronto)
9:00 AM
J. Fuentes1, N. Azpiazu2, A. Basurco2, I. Lazkoz3, F. Sánchez4 and B. Villamía5, (1)Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Service, Policlinica Gipuzkoa, San Sebastian, Spain, (2)Fundación Dr. Carlos Elósegui, Policlinica Gipuzkoa, San Sebastian, Spain, (3)GAUTENA Autism Society, San Sebastian, Spain, (4)Nesplora Technology & Behavior, San Sebastian, Spain, (5)Fundación Orange, Madrid, Spain

Communication difficulties are essential aspects of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). It has been estimated that  one third of the people with ASD do not use speech to interact with others. Many of these persons have both good motor skills and visual abilities. Because of these aspects, visually-based augmentative communication has been used in the form of exchange pictograms and photographs. The advancement of technology allows now creating new systems that will promote successful communication for this population.


To design an application that could be freely downloaded from a non-lucrative web page and that would convert a PC or a tablet into an augmentative communication system, that could be fully individualized and accessible in four languages (Spanish, Basque, English and French).


A team of clinical, research and technological experts from Spain worked together with a group of twenty persons with ASD and their families for two years, to design and test a software application that would combine intuitive use by the client and the supporting person programming the application,  as well as complete flexibility for individualization. The application includes hundreds of free pictograms, but allows insertion of thousands of personalized pictograms or photographs. It permits to insert videos as well. Different designs were tested and modifications were based on practical trials in different environments, and on the advice of the ultimate users (professionals and family relatives). Community people donated their voices, to produce words in Basque and in Spanish, leaving the support person to choose from a repertoire of male/female, child/adult. Diverse technological systems were tested, with the goal of creating an application that would function in diverse hardware systems.


The team succeeded in creating e-Mintza (electronic language, in Basque) that is now freely accessible in Spanish, in Basque or in bilingual version for Windows, Mac or Android. For the time of IMFAR 2012 free versions in English and French are anticipated. The feedback from users was extremely positive and other population, besides persons with ASD, will be benefiting form this application. Although the consumers have been involved from the beginning of the project, there are two limitations that most likely will be tackled during the year 2012: the adaptation of the application for iPad and the initiation of an effectiveness trial with young children in the Basque Country of Spain.


The transformation of analogical communication books into digital communication systems is possible and empowers both persons with ASD and their partners to communicate better. The support of public agencies allows partnerships that produce significant advances in this area. The multilingual e-Mintza system may prove to be a significant contribution to many people in the world.


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