Leeds dad creates incredible app which transforms symbols into text for families to speak with non-verbal children

A Swinnow dad who wanted to be able to communicate with his non-verbal son has created an incredible app which turns his symbols into words - allowing them to communicate when apart.

By Daniel Sheridan
Monday, 25th April 2022, 4:30 pm

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The idea came when Richard Keane, 35, was sent a series of text messages from his wife's phone one day on behalf of his eight-year-old son Rheuben.

"It was just a mix of random letters, numbers and grammatical symbols", Richard said.

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Richard and Rheuben copyright: Shelly Mantovani

"She rang me and told me that Rheuben wanted to send me a message."

Endeavouring to decipher the symbols, a lightbulb moment sparked Richard's idea for the app.

"It got me thinking and I realised that all of Rheuben's communication broke down when somebody was no longer in the same room as him physically to see which symbols he was selecting on his PECS communication device", Richard told the YEP.

"That is where the idea of creating an app to accommodate him came from."

Richard and Rheuben copyright: Shelly Mantovani

SymbolSend uses PECS symbols at its core - allowing users to choose what they want to say in symbol format.

Once selected, the symbols can then be sent in a message which can be transformed into written words, and vice versa if sent to the neurodiverse user.

The app covers the vocabulary requirements of all ages, encouraging the development of communication skills for people with Autism Spectrum Condition, speech delay, or hearing impairment.

The app is suitable for families, educational settings or medical and healthcare professionals.

Richard and Rheuben copyright: Shelly Mantovani

Visual symbols are entered in sequence to create a phrase or sentence, which can then be sent to other SymbolSend users.

Now, more than 150 families globally are using the application Richard creating to communicate with their own children and loved ones.

Richard said feedback so far has been "really positive".

He added: "Users can't believe there isn't anything out there that allows individuals to use their symbols like this and how much it can make a big difference to people's lives.

"We currently have about 150 downloads as we are very new but this number is growing.

"We are also having speech and language therapists reaching out to us to recommend it to their service users.

"We have also seen requests from the US, Canada and Singapore come through to make the app available for their territories.

"As I say we are new but we are very excited about the app and what we can look to do with it in the future."

Nonverbal communication is the way in which people convey information about their emotions, needs, intentions, attitudes, and thoughts without the use of verbal language.

To learn more about the app, search SymbolSend.

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