April is Autism Awareness Month, but autism is something some East Tennessee families live with every day.
Technology can help those families communicate.
Tabatha Rainwater says her 5-year-old son Junior can talk, when he wants to, but that's not very often.
"He didn't respond to his name when he was 6-months-old and I have a background in education, so that was my very first signal that maybe something was going on," Rainwater said.
Tony and Tabatha Rainwater did not get an official diagnosis until about 3 years later. Junior is on the autism spectrum.
He has two little sisters: Nora who is 4, and Cate who is 9 months old. They seem like a typical family when they play at Autism Site Knoxville. But Junior has therapy five days a week to try to build life skills and social skills and verbal skills.
His parents are fans of technology and use apps on an iPad to help Junior communicate.
"The app that we have on our iPad is for people, things, lots of nouns. The app that we are using for him to tell me about his head aches is all internal," Tabatha said.
Junior gets frequent headaches.
"Should I give him something for a headache? Does he have a headache? Is that why he is banging his head on the wall?" she said.
Tabatha bought a Kinsa smart thermometer to track her daughter Cate's temperature while she was teething.
The Kinsa app on her phone connects to it and features a Sesame Street mode with Elmo's voice.
"I discovered you can push buttons to make sounds and it will tell you different symptoms verbally. Junior and I were playing around with it one day and he started hitting head hurt when I was under the assumption that he had a headache," she said. "We tested it. I would say does your tummy hurt and push the tummy hurt button? And he wouldn't say anything."
But he did respond to the head hurt button.
"If he's having a really bad migraine he would hit it 10 or 15 times, but if it was just a little headache he may only hit it once. It became very clear, very quickly that he was communicating to me for the first time how he was feeling internally," she said.
The family has a new communication tool and a message they would like to share about people with autism, people like Junior.
"Don't judge a book by its cover. He's a pretty cool kid," Tabatha said.
This Sunday is Autism Family Day at Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies. It starts at 7:30 a.m. Families can register online at AutismSiteKnoxville.org
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