App for dyslexic kids opens up a world of adventures

Summary

A new app in development by Antwerp start-up Happs will use traditional gaming strategies to help children with dyslexia discover the joys of reading and writing

A whole new world

The Antwerp start-up Happs is developing an app for children with dyslexia. For these children, an adventure in the world of letters awaits; for speech therapists, the app is an unprecedented way for them to track their patients’ progress.

There’s nothing new about the gaming app itself, an adventure full of quests that yield points by which you can upgrade your character and prepare for the next level. The difference is that instead of taking on monsters, players travel through the world of writing. The goal of the game is to familiarise children who suffer from dyslexia with reading, writing and spelling.

Hannes Hauwaert is one of the founders of Happs, the start-up behind the app. “We wanted to develop an app for children with dyslexia that brings together gaming and education,” he explains. “Other teaching materials are usually more educational, but we believe in gaming as a format. We wanted to create a fun and challenging game experience, with a touch of absurd humour, because that’s what motivates children.”

Many materials now used in speech therapy to help children get started on reading and writing aren’t especially engaging, Hauwaert says. “I find it sad that even today, the same, sometimes rather dull, tools and techniques are being used to help children with dyslexia. There is very little variation. A gaming app certainly has added value.”

Learning by playing is only one side of the story. Happs also offers a new way for speech therapists to monitor their patients. “It allows them to closely follow up their young patients’ progress,” Hauwaert explains. “The therapist can see how much practice a child is getting and what progress they are making, because they are connected through the app. While a patient and speech therapist might see each other twice a week, with our app much closer monitoring becomes possible.”

The app was developed with speech therapists, as they will be offering it to their patients later on. Happs comes from an earlier project that Hauwaert developed at school. Once he’d achieved his diploma, he started a company to develop the app.

But why the choice to do something with dyslexia? “I suffered from dyslexia,” he says. “Throughout school, I struggled with writing, and, in speech therapy, I saw how little learning tools had evolved. Certainly the digital possibilities are virtually unused. This is particularly unfortunate, because I was a serious case and know all too well how difficult it is to deal with dyslexia. That’s why I want to help children who find reading and writing challenging.”