Paul Pauca's son, Victor, was diagnosed with Pitt Hopkins Syndrome when he was just 2-and-a-half years old.
The cognitive condition caused a delay in the young boy's speech, making verbal communication difficult. Pauca, an associate professor of computer science at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, enlisted his students to help built an affordable device to help kids like Victor communicate.
"Victor brought meaning and purpose to my work," Pauca told NBC Latino. "My wife and I have started a foundation. And my daughters are becoming leaders in disabilities and trying to change the world in their own way."
Pauca's team created the Verbal Victor app, an app which shows pictures in the form of buttons on mobile devices. When a child touches a picture, a recorded voice — parents or siblings can record their own voices so the child doesn't have to listed to a robot voice — says a word or sentence associated with the image.
NBC Latino gives an example:
"When a child touches the picture of, say, a swing, a recorded voice…says a word or a sentence such as: "I want to play.'"
"It opens up his mind to us, because he can show us what he's thinking," Victor's mother, Theresa Pauca, a special education teacher, told the Associated Press in 2010.
See screenshots of the app here.
"One of the features I really love is that parents can customize it with their own voices so it doesn't have a generic, robotic voice," Pauca told NBC Latino, which named him a top innovator. The recordings can also be made in any language, said Pauca, "which means I can also talk to Victor in Spanish."
Now four years since Victor's diagnosis, the active little boy is better engaging with the world around him.
"He's now pointing at himself and then pointing at what he wants," Pauca said. "Verbal Victor has taught him that if you touch this button, something you want is going to happen. It motivates him to try and go to the next level, to try and say it or to click."
"He has the most positive attitude and the brightest smile," Theresa said about her son. "He teaches us something new every day about what we need to be thankful for."