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 Nebraska Business Development Center made this marriage of scientist and techie possible, according to Lutz-Priefert, who noted its people have been a “tremendous resource,” introducing them professionals like Allen, and tech transfer firms like UNeMed.
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.”
To that, Lutz-Priefert notes that this tool is ideal for a percentage of children on the spectrum, as that spectrum indicates various skill sets and needs. “There are some individuals whose speech has really progressed beyond MySocius,” he said. “And someday, we hope to develop apps for those people.”
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.
For the time being though, it’s not just in one’s head that we seem to be hearing a great deal more about autism spectrum disorders than we did even 10, or even five years ago. “We certainly have got better at diagnosing,” Allen said. “But it doesn’t seem like that alone accounts for the increases we have seen.” While Allen himself declined to speculate on what may be at work, he referenced researchers who are looking into everything from genetics to environmental factors.
In late January, Lutz-Priefert noted that, as part of the MySocius rollout, SectorNow provided free promotional copies, distributed to parents and professionals to gather feedback, to help improve the app. Lutz-Priefert wants to see MySocius become an app supported by autism organizations throughout the country.
SectorNow and its CleanEarthApps division has other other apps. WasteFinder Green App that helps businesses with waste assessments, and the management and monitoring of waste disposal and recycling efforts with reports that measure and report accomplishments.
Lutz-Priefertsaid SectorNow has secured a grant from the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality to add a Hazardous Waste management and reporting module to WasteFinder Green App.
Its most recent app launch was its Water1der, which he indicated targets a completely different audience than WasteFinder.
“Water1der is fun and aimed at educating grade schools kids,” he said. Water1der provides an interactive way for children to learn about ground water in Ogallala Aquifer country, and was developed in partnership with the Groundwater Foundation, whose mission is to make sure there is clean ground water for the next generations.
Lutz-Priefert said that CleanEarthApps has an app called Dump Detective. “We developed Dump Detective for Douglas County,” he said, referencing that the app equips inspectors with the means to address a significant issue: That of individual s dumping toxic substances, like paint, into the storm system, under the faulty assumption that it will go into the sewer system. “But it goes to the Missouri River,” he said. Dump Detective enables those who inspect these incidents to track the illicit stormwater disposal with photos, notes and other information, with the ability to immediately submit the report for follow-up (these records are stored and may be retrieved at any time, making it easy for professionals to stay on top of such incidents).
Lutz-Priefert noted that the beauty of apps is in their intuitiveness; the more one uses the app and the greater the volume of users, helps the technology collect more data to provide better information so users can work more effectively.