Purdue professor recognized for work in helping children diagnosed with severe, nonverbal autism

July 8, 2015  


Wendt speak

Oliver Wendt, at right, assists Steve Rettig of Lafayette, Indiana, and his son, Stevie, with using SPEAKall!® and SPEAKmore!® Both are iPAD applications that help families dealing with nonverbal autism improve communication. Wendt, a Purdue assistant professor of speech, language and hearing sciences, co-founded SPEAKMODALities LLC to commercialize advanced versions of the technology. (Purdue Research Foundation photo)
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Autism Society awards Oliver Wendt for his work in the Purdue Research Lab on Augmentative and Alternative Communication for innovative technology serving children diagnosed with severe autism.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — The Autism Society awarded the "2015 Outstanding Research of the Year" award to Oliver Wendt, a Purdue University assistant professor of speech, language, and hearing sciences and educational studies. Wendt is recognized for "a wide variety of research initiatives geared towards augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) interventions to enhance speech and language skills in minimally verbal individuals with autism."

Wendt's research led to the development of life-changing AAC therapy apps, SPEAKall!® and SPEAKmore!®, which are currently being commercialized by SPEAK MODalities LLC, a company in the Purdue Startup Class of 2014.

The award will be bestowed to Wendt at the Autism Society National Conference on Saturday (July 11) in Denver, Colorado.

"I am very honored to be chosen for this prestigious award from the Autism Society," said Wendt, who also is co-founder and chief science officer of SPEAK MODalities. "Research and development in the field of nonverbal autism serves a critical need for thousands of children and families and receiving this award during this conference enables us to reach out to the larger autism community."

Other co-founders of SPEAK MODalities are Michael Zentner, CEO and a Purdue ITaP senior research scientist, and Diana Hancock, COO and Purdue ITaP commercialization director. SPEAKall!® teaches children on the autism spectrum how to communicate through graphic symbols while enhancing natural speech production. SPEAKmore!® targets vocabulary learning and enhances complexity of utterances. Since SPEAKall!® was launched on iTunes in January 2014, more than 12 universities and autism clinics around the globe have adopted SPEAKall!® and the app has been downloaded nearly 30,000 times.

The award is given annually to an individual or organization that has provided the autism community with meaningful progress and advancement in the field of applied research to help children and families facing the challenges of the autism spectrum.

"We are proud to recognize Dr. Wendt for his work with augmentative and alternative communication interventions and efforts to enhance language skills of children on the autism spectrum," said Scott Badesch, Autism Society president and CEO. "The 2015 Autism Society Award winners represent the best in volunteerism, philanthropy, advocacy, research and education our community has to offer."

Wendt specializes in treatment efficacy research on AAC interventions and has worked with individuals diagnosed with autism for more than 20 years.

Wendt collaborated with students in Purdue's Engineering Projects in Community Service, or EPICS, program in conjunction with the Purdue Speech and Language Clinic.

It is estimated that up to 66 percent of the nearly 2 million children diagnosed with autism are initially minimally verbal and do not develop sufficient speech and language to meet daily communication needs. The impact of SPEAK MODalities’ technologies can be seen in a video available at http://youtu.be/AabR3FV9roY. Visit SPEAK MODalities to learn more or download SPEAKall!®.

Wendt received guidance from the Purdue Foundry, an entrepreneurial hub in the Burton D. Morgan Center for Entrepreneurship, the Entrepreneurial Leadership Academy and funding through the Elevate Purdue Foundry Fund, the Purdue Innovation and Commercialization Center, and the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization Trask Innovation Award.

Wendt's research is sponsored by the Indiana Clinical and Translational Science Institute, a statewide project funded by the National Institutes of Health and involving Purdue, Indiana University and the University of Notre Dame, the Organization for Autism Research, the Purdue University Center for Families and the Purdue Kinley Trust.

SPEAK MODalities most recently received the 2015 Best of Education Tech Award by the TechPoint initiative, and won the International 2014 GAIN-TEN Business Pitch Challenge, an award for startups that have the potential to make an impact on both sides of the Atlantic. In 2013, the SPEAKall!® application was recognized with the Focus Award for outstanding contribution to the furthering of Purdue's commitment to disability accessibility.

The SPEAK technologies are exclusively licensed through the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization. For information on other Purdue intellectual property ready for licensing and commercialization, visit http://www.otc-prf.org.

About the Autism Society

The Autism Society is a national source of information, advocacy and support that reaches local autism communities offering a one-of-a-kind nationwide network of autism knowledge and support. An organization with 50 years of heritage and heart, the Autism Society is dedicated to providing a trustworthy, respectful and caring network of people that truly impacts the lives of individuals on the spectrum. For more information, visit www.autism-society.org.

About SPEAK MODalities LLC

SPEAK MODalities was formed in 2014 and obtained an exclusive license to the SPEAKall!® and SPEAKmore!® technologies from the Purdue Office of Technology Commercialization. The first commercially supported version of SPEAKall! was released in January of 2014. SPEAK MODalities has a mission to expand the reach of SPEAKall! and subsequent products that assist children with severe communication disorders to develop speech and language skills.  

Writer: Cynthia Sequin, 765-588-3340, casequin@prf.org 

Sources: Oliver Wendt, 765-494-2462, olli@purdue.edu 

Michael Zentner, 765-494-7705, mzentner@speakmod.com 

Diana Hancock, 765-494-0840, dhancock@speakmod.com  

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