The French mother of an autistic child has created what is believed to be the world's first app that allows everyone and anyone to communicate together - regardless of their mother tongue or inability to speak at all.
Published: 20 April 2015 14:25 CEST
The app in use. Photo: YouTube (screenshot)
Marie Spitz developed the "Talk Different" app that uses 700 images, colours, icons and sounds to create messages based on alternative communication techniques she practised to interact with her daughter Pauline, whose autism severely limits her speech capacity.
The key to "Talk Different," Spitz says, is the ease and accessibility that allows lost travellers, the vocally- or hearing-impaired or other verbally isolated users to construct messages on smartphones or pads that virtually anyone else will understand.
It was introduced for purchase and downloading on Google Play and Apple Store in nine international languages on Monday by Sogeti, an affiliate of French computing service giant Capgemini.
(An example of how sentences are formed on the app. Photo: AFP)
Spitz says the 99 cent "Talk Different" app's picture book simplicity is an intentional contrast to the more complex and confounding tools she used in communicating with her daughter.
"The cost, required training and excessive specificity of aids for handicapped people make them difficult to access, and wind up isolating the handicapped," Spitz says.
"I have worked for over three years on this project with the goal that Talk Different would be accessible to all, for less than a euro on smartphones, while being very easy to use. The application requires no special training," she adds.
After working around her daughter's speech disability for over a decade, Spitz founded her MPSLS software company to develop and perfect an application using her insights for medical, educational and tourism communication use.
(The app is based on techniques used to teach autistic children how to communicate. Photo: AFP)
Users select drawings and photos of various figures, situations, emotions or ideas, and combine them with colour, sound, text and other evocative content to construct what become easily identifiable messages or questions.
"Talk Different makes everyday communication easier via an intuitive and fun application. With her exceptional vision and drive, Marie Spitz has invented a new way of communicating for people who may not speak the same language or who suffer from a range of disabilities," says Patrick Marquet, project manager at Sogeti.
With "Talk Different" now available for general public use, Spitz says she is developing a version of the app specifically for health workers and the handicapped.
France’s problem with autism – and its roots in psychoanalysis
France's approach to autism was once blasted as "a violation of citizens' rights" by the UN. Here's a look at the problems autistic people have faced in the country over the years and how its roots lie in psychoanalysis in this article from The Conversation.
Published: 18 April 2018 11:23 CEST
People hold a banner reading "1,300,000 autistic people that are badly treated" as they take part in the 15th edition of a rally called "March for the hope - Marche de l'Esperance" in Paris. Photo: AF
France has a problem with autism. The country’s highest administrative court estimates that there are 700,000 autistic people in France. However, only 75,000 are diagnosed.
The French government recognises these shortcomings. It was forced to do so in 2004 by a combination of domestic campaign groups and international pressure: the Council of Europe judged France’s autism provisions to be in breach of the European Social Charter. This judgement has been repeated in several subsequent cases. In 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child also worried that French people with autism “continue to be subjected to widespread violations of their rights” to education and support.
The response has been a series of “Plans Autisme”, so-called “Marshall Plans” directing investment towards improving outcomes. The latest such plan – the fourth – was launched in early April by French President Emmanuel Macron, and will run until 2022. It seeks to recruit thousands of teaching assistants to enable autistic children to attend mainstream schools, as well as facilitating more diagnoses. Yet its very existence demonstrates that the results of the previous three plans were disappointing.
Why has France lagged behind? The blame appears to rest with the dominant influence of psychoanalysis over French psychiatry in recent decades. Many psychoanalysts argue that autism is not a neuro-developmental disorder with, as is now globally accepted, a high degree of genetic heritability. Rather, they see it as a psychologically-generated condition originating in a disturbed family environment – specifically, problems in the child’s relationship with its mother.
As analyst Charles Melman, a proponent of these views, put it in a 2014 interview, an autistic child:
Has suffered from something very simple. His mother … has not been able to transmit the feeling that his birth was a gift to her … the prosody of the maternal discourse plays a role in the development of autism.
Historically, many psychoanalysts – notably in the postwar US – have seen autism as a form of psychosis, or “childhood schizophrenia”. Such analysts advocated psychoanalytic psychotherapy as the main form of intervention, rather than the behavioural and communication-focused strategies which have an increasingly strong evidence base today.
Since the 1990s, change in France has been led by organisations formed by parents, incensed that the medical profession appeared to be blaming them for their children’s condition.
Increasingly, there is broad political agreement in France that psychoanalytic approaches to autism are discredited. A recent statement by the minister responsible for the new plan, Sophie Cluzel, that France needs to “put science back into the heart of autism policy” comes in this context.
As a historian of ideas, I am interested in how France reached this point. The intellectual and cultural prominence of psychoanalysis in France since 1968 is unusual internationally. In the US, for example, psychoanalysis was definitively written out of the psychiatric manuals by the 1980s, when behavioural and communicative techniques emerged. Why didn’t France follow suit?
Yet the impact of such thinkers only makes sense within a context in which psychoanalysis and psychoanalytic thinking had become deeply embedded in French culture. In France, psychoanalysis emerged strengthened from the cultural upheavals of the 1968 period – widely seen as a tool that could help “unblock” France from the perceived stuffy, regimented bureaucracy of its postwar period. Its influence accordingly spread out into many areas of French society.
The impact of Françoise Dolto
My research, for example, studies the impact of Françoise Dolto, a child psychoanalyst, who in the 1970s and 1980s attained a kind of “national treasure” status. Dolto had a hugely popular radio show on the state broadcaster, France Inter, responding to members of the public who contacted her with child-rearing dilemmas. She launched a network of children’s centres, the Maison Verte, partly staffed by psychoanalysts.
She published over 40 books, in which she communicated psychoanalytic thinking to a broad audience, targeting mothers in particular. Her bestselling case study, Le cas Dominique (or in English, Dominique: Analysis of an Adolescent), showed how “childhood psychosis” could result from the family environment. Books like this are still on the shelves of many French parents, grandparents and psychologists. Hundreds of schools and hospital wings in France are named after Dolto.
From this influential platform, Dolto claimed that childhood “regression” – autism and learning disabilities – was caused by pathogenic mothering. In a 1985 book she defined autism as “a reactive process of adaptation to an ordeal” in which the “affective or symbolic relationship with the mother” has been lost. Such arguments, combined with Dolto’s opposition to feminism, and assumption that it was preferable for a child’s development if its mother stayed at home, surely contributed to feelings of guilt among mothers of autistic children. Her work also buttressed later resistance by psychoanalysts to changing how autism is dealt with in France, since Dolto – the founding mother of French child psychoanalysis – was so clear on the point.
The autism issue shows that France’s unusual fascination with psychoanalysis, which Dolto’s career brings to the fore, has had real consequences. I don’t think its impact has been wholly negative. But where it has caused problems, as with autism, they have not proved simple to unravel.
by Richard Bates, Postdoctoral Research Fellow in history, University of Nottingham.