Communication plays a big role in understanding our children. But it can be a struggle for parents of non-verbal children with autism. One dad wishes to change that with an app he created especially for his daughter. Thankfully, it’s now helping parents and kids from all over the world.
Rob Laffan, an engineering student in Ireland, is dad to 5-year-old Sadie who falls under the non-verbal autism spectrum. To help her express herself and communicate with him, he created an app that allowed her to choose images on a screen, convert the images to text, and send it via SMS to his phone. He called it TippyTalk, and Sadie uses it to talk to him whenever and wherever he is.
The messages can read, “Hi Daddy, my belly hurts," "Hi Daddy, I want to watch T.V. please,” and also “Hi Daddy, I feel mad.”
Before the app, Laffan says the family used printed out pictures that Sadie would point to or hold up to show what she wanted. But he says it got damaged and lost, which only left him and Sadie frustrated.
So the eureka moment happened. “I saw that I could incorporate Sadie’s pictures onto these screens, and link those pictures to programmed text messages that would be directed out either to my wife’s phone or my own phone,” he told UTV Ireland.
Once programmed, Sadie helped test it out. “It was intuitive enough that she knew exactly where she was going. When she saw her pictures, she saw what she wanted.”
The app is simple and operates using just three screens. The first screen shows pictures of who the child wants to talk to like mom or dad, for example. Pick one, and it leads to the next screen that shows a set of images indicating desires, wants, needs or feelings. Choose the image for “food,” and it leads to the third screen with a wide selection of food like an orange, an apple, milk, etc.
All the images are customizable so you can use pictures that your child will be able to understand best. The pictures area also are set in big icons against a simple white background.
Laffan shared his and his daughter’s everyday experience with the app. “I was in the garden and she communicated with me and on going through the screens she pushed on an image of the Parkway Shopping Centre,” he told Irish Mirror. “This is where she wanted to go, and we went there. She was able to let me know that she felt very happy.”
The app is now available in 48 countries. It offers a 30-day free trial where you and your child can test it out and see if it works for you family. If it does, the app requires a monthly subscription rate. It does cost money as it uses SMS to send an unlimited number of messages from your child to your phone. The app only needs to be installed on one device -- the one your child uses -- and family members or caregivers will be able to receive the messages on any mobile phone.
Laffan wrote on the TippyTalk website, “As a parent we can all relate to the overwhelming need, want, and desire to protect and provide a better quality of life for our children.” And with TippyTalk, parents with nonverbal children are given a tool that makes it possible.
TippyTalk can be downloaded for free on iOS and Android devices.