Why and How Speaky Online came about...
When my son was 4 years old, he was diagnosed with autism. He had absolutely no speech. He could barely call me “Daddy”. We were living in HK then, and to get speech pathology sessions was very expensive.
After years of struggling with this, we moved the family to Melbourne, where the schooling environment was a lot more conductive for kids like him. And we could get speech pathology sessions for him weekly.
As parents, of course my wife and I always tried to see what else we could do. We came across Autism Victoria, and learnt about a process called Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA), which was based on the work of Dr Ivar Lovaas. I thought that some aspects of this technique could be of help to my son. It involved very regular intervention sessions, and what I liked most was the idea of using the child’s interest to stimulate conversion. Autism Victoria had specially trained speech pathologists for ABA, but none were available, and they could not tell me how long the wait would be.
My son was already 8, and the recommendation was that ABA should be started before the child turns 6. Again, in desperation, armed with as much reading as I could on the subject, I hired 2 psychology students from the universities, and briefed them on the basics of ABA. They took turns to come to my home every day to spend time with my son. In the process, they had to do things like watch endless episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine, so that they can talk to my son about a topic that he was obsessed with. This eventually graduated to Star Wars, Harry Potter, and a myriad of role-play games on the computer, PS2 and GameCube.
There is still a desperate need….
In August 2009, when I was in Melbourne, I chanced upon an article in the newspaper, which reported about the continuing plight of parents of autistic children. Whilst there is government funding for speech therapy for kids below 6 diagnosed with Autism, the waitlist for sessions can be as long as 2 years.
I called up the private speech clinic that Timothy used to go to, and an hour session costs A$ 176. On top of that, the waitlist was 6 weeks.
I have a business, EPiC Online (English Proficiency in Conversation Online - www.epiclanguage.com), where we coach English online with video, to executives in multinational companies, and 5-Star hotels, and to students and lecturers in academic institutions.
With our current infrastructure in EPiC, we can easily start providing Speaky Online sessions to kids in Australia (or anywhere in the world), at a fraction of the cost. We are not necessarily replacing face-to-face speech therapy. Even if the long waitlists were to magically disappear, the once a week session is not really enough. In fact for children with such learning disabilities, nothing is ever enough.
We will be applying aspects of ABA. I doubt you will be able to get your face-to-face speech therapists to watch episodes of Thomas the Tank Engine, and talk to your child about what the Fat Controller was thinking when James crashed through the shed in episode #28.
The sessions will be done in full video, with all the usual props that speech therapists would use. And at least initially, we expect one parent or guardian to be present all the time. In any case, my wife or I were always present during Timothy’s sessions at the speech pathology clinic. With commuting etc, it was a 2 hour investment in time for us each time. SpED Online does not need commuting, and can be done from the comfort and familiarity of your home. Our experience also was that Timothy was less receptive and attentive when he was at the speech clinic.
We will provide the same level of quality, processes and supervision as we do with EPiC Online, which is good enough for multinational companies and 5-Star hotels. EPiC Online and SpED Online are part of Genashtim Innovative Learning. Genashtim provides executive education and carries global brands like eCornell from Cornell University of NY, and U21Global, which is owned by prominent universities like Melbourne University, National University of Singapore, Hong Kong University, University of Virginia, and several prominent universities in the UK, etc.
We are pricing Speaky Online at a small fraction of the cost of face-to-face speech pathology. We cannot bring ourselves to charge a higher rate, knowing what it is like to be a desperate parent, and realizing that the special needs child will likely need many hours a week of such help.
We will donate a certain portion of what we charge for Speaky Online to a scholarship fund to train wheelchair-bound people in Speaky. We are hence providing a service for the frustrated and desperate parents, who will in turn “donate” towards providing employment and livelihood for the disabled and poor, who will in turn provide relief for more frustrated and desperate parents.