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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

A mom's story: "TapToTalk has given Kaitlyn a way of communicating with us that has changed all of our lives"

This guest post was written by Susan Tarr, whose daughter has been using TapToTalk since 2010.

Children are born every day, and as they learn and grow, most reach developmental milestones around the same age as their peers. Sometimes a child does not reach one or more developmental milestones and the child and family require support. The ability to talk and communicate ones needs is essential. What can be done when someone is unable to speak due to autism, cerebral palsy, stroke, ALS, or other conditions? It can be frustrating for a nonverbal person to try to communicate their wants or needs with someone and it is equally frustrating for those trying to understand what is being communicated.

Our daughter Kaitlyn (pictured) was born sixteen years ago; she did not eat well, slept most of the time, and did not reach developmental milestones. The first two years of Kaitlyn’s life we worried and continuously compared her development (or lack of) to that of her siblings. Finally, we found a new pediatrician who introduced us to many specialists and got Kaitlyn into a program called Early Intervention. Attending Early Intervention with Kaitlyn gave us hope, but when she wasn’t walking or talking by three, we feared that this was going to be a long road.

You don’t know what you don’t know so you do not know what to ask for. It’s not easy to get help figuring out what you need for your child. Kaitlyn’s first speech therapist refused to try Boardmaker pictos with Kaitlyn until she made eye contact; Kaitlyn was five years old before a new speech therapist introduce picture exchange to Kaitlyn (and us). Picture exchange was Kaitlyn’s first method of communicating with us. Because she ripped everything, I placed every picture in a 2x2 inch magnetic plastic frame and kept them on the refrigerator.

After a few years, my husband I began our pursuit of finding an augmentative communication device for Kaitlyn. We wanted something portable and destruction proof – she could drop it or throw it without warning. The speech therapists Kaitlyn had never could find the right device for her. We bought a Dynavox that Kaitlyn used for awhile but she was not gentle with it so the teachers were afraid to use it with her and finally it broke. We went through many communication books--laminate is not strong enough for Kaitlyn (nor are spiral binders). Speech therapists recommended many AAC devices but all were thousands of dollars, fragile, and most were not easily customized. A few years ago a friend discovered the app TapToTalk and recommended we look into it for Kaitlyn.

TapToTalk is an AAC app that allows nonverbal people to communicate by touching pictures that produce speech that match the picture. TapToTalk can be used on most mobile devices and one person’s album(s) can be uploaded to as many devices as desired. We have found that the cost of TapToTalk Designer ($150) and a mobile device was much less expensive than the AAC devices we had looked at with the school speech therapists.

Anyone who needs a mode of communication would benefit from the TapToTalk app. TapToTalk albums are similar to folder systems where pictures can be sorted into categories and linked to related items so that the user can go right to the word (picture) that they need. Hungry can lead to “breakfast”, “meals”, and “snacks”, and these categories can lead to food choices. The ability to customize pages and albums for one individual is endless! The Designer has many options when creating albums.

TapToTalk can be downloaded as a free app and used as it is. The free app's sample albums are well designed and may be enough for some people to use. We used the free app while I was creating pages in albums using TapToTalk Designer. Designer costs $150. My husband and I felt it was worth every penny to give our daughter the ability to tell us what she wanted, needed, and felt. $150 is a small price to pay to change someone’s life for the better and give them a voice.

TapToTalk Designer allows the “programmer” to customize the albums to meet the needs of the individual user. There are multitudes of ways to find the right picture to use for personalized communication needs. The TapToTalk picture library contains over 2,600 pictures from several different categories. Pictures can also be uploaded from personal computer libraries and pictures can be taken on your device or from the internet, and uploaded onto TapToTalk. There are many options for adding speech to each picture as well. TapToTalk is available in many different languages and in many different English accents, but because you can record your own voice, TapToTalk albums can be created in any language. You can change and update albums and pages as your child or adult person’s needs change. TapToTalk grows with your child.

TapToTalk has given Kaitlyn, now 16, a way of communicating with us that has changed all of our lives; it is her voice. I still remember the first time Kaitlyn used her TapToTalk and told the waitress at a restaurant that she wanted a cheeseburger and french fries, she beamed with pride and I was in tears.

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