New app helps people express their emotions

November 3, 2011 (CHICAGO)

The yellow-orange face was created by a cartoonist whose goal was to designed a simple symbol of texting emotions for the general public. It has become a great therapy tool for children and adults with autism spectrum disorder and other emotional challenges.

Launched earlier this year, Smurks enabled users to move a face to express their feelings via text, e-mail, Facebook and Twitter.

Cartoonist Pat Byrnes, creator of the face, says it is easy to move using your fingers.

"With your finger running up down, across, pinch and stretch-- you can change the expression to match the mood you want to convey," said Byrnes.

Byrnes says the general public often faces "emotional disabilities."

"There are times when somebody texts you something, and you think, 'How do I respond to that?' And there are times when I've had that situation where I thought, 'This is what I want to say,' so I thought, 'Oh well, I can say it with a Smurk,' and a little expression which said everything I wanted to say and I didn't have to try and find the words for it.

"We did not expect that Smurks would be used for children with autism and to help them," said Byrnes, "so we were surprised, thrilled and eager to learn more and see what else we can do to help."

Dr. Phillip Samuel Epstein is a physician and a neuropsychiatrist. He is using the app with some of his autism spectrum disorder patients.

"I use it as a therapeutic probe, so it's not imposed on a person or whatever, and I see how they take it and how it works," Epstein said. "It's immensely likable, it's friendly, and it's likeable because it engages through the use of these wonderfully plastic and funny faces that one can interact with."

The app is also useful for families to communicate with their children. Lynn Pedoto's 11-year-old son Nicholas was diagnosed with autism when he was 3.

"We use it just to look for emotions and see if he can...see if someone's sad or happy," Pedoto said. "He is really good with sad and happy, but the more complex emotions are more difficult.

"Technology has changed our's a doorway in which they can learn and makes it simpler because it actually slow things down and it also amplifies because people's expressions are so fast that technology can slow it down and repeat it, whereas with's gone in a second."

"That's why I knew it was such a powerful tool," said Dr. Epstein, "is when I immediately saw it, and as I scrolled through the faces, I found myself expressing emotions and different scenarios with that expression and making sounds and what have you, resonating with the different faces, and it was just fun."

"I don't know if I can create another app like this," said Byrnes. "Just to get the first draft out took a year and half of mind-numbing figuring. We had to map out emotions in a 3-dimestional grid, and emotions are messy and chaotic and all over the place. We had to make them orderly, and we had to make them flow by smooth animation, and that smooth animation had to not just work graphically, but it had to be emotionally valid."

To find out more about Smurks, visit

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