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Kiwi scientist gets $25k grant for revolutionary autism communication tool

21 Nov 2016

A scientist from Christchurch has received a $25,000 boost to go towards developing her revolutionary invention called ‘Talk With Me’.

The high-tech software based communication training platform, developed by Dr Swati Gupta, is aimed to help children with Autism.

The grant was awarded to Gupta by KiwiNet Emerging Innovator Fund. The Talk With Me platform helps children learn cooperative skills through turn-taking conversations based on visual symbols, text and sound.

It also allows children to follow fundamental rules of social interaction and communicate with each other.  Gupta is a Senior Research Scientist at Callaghan Innovation, she says that unlocking the world of a child with special needs is profoundly exciting.

“Seeing children who have difficulty in social interaction experience the joy of connecting with others is an absolute highlight of my work,” she says.

“I’m delighted to be awarded this funding as it opens a whole new world of possibilities for Talk With Me to powerfully impact children’s lives.” Talk With Me also provides a customisable interface for the caregiver to create conversations they want the child to practice. It can be optimised for an individual’s or groups’ level, age, condition, culture and language. 

“It’s still early days, but initial test results are already impressive when comparing Talk With Me with conventional teaching,” says Gupta.

“We’ve recently completed a trial with autistic children at a local special needs school and results are very positive.”

Gupta adds that in addition to helping children with autism, Talk With Me can also help with speech and language disorders, Cerebral Palsy, and ADHD.

“We currently have trials underway in New Zealand, UK, USA and India to establish efficacy. These trials will help us understand the nuances of different markets and cultures and how best to design the product for them,” she says.

Gupta’s research focus in Human-Computer Interaction is inspired by theories in Cognitive Science, Social Psychology and Linguistics.

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