Communicating Symptoms with Nonverbal Autism: Kinsa gives Junior a Voice
Silence is not a word you’d associate with Tabatha Rainwater’s bustling home just outside of Knoxville, Tennessee. Facetime with her any day of the week and you’ll get to experience a pretty adorable cast of characters rolling (7 month old Cate), running (4 year old Nora) and swinging (5 year old Junior) in the background. But ironically, Tabatha would give just about anything to have one more voice in the mix. That’s because Junior, her oldest, is nonverbal.
With health issues that range from pica to severe autism, Junior is frequently sick. Even with a home health professional at the house daily, it’s hard to keep track of his many ailments - especially because Junior can’t communicate how he’s feeling inside. Junior’s health challenges, combined with the prospect of baby Cate on the way and a well-timed coupon in her inbox, led Tabatha to purchase a Kinsa Smart Stick thermometer last year.
Tabatha’s Kinsa was soon a fixture in the Rainwater house for all three kids (Nora was quick to point out how she “pops the bubbles” when she isn’t feeling well). But it was switching their Kinsa app to Sesame Street Mode that caused the real magic to happen. Thanks to Kinsa’s partnership with Sesame Workshop, anyone with the Kinsa app can switch to “Elmo Mode.” Along with some adorable Sesame-themed visuals, when kids press on the symptoms they are feeling, they get to hear the real voice of Elmo acting out each symptom. So when Junior saw an icon, pressed a button and heard Elmo say his head hurt, he got very excited. In fact, he kept pressing it again and again until Tabatha realized what was going on. When she asked if his head hurt, he hit it several more times and smiled. And then he pressed “Save.”
After years of confusion and concern regarding how Junior was feeling, Kinsa has given Junior a voice -- or at least, allowed him to share one with a certain furry red friend. Now when Junior isn’t feeling right, he and Mom get out the Kinsa app and he presses the icons he’s feeling over and over again, depending on the severity of his symptoms. When he’s sure Mom understands exactly what’s going on inside him, he hits “Save.”
Tabatha is beside herself with relief. “You don’t know how many times in the past I’ve known something wasn’t right, but I wasn’t able to fully understand what was going on. It’s so scary to just trust your hunch, especially when you are trying to decide whether you should medicate your child.” Tabatha tested their shared “Elmo language” multiple times to make sure Junior was truly communicating. She tried to get him to press symptoms she knew he wasn’t feeling (like convincing him to press “tummy ache” when he was happily eating a favorite food). After several tests and knowing smiles from her son, she and Junior both knew they’d found something special.
More importantly, she is finally starting to fully understand the severity and length of Junior’s headaches. With this information all conveniently recorded in the Kinsa app, they’ve made an appointment with a migraine specialist to work on a treatment plan.
“Now, Elmo’s voice is Junior’s voice. We just wish we'd found Kinsa sooner,” explain Tabatha and husband Tony. “We want to share our story so that other parents of nonverbal kids can know there’s a solution out there.”