Ryan Farris desperately needed a tool to help him communicate with Nolan, his 11-year-old autistic son. When he found out that nothing suitable was available, he took matters into his own hands and created the urTalkerPro app, which allowed his family to communicate with Nolan via a picture-exchange program.
Ryan and his wife Jody knew that their son was in trouble when he was born several months premature due to a blood clot in Jody’s placenta. As a result of the early exit from the womb, Nolan suffered developmental motor function delays and disorders such as cerebral palsy and autism. Nolan’s ability to see is impaired, and so is his ability to communicate. Still, after a touch-and-go first year, which Nolan spent in and out of the hospital, he came home where the devotion of his family, as well as aid from the Early Childhood Intervention program, allowed Nolan to learn to walk, stand, and play with his siblings.
“Nolan received in-home therapies five or six days a week,” Ryan said. “At age 3, the boy who wasn’t supposed to walk was walking. At the age of 4, Nolan had managed to get his trach tube out and breathe on his own.”
Despite these advances, Nolan, who was named after Texas Rangers pitching legend Nolan Ryan, still had a terribly hard time communicating his wants and needs. He’s a smart boy but is almost totally nonverbal.
The idea for urTalker was born when they saw Nolan playing around with pictures on Jody’s iPad. He was scrolling through the album covers of the iPad’s music collection in order to change the song, which led Ryan to think that he could do the same thing when selecting among the pictures of his toy collection. That was the beginning of one of the first augmentative communications apps which are meant to take the place of the stand-alone communication devices used by autistic kids like DynaVox and SpringBoard.
The urTalker app doesn’t just end with the toys. The app also includes pictures of Nolan’s bedroom furniture and his favorite foods. To communicate the fact that he’d like his breakfast, Nolan scrolls over to the picture of his customary cereal.
To employ the urTalker Pro, the user selects from one to 16 grid images and adds any single word or statement to a sentence-builder to communicate or sequence events and ideas. On Nolan’s iPad, urTalker Pro is set up in such a way that specific categories turn on at certain times during the day, allowing him to easily communicate relevant information for that activity or time of day.
The urTalker Pro app is available for purchase on the iTunes store for $99.99 and a less robust version, called urTalker Lite, can be purchased for $19.99.