Software for Autistic Children Gradually Catching On
By Joe Guy Collier
For almost three years, Karl Smith has been dead set on making a success out of his software company, Accelerations Educational Software. He’s blown through his savings, run up large credit card bills and tested the patience of his wife and family.
Now, Smith said he’s passed a turning point for the company, which
he started because of a need he saw in his own household. Smith, who has a 7-year-old son with autism, began Accelerations Software to write computer programs for children with autism and learning disabilities.
The company’s product, called the Discrete Trial Trainer, or DT Trainer, uses learning modules specifically designed to help these children pick up fundamental building blocks, such as letters, numbers, colors and objects. If you saw Smith’s office today, you might not realize how far his company has come.
He and a few part-time employees share a modest 1,000-square-foot
office in downtown Columbia. Inside, a homemade wooden booth serves as the recording studio to make voice-overs for the software. But if you saw where Smith was a year and half ago, you’d realize the progress he’s made.
Until last May, Smith had been running Accelerations Educational Software out of the room above his garage. He had a handful of schools using the DT Trainer software, which can be previewed at www.dttrainer.com.
Smith now has almost 50 school districts, spanning from Hawaii to
New York, using his software. Kim Kulka, coordinator of the autism program at Mountain View Elementary School in Marietta, Ga., has been using the software for two years.
The DT Trainer motivates children with autism to learn, Kulka said. It allows these children to pick up skills without requiring the usual one-on-one attention of a teacher, she said. “It’s been extremely helpful,” Kulka said. “I’m hoping for more programs.”
James Bender, special education technology specialist with Silver
Consolidated Schools in Silver City, N.M., has been using the DT Trainer for a year. The software immediately engaged the children, Bender said. In a test trial of the software, a Silver City student spent 25 minutes and then 40 minutes working through the programs, he said. “It was a phenomenal thing because this was a child that had trouble sitting still for more than 30 seconds,” Bender said.
Smith’s personal knowledge of children with autism and developmental
needs can be seen in the software, he said. “It’s software with soul,” Bender said. “It goes to the fact that it comes from within Karl.”
Smith said he hopes to put the software into more schools. In the last year, his company has developed training material so teachers and parents can use the software without his assistance. Smith also has cut the price of the software by more than half to $99 for individuals and $249 for schools. As a promotional effort, the first license for a school district is free.
Revenues are improving and the cash flow is less erratic, Smith said. But the company continues to search for a financial backer so it can market the product more heavily, he said. “It would be good to find an investor who isn’t looking for a1,000-percent return,” Smith said, “somebody who wants to make a nice return but also wants to have a social impact.” Even without a major investor, though, Smith said he’ll push forward on what he can afford. “We’ll do it one way or the other,” he said. “We’re going to find a way of succeeding and making this grow.”