For Father’s Day, three Wake Forest dads talk about the gifts their children have given to them – as well as the world.
Finding a voice: Paúl Pauca, computer science professor
Six-year-old Victor was born with a rare genetic disorder called Pitt-Hopkins syndrome that makes it difficult for him to communicate. His dad, Paúl Pauca and a team of students developed an iPhone and iPad application, called VerbalVictor. Verbal Victor provides an affordable alternative to expensive communication devices on the market, devices that cost thousands of dollars. “Our app is similar to the more expensive device in that you can take a picture of an item and create different button layouts depending on the motor control of the child. You can even record your own voice on it,” Pauca said. Since debuting in January, VerbalVictor has been downloaded nearly 2,000 times, and Pauca has gotten positive feedback from grateful parents across the globe. “I have received emails from Korea, India, Switzerland and other countries,” he said. “Hearing from so many people has created a huge desire to make this kind of application a big aspect of my research. It has become a calling. Because of my son, I have found my mission to help give a voice to those without one.” Pauca is working on four other apps for special-needs children, including one for paraplegics.
Talking the talk: Ananda Mitra, communication professor
Unlike many parents, Ananda Mitra says his 16-year-old son’s avid use of “textese” – abbreviations commonly used in text messages and on social networks, such as “LOL” – has strengthened their bond. That’s because Mitra believes the best way parents can reach their children is to embrace the language they use most comfortably. “With more than 1300 text message abbreviations, children of the digital age are born bilingual,” said Mitra. “Because language establishes relationships, texting ‘I <3 U’ sends a very powerful message to kids.” In addition to advocating that parents tailor their communication style to one that’s most effective for their kids, his book “Alien Technology” makes the case that becoming more technologically savvy is also an issue of safety. “Parents who lock the door when leaving the house should make the same effort to understand Facebook privacy issues,” said Mitra. Through his research, teachings and social media interactions, Mitra hopes to impart lessons inspired by his son to other parents born in an analog age.
Strength through the struggle: Eric Wilson, English professor
Eric Wilson’s daughter gave him hope. She inspired him to seek therapy and treatment for his depression. Now Wilson uses his passion for the written word to pass his daughter’s gift to others. Through his books, “The Mercy of Eternity: A Memoir of Depression and Grace” and “Against Happiness,” Wilson encourages others not to give up their search for treatment. He travels the country, talking about his experience with depression in the hopes of connecting with others who might not see hope. “I want to help people burdened with depression find their inspiration to get well,” he said, “just as my daughter helped to inspire me.”
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