PenguinSmart Helps Break the Silence with Family-Centered Rehab Therapy

Taiwan Tech Arena
Published in
5 min readMay 29, 2019


Matthew and Amy Kwok are pioneers in a field where the need is great, but help is scarce.

For all rehab therapy, there is a limited window in which help is most effective,” said Matthew Kwok, Co-Founder of PenguinSmart one Thursday afternoon at Taiwan Tech Arena.

CEO of PenguinSmart, Amy Kwok and Co-Founder Matthew Kwok

“The problem is that most people don’t get the frequency that they need during this window. We are trying to solve that for families with children who have developmental delays, who almost always need speech and language therapy.”

Matthew and Amy Kwok are no strangers to the medical field. In fact, PenguinSmart began to take shape at MIT as the result of a project to find solutions to problems that affected a billion or more people. With Amy’s background as a doctor and public health practitioner from Harvard, the couple gravitated toward the health and parenting sector to find their answer. The outcome was an app that helped parents kickstart the first three years of their child’s development. Not only did it get the team to the semifinals of the MIT $100K startup competition, it also launched them into the top 50 apps in the ios app store.

Despite the apparent success of the project, the team was already fixed on a bigger pain point; rehab therapy, starting with speech & language therapy for developmentally delayed children. “This is needed by one out of six children, but in China, this field doesn’t really exist,” stated Matthew. “There is no official licensing for speech therapists, no school that trains them up. In the hospital, Amy would often be able to diagnose a child’s condition, but because the hospital did not have the rehab therapists, patients would heartbreakingly have to find help on their own.

Without medically-licensed therapists, parents would often have to turn to minimally-trained “experts” to assist their children and wait over 12 months to see them.

Amy and Matthew with the PenguinSmart Team

This shortage of therapists is not unique to China; every nation suffers from a shortage. With this in mind, the PenguinSmart team switched gears from their parenting app to focus on creating scalable online rehab support tools and services based on the theory of family-centered intervention; by enabling family members to get involved in the daily rehab, patients can get better faster and maximize the critical window compared to relying solely on therapists. “The name of the game is frequency,” says Matthew. “At the same time, PenguinSmart’s services enable therapists to oversee eight-times as many people as they traditionally could. A single therapist can usually oversee about 15 families a month, whereas with our system they would be able to oversee an excess of 100 families a month. Currently, there’s a shortage of 20,000 therapists in the United States and 500,000 therapists in China, so the traditional method of rehab that relies solely on therapist consultations means that many do not get enough rehab during their critical window. Therapists can oversee more activity through our system because they can act as guides or coaches for the families, who are now empowered to be actively involved in their loved one’s daily rehab, tripling the amount of exposure they can get. ”

Panel Discussion with Taipei Mayor, Ko Wen-Je at Taiwan Tech Arena

Matthew went on to describe one of PenguinSmart’s success stories: a five-year-old boy named Andy with autism and hearing impairment, who previously could not control his temper and would often bite and scream. “His mother started working with us for about six months and within her first month, we got a call at 3:00 am. She said “I heard my son say for the first time “Thank you, mommy.” For any parent, that’s big.” In all, Andy was able to catch up to 2 years of developmental delay in only 6 months.

PenguinSmart focuses on addressing two questions that families generally have: “Where is my child developmentally? And “If they have a delay, then what can I start doing about it right now?”

To answer these questions, PenguinSmart created its own online communication development evaluation. “The evaluation can be administered by a parent or caregiver at home in about 15 minutes,” Said Matthew. “They fill out a dynamic questionnaire themselves, but then we have them upload a video of their loved ones doing specific tasks which helps our professionals further the evaluation. Our licensed therapists analyze the data and can tell them where they are on five different areas of communication: Expression, Receptive communication, Oral muscle skills, Preliteracy, and Social/Emotional. For those who discover that their child has a delay, we can start helping them right away with our online home-based rehab guidance service. In addition to regular online consultations with a licensed speech therapist, every family gets a customized daily rehab activity plan that would adjust on a regular basis based on the child’s progress. Parents are also encouraged to ask questions to better understand what is going on with their child, and they can track the child’s progress”

What PenguinSmart is truly excited about, however, is being able to integrate AI into these fields. “In rehab therapy, there’s not a lot of data, so sample sizes are typically very small. Being able to utilize larger sample sizes is paramount for therapy. If the system could recommend plans that are increasingly accurate and effective, then that’s really cool. It’s something that has never been done before in this field.”

“Over time, AI will help us to determine the optimal treatment path, and we see this system being extended to other age groups too, such as adults who have suffered from brain trauma or post-stroke victims who need to learn to communicate again”

PenguinSmart initially directly targeted Chinese-speaking families but is now working with hospitals, schools, and other organizations as well as expanding to other countries.


The author, Dustin Craft, is a freelance writer with a background in communication and international business. His main topics are on business and travel.