Grace - Picture Exchange For Autistic Children

First look at Grace, our picture exchange communication application for individuals with autism spectrum disorder.

THE IPHONE is set to become a communication tool for children with autism, with the testing of a new application for the device.

The application is designed to be used in a similar way to the Picture Exchange Communication System (Pecs), which allows children to build sentences using a book of laminated pictures attached to a board by Velcro.

The application, which is being developed under the working title Grace, is the brainchild of Lisa Domican, a parent of two children with autism. She was inspired by O2’s marketing campaign for the iPhone. Before the launch of the device in 2008, the mobile operator ran advertisements on buses in Dublin. Ms Domican noticed the advertisements and realised the phone’s potential as an alternative to the Pecs books used by her 10-year-old daughter, Grace.

“You are constantly having to replace loose cards and make new ones,” said Ms Domican. “With the iPhone, the screen looks like a Pecs book. It’s ok to have a four-year-old walking around with a Pecs book; it’s not ok for a 10 or 12-year-old. They’re very personal to the kids; it’s their voice. The [Pecs books] really stand out, whereas the iPhone is discreet and always there.”

The idea is backed by O2 Ireland, which supplied the devices for the development and testing of the application. The mobile network is already involved with Irish Autism Action and it was through this link that Ms Domican got backing from O2.

Ms Domican linked up with Steven Troughton-Smith, a software developer for the iPhone who has created a number of bestselling applications.

Mr Troughton-Smith, a student at Dublin City University, took the description of what Ms Domican wanted and turned it into a working version of Grace.

He developed the application to look exactly like a Pecs book. So instead of carrying around a Pecs book, older children can use the iPhone to choose from a range of pictures and place them on a virtual strip of Velcro.

Ms Domican’s daughter Grace has become so comfortable with the technology that she adds her own photos to the application’s library using the iPhone’s camera.

The application is undergoing trials on five devices in three schools to see if other children, parents and tutors can use it easily. Once testing has been completed, it will be submitted to the iPhone App Store.

CIARA O'BRIEN The Irish Times


  1. We Rock! xx

    Thanks so much for all your work, so far. Good luck with the exams Steve. xx

  2. You not only rock, you rule. Congratulations!

  3. I gotta stay, thats pretty awesome, and a great endeavor of you for trying.

  4. Just wondering how this is different to proloquo2go

    It looks slightly easier to use and the fact that you can add photos is a big advantage.

    I would love to see and use this for my clients.

  5. Hi Dee, its a sharper simpler program. Depending on your client it may suit if they are currently pre- or developing verbalisations and are trained to use a traditional hardcopy picture exchange communication book. The Grace app encourages "Verbal Behaviour" in that the user understands that they must engage with the listener in order to have their needs met. The user presents the "sentence" on the phone to the listener and together they either prompt or attempt to say each word while pointing. This teaches the user to get the attention of the listener and to practice vocal approximations according to their skill level.
    Proloque2go is a replacement for the much more expensive hand held AAC machines used by sophisticated non-talkers who might have very complex needs and a large picture vocabulary - costing anywhere between €3,500 to €7,000.
    The Proloque@go brings this down to €139 and into the palm as it loads on to the iPhone.
    It runs best however on the 3GS - being a little slow and frustrating on any earlier model or an iTouch.
    I deliberately asked Steve to keep the Grace App simple, with no sound card (he offered) as I wanted it to run in real time; you press the button and the picture appears, on the simplest devices. So far we have loaded it on to 3G, 2G and a 3Gs and it works the same.

    I see it as a substitute for a traditional Picture Book - for a child who has a large picture vocabulary that they need to travel with. It is really to encourage consistency of use and language across carers - a weakness with the hard copy of the book that gets left behind or isnt updated with new words as the child grows.
    Most kids would use a picture book for about 3 months and then leave it behind as they develop intelligible speech that gets their needs met as efficiently as the book did.
    Our App is for the child that may be slower developing vocalisations that can be understood by everyone - but who should be encouraged to keep trying. My daughter Grace is 10 and has used the velcro picture books for almost 7 years. Her speech is developing slowly but she needs visual prompts to put her sentences together properly, otherwise she just uses one word or tantrums.
    Using the Grace App we have seen an improvement in her 3-4 word sentences.

    I hope that helps. If you need to know more you can contact me on Facebook or email


  6. This is amazing mate. I've forwarded this to a friend who's young daughter has a condition thats impaired her speech development, and I believe she has been learning the picture cards to communicate (whilst mother encourages her to try and learn the vocalisations).

    Good stuff. Keep shining that light man.

  7. Great work! When will it be available?! Can I take part in the trial?!
    I was searching for your app on the app store and
    came accross "iprompts"?! Have you seen it?!
    Just wondering on your thoughts.
    Thanks, eamon

  8. Can I ask a really simple question - I tried asking apple but they were not able to help! Can this App be used on an ITouch as well as an IPhone? Thank you!

  9. Like Alanna, I wonder if the Touch can support Grace. If so, is Grace self-contained or does it need wifi to connect?

  10. Hi I would like first to say congratulations to you both for introducing this technology for young people. I am a teacher aide in qld Australia and am very interested in communication for children with communication difficulties. It would be great if you could add photo's to each category instead of all the photo's being in one folder. I would also like to see more sentence starters like "I see, I hear, I like" I have 2 sets of parents that are about to download grace, both students are in phase 3 of PECS and starting to comment so this is such a step in the right direction. Fantastic Love it.