Midlands Business Journal
March 8, 2013
SectorNow Teams with UNMC Professor to Build Language Development App
by Michelle Leach
A Lincoln based marketing veteran doubling as a founder of app systems firm, SectorNow, has teamed with an Omaha based psychology and pediatrics professor to help give a voice to a growing segment of autistic youth who struggle with language skills to bring a well-established teaching method into the 21st century via a high-tech application, MySocius.
Partnerships that merge academic and other fields with technology specialists such as SectorNow, are becoming increasingly popular as smartphone usage goes through the roof,
according to Craig Lutz-Priefert, a senior exec specializing in strategy, data, direct marketing and international relations who partnered with Dr. Keith Allen of UNMC’s Munroe-Meyer Institute for Genetics and Rehabilitation.
“One of the challenges is, we use the use methods in clinic all the time, but we had never tried to put it in an app,” Allen said, referring to what’s called “naturalistic” teaching, where the motivation and encouragement to learn is naturally connected to whatever concept is being learned, as opposed to the proclivity to integrate praise or motivation that isn’t connected to the
task at hand, such as heaping on a reward that isn’t a natural consequence of mastering a math problem. “We had to figure out how to communicate with these individuals, so we were speaking the same language.”
The result of bridging the language gap, if you will, between science and technology has been an application, out since late last year that assists children in the autism spectrum, their parents and speech therapists improve their communication skills.
“We’ve been very careful to make it clear that we’re not suggesting that this will replace a speech therapist,” Allen said. While he said a parent could utilize the application with enlisting the assistance of a formally-trained therapist, both he and Lutz-Priefert emphasized that the tool is more a supplement, not a substitute, for individuals who have completed years of school, and have experience in their respective areas.
Really, Allen noted, in a nod to the teaching method itself, the application helps parents better see what their children are interested in and what motivates them, as a means of creating teaching interactions and opportunities in their own homes. For example, a parent may apply insight garnered from the system and use that to organize the house in such a manner that it forces the child to ask for items, as favorite items may be placed in the home in a way that they can’ t be easily reached by the child, making it necessary for them to do the asking for the
object. Merging established educational model with technology equips speech therapists, families with tools to help children struggling with language communicate.
And there is certainly a growing audience for this tool; according to CDC information cited by UNMC, a whopping one in 88 children is diagnosed with what’s characterized as an “autism-spectrum disorder.”
Allen, too, sees the implications of the tool, with regard to a broader audience. “We initially targeted a select group of kids with language problems, mostly the autism problem,” he said, noting that additional modules would apply to anyone who is struggling to learn to speak, not just individuals with autism.