November 7, 2015 by Benji
I’ve been blogging and writing reviews for years now, mostly about music, food, real estate and events. Today is different; I’ll be reviewing an app, something I’ve never done before. Disclaimer: I received the app for free in exchange for the review.
Let’s rewind. My wife Sarah and I have two daughters, Na’amah (6) and Ellah (4). Ellah has a rare congenital brain defect called Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum (ACC) This extremely rare disorder presents itself differently in each person though there are similarities and consistent issues among all cases. One of Ellah’s current issues (“current” because we don’t know whether it’s something she will outgrow) is a lack of verbal communication skills. Ellah understands everything you say to her, she follows directions when she wants to, and can communicate via subtle sign language and some elementary speech. However, for the most part in order to communicate with her, Sarah and I ask her yes/no questions and attempt to whittle away options until we’ve figured out what she wants.
Both Ellah’s speech therapist and her school’s advisor suggested we use an app called TouchChat, a speech assistance application for tablets allowing users to touch pictures that the app then announces, enabling the user to communicate what they are trying to say. It’s a dynamic app featuring multiple languages with customizable pictures. Sarah and I are willing to try almost anything to help Ellah communicate, but when I asked how well it was working, I was informed that while they hadn’t seen success in therapy, they hoped additional reinforcement at home would help. I was about to download the app, but at $199 with expansion packs (for additional words and a Hebrew) bringing the cost to $400 – $600, I was skeptical about this expensive experiment which wasn’t having success.
A friend suggested I reach out to TouchChat and ask for a free download in exchange for a blog post on the progress. I emailed customer service, told them my story, and asked them for a trade. The people I spoke with were really kind, understanding and compassionate. The only thing they requested was occasional updates and social media tags.
I was happy to oblige, on Facebook I posted that we had started trying using TouchChat at home and was getting ready to give 1, 3 and 6 month updates. To our disappointment Ellah wasn’t catching on. Sarah was consistently using the app with Ellah, but Ellah had no interest in it. She would either shut it down open her favorite YouTube videos, or press the bacon button hundreds of times – apparently she really likes the sound of that word. I kept silent on social media, deciding that I’d rather stay quiet then post something negative.
8 moths later I received the following text message: “Ellah used her touchchat to tell me she wanted to watch a show. No prompt, just opened it, pressed “I want” and when I asked her “what” she pressed TV.” I was floored. Was it possible that this was going to work? When I got home, Ellah opened the iPad and tapped away and the app announced “I want a drink.” When we asked her what she would like she pressed the button for “apple juice”.
As you can imagine we were excited. Was this the beginning of a two-way dialog with our daughter? No, it hasn’t been a complete turnaround. Over the next few weeks she used it selectively when she wanted to, and now knows that when she needs something and we aren’t getting it, she can use the app! We are so appreciative to know that Ellah can communicate when she wants so we are doubling down on the efforts to get her using TouchChat more! Thank you to the team at TouchChat for giving us this opportunity, and can’t wait to post videos of her “speaking” to us!
Moving forward I am going to post updates and cool things that she does with the app. Which I hope is a lot.