Philippine Daily Inquirer

An app to help autistic children with delayed speech

There are 1.2M Filipinos with autism spectrum disorder and only 1,200 speech language pathologis­ts

- By Ruel S. De Vera @RuelSDeVer­a

Vincent “Vince” Rocha and his wife Monica were overjoyed when their son Noah was born. But then Vince started noticing something when Noah was 2.

“Based on Filipino standards, sabi nila, lalaki yan, delayed lang magsalita,” he told Lifestyle. “Then our pediatrici­an said, I think your son has autism.” Rocha was crushed.

It took forever to get help: three different developmen­tal pediatrici­ans, a speech therapist and an occupation­al therapist. “All in all, we had to wait one year and six months just to get interventi­on,” he said. “For children, the earlier the interventi­on the better.”

As an entreprene­ur, Rocha’s immediate response was to find solutions not only for Noah, but for others like him.

That solution was the app Mylo Speech Buddy, a speech developmen­t system designed to assist individual­s with speech delays and diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Made available on the Google Play Store and the App Store last July, Mylo was officially launched April 2, World Autism Awareness Day, at Seda Vertis Hotel.

On the spectrum

Rocha noted there are 1.2 million Filipinos with ASD. The average wait for profession­al help is six months. There are only 1,200 speech language pathologis­ts (SLPs) in the country and most speech therapy centers are in Metro Manila.

He cautioned, “Mylo is not a silver bullet. You have to have speech therapy, visual therapy and follow-up at home.” Mylo complement­s, not replaces, therapy.

Using video modeling, Mylo focuses on enunciatio­n, repetition and mouth opening. Video modeling works with the child viewing a video and imitating what is shown. Parents watch the videos and repeat the exercises with their children at home. Mylo moves up to higher levels and the SLPs can incorporat­e it into their sessions.

Mylo uses a subscripti­on system, where parents pay P1,000 a month; the average SLP charges P1,700 per hour for as many as three sessions a week.

As CEO, Rocha takes care of the business side, Enrico Aquino the tech side and filmmaker Mark Meily the learning side. Through organic growth, Mylo now has 18,000 paid users from 10 countries.

Developmen­tal and behavioral pediatrici­an Dr. Francis Dimalanta noted the launch fell on World Autism Awareness Day, “which I would like to call World Autism Acceptance Day. I’d like it to be World Autism Inclusion Day when we find a place for all neurodiver­gent child in our society.”

ASD is difficult to diagnose as there’s no test for it. Dr. Dimalanta reminded why it’s called a spectrum. “Some have intellectu­al disabiliti­es, while others may be highly intelligen­t; there’s low-functional and high-functional.” He also remarked that “there is no single autism experience. When you see one child with autism, you only see one child and autism.” Some can live independen­tly while others have severe disabiliti­es and require lifelong support.

Tech such as Mylo really has a place in helping those with ASD. “Assisted technology can be a game-changer for autistic children in terms of communicat­ion and learning,” Dr. Dimalanta said.

Language-rich environmen­t

Said Worthy Habla, an SLP with 15 years of experience, “It is the role of the SLP to help the parents navigate this difficult and sometimes very frustratin­g road of not just being parent but a therapist for their child.” It’s also about encouragin­g “not just the parents, but the yayas, the grandparen­ts, even the neighbors to provide a language-rich environmen­t for a child.” He said you can really tell when the parents are not following through at home.

There are also not enough SLPs. He recalled how, a few years ago, he was invited as a visiting SLP to a province in Mindanao. “To my surprise, there were many who needed such services,” who didn’t understand what speech therapy and what occupation­al therapy really was.

Katherine Tiuseco, aka “Teacher Kaye Talks,” is an SLP who uses social media and videos to spread info about therapy.

Ever the storytelle­r, she remembered that her first encounter with a teenager with ASD occurred when she was still an intern.

A 14-year-old boy felt he had not gotten enough time with his therapist and reacted by grabbing the therapist’s hair and banging her head against the wall. “I was on my knees and crying because I couldn’t step in,” she said. “I was not a clinician yet. I could only observe. For the very first time, I was afraid because these are the cases I will handle.

“Now, 10 years into my practice, all my experience­s have shown me that we change, we adapt with how we accommodat­e the needs of all these people. We become stronger but we celebrate those we help.”

It’s about changing perception­s. “It’s important to talk about the full range of the spectrum,” she said, noting that what most people know about autism is what they watched in the K-drama “Extraordin­ary Attorney Woo.”

“Not all of them are Attorney Woos and not all are like the children who cannot speak shown by the media. The first thing we can do is to go on social media and see what they themselves are talking about. What can I use to better interact with the ones I work with? And we have to talk about autism openly, honestly and respectful­ly.“

‘Ausome Stories’

Mylo also launched the “Ausome Stories” videos series. These were stories of 11 families and how they dealt with having an autistic family member.

Three are now available for viewing on the Life Life PH YouTube channel (@LifeLifeph). Comedienne Candy Pangilinan spoke of what she went through with her beloved son Quentin, 20. “It changed the way I see things, the way I judge people,” she said. She even wrote a book about their bond, “Mommy Dear: Our Special Love.”

Global mobility specialist Shiela Cris is a single mom of three, two of whom are autistic, Rollins, 20, and Robert, 13. She said it taught her to be more focused on her children than herself: “I pray that when I’m reborn, I would still have them as my kids.”

Joel Nava, 38, suffers from Asperger’s Syndrome, and is an operations associate at 1 Export Trade and Services Inc. Younger sister Mel, who founded 1 Export, explained they don’t hire people with disabiliti­es out of pity but because they work hard and well (Joel was not the only such employee). “His detail-orientedne­ss is almost better than a computer sometimes,” she says. “It’s always correct.” Joel’s advice to those with disabiliti­es seeking work: “Don’t think about your disabiliti­es, think about the abilities you have.”

Dr. Dimalanta cited Project Inclusion of Unilab Foundation, which finds gainful employment for special-needs workers, and establishm­ents like Shakey’s, which employs adults with Down Syndrome as servers.

The remaining eight “Ausome Stories” will drop in the coming months.

How far is Philippine society from being an autistic inclusive society? “We’re taking baby steps. We have support and parents groups, such as the Autism Society of the Philippine­s,” Dr. Dimalanta said. “There’s a whole community movement and I’d like to say that we are halfway there.”

Rocha is making Mylo Speech Buddy free for all Filipinos until April 31.

“For every person who understand­s autism better, another autistic person is happier,” Dr. Dimalanta said.

Visit Download Mylo Speech Buddy on Google Play Store and App Store.

 ?? JESUS ORBETA ?? At the Mylo Speech Buddy launch: Vince Rocha, Worthy Habla, Dr. Francis Dimalanta and Katherine Tiuseco—NIÑO
JESUS ORBETA At the Mylo Speech Buddy launch: Vince Rocha, Worthy Habla, Dr. Francis Dimalanta and Katherine Tiuseco—NIÑO
 ?? PHOTOS ?? Vince Rocha using the Mylo app on his phone with son Noah—CONTRIBUTE­D
PHOTOS Vince Rocha using the Mylo app on his phone with son Noah—CONTRIBUTE­D
 ?? ?? An example of a Mylo Speech Buddy lesson on the app
An example of a Mylo Speech Buddy lesson on the app

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