Raleigh, North Carolina: Victor Pauca will have plenty of presents to unwrap on Christmas, but the five-year-old Winston-Salem boy has already received the best gift he will get this year: the ability to communicate.

Victor has a rare genetic disorder that delays development of a number of skills, including speech. To help him and others with disabilities, his father, Paul, and some of his students at Wake Forest University have created an application for the iPhone and iPad that turns their touch screens into communications tools.

The VerbalVictor app allows parents and caregivers to take pictures and record phrases to go with them. These become "buttons" on the screen that Victor touches when he wants to communicate. A picture of the backyard, for example, can be accompanied by a recording of a sentence like "I want to go outside and play." When Victor touches it, his parents or teachers know what he wants to do.

New software

"The user records the voice, so it's something the child's familiar with. It's not robotic," Paul Pauca said. The app, which should be for sale for $10 (Dh36.78) in Apple Inc.'s iTunes store by early next week, is one of dozens of new software products designed to make life easier for people with a range of disabilities. The category is expanding so fast that Apple now has a separate listing for it in the App Store.

More apps are added every week, ranging from Sign4Me, a sign language tutor that uses an animated avatar, to ArtikPix, a flash card-like app that helps teachers and speech therapists improve their students' articulation of words.

"It opens up his mind to us, because he can show us what he's thinking," said Victor's mother, Theresa.

Victor has a rare genetic disorder called Pitt Hopkins Syndrome, a diagnosis he shares with about 50 other people in the US.

The ailment causes delays in cognitive abilities, motor skills, social development and language skills. Victor's progress, in many ways, has been good — he could walk at age two, whereas some children with the condition cannot walk until they are 10 or older.

The Paucas tried a number of therapeutic devices designed to help people with similar disabilities communicate. These standalone devices are often low-tech — the one the Paucas first tried required paper printouts. Or they are expensive: a top-of-the-line model similar to the one used by famed physicist Stephen Hawking can cost about $8,200.