When Jonathan Izak set out to create an app that would help kids with autism communicate better, he had, perhaps, the best test subject in the world: his 10-year-old brother, Oriel, rendered mute by autism. Oriel had already been using communication devices, but Izak noticed that they were bulky to tote around, and some cost upwards of $10,000. There had to be a better way.
Two years ago, Izak, newly graduated from Penn with a computer science degree, got to work. An iPad, he figured, would be much easier for a kid like Oriel to transport. And besides, toting around a sleek iPad instead of a clunky communication box “would make a kid like Oriel seem cool rather than isolate him,” Izak says. Although communication-assistance apps already existed, they were too complicated for a kid with Oriel’s difficulties to use. The technology was there, but it had to be repackaged in a way that made sense.