Smurks started as a digital application to tag Facebook, Twitter and other posts with happy, sad or angry faces. But the fun electronic tool is reaching far beyond entertainment. In fact, it is helping children with autism identify and express emotions.
Smurks, an application available on the iPhone or iPad, displays about 350 "emoticons," or expressions that convey different emotions. It allows the user to touch the face and tweak its expression.
Doctors are now using the application to work with children with autism spectrum disorder to help them better understand and recognize emotions.
New Yorker cartoonist Pat Byrnes created the app based on an idea he had for a cartoon.
"I was trying to make a joke cartoon of the Twitter 140 character limit," he says.
He says he is thrilled with the reaction to Smurks.
"We were shooting just to do something useful, and I'm glad we found somewhere it can do something substantial," he says.
Dr. Phillip Epstein, who works in advanced neuro-diagnostics at a clinic in Wheeling, is excited at the prospect of using Smurks to help children with autism connect with emotions, both in themselves and others.
"Smurks gives children with autism the opportunity to expand their 'repertoire' of emotions and a chance to learn to express these emotions appropriately in public," he says.
Byrnes lives in Chicago with his wife, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, and their two daughters.