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The Tiny Talker by Ryan and Brittani Rollen

Special Strong is now giving local businesses a platform to share how their services can make a difference for people with special needs. This device’s name is The Tiny Talker, started by Ryan and Brittani Rollen, the proud parents of Lucas.

Tell Us What You Do

We are the parents of a special needs son who was non-verbal for the first five years of his life. Every day, we watched Lucas becoming more and more frustrated by his inability to communicate with the world around him. At the same time, we noticed what few options available on the market were less than satisfactory.

From this frustration, an idea was born. The idea was to develop an inexpensive introductory speech aid for kids with similar challenges Lucas faced. The final product is the Tiny Talker, a portable, inexpensive 12-button speech aid. This device would make it possible for kids like Lucas to communicate several common needs.

After Tiny Talker, we created a board book to help kids learn how to use the Tiny Talker. Ryan and Brittani wrote “Lucas the Lion Loves the Tiny Talker,” in honor of Lucas and his struggles.

About the Tiny Talker

The Tiny Talker is simple to operate a 12-button communication device. By pressing one of the buttons, the Tiny Talker speaks. The clear voice audio allows the user to express their basic needs. At less than the cost of other electronic speaking devices, the Tiny Talker offers an affordable solution. You can buy one for home, one for school, and one for each caregiver your child sees. It is small enough to fit in your pocket and uses a pair of tiny batteries without a charger.

The Tiny Talker is ready to use as soon as you turn it on. This is unlike iPads and most other augmentative communication devices. There are no apps to download, no wasted time trying to search screen to find the right things to say. The Tiny Talker features large 3/4-inch buttons that are perfect for many children who have fine motor delays. Lucas the Lion Loves The Tiny Talker is a book about Lucas the Lion. Lucas the lion, like most kids, loves to play with his friends.

Lucas Can’t Talk

He also likes watching television and snacking on his favorite foods, like his friends. Unfortunately, Lucas can’t talk, which makes communication frustrating for Lucas. This is because the people around him don’t understand what he needs, and he can’t tell them.

One day Lucas Lion’s mom comes home with the Tiny Talker ™. The Tiny Talker is an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device. The Tiny Talker helps children with communicative disabilities learn to use an augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) device in a more natural way.

Using the Tiny Talker with the book, kids see the symbols in the story and match them to the appropriate button. Once the button is pressed, the user can hear the device’s response. This reinforces children’s understanding by appealing to visual, kinesthetic, and auditory learning styles all at once. Lucas the Lion Loves The Tiny Talker is a fun and intuitive way to help children find their voice!

Tell Us Your Story and Why You Got Started

Ryan and Brittani were childhood sweethearts who married after college. Ryan is a sales rep while Brittani is an attorney. Their daughter, Blair, was born in 2008. Their son, Lucas, was born 5 years later in 2013. Soon they started to notice that Lucas was not hitting developmental milestones. Following lots of visits to the doctor along with 2 rounds of genetic testing, Lucas was diagnosed with Joubert Syndrome (JS). JS is an extremely rare genetic disorder that results in a portion of the hindbrain to be under-formed. Kids with Joubert Syndrome encounter problems with balance, coordination, speech, and eye movement. Some kids have more serious medical issues as well, but, this has not been the case with Lucas, so far.

Lucas has been in therapy since he was four months old. He used a gait trainer for over a year. This past summer, at 3 1/2 years of age, he started walking independently. As you can imagine, was a BIG deal in their house. Lucas lacks the fine motor skills for most sign language. His biggest issue is communication and his only word is “Hi.”

The therapists believe that he is cognitively “fairly normal” for his age (though it’s hard to tell since he is nonverbal). Because he has a good understanding of what is going on around him, he gets very frustrated when he can’t communicate what he wants. This, of course, can lead to behavioral issues.

 

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So Much Frustration

I can only imagine how frustrating it is for him when he can’t tell people what he wants. A few months ago, we were having dinner at home. Lucas was holding a small sound effect machine that Santa brought him for Christmas. My husband wondered aloud “Why doesn’t something like this exist as a speech device? Something small, basic, and expensive?” We “Googled” it but couldn’t find anything like what we wanted. We immediately started brainstorming what words should be on it and what to call it. Shortly after that, my husband found a manufacturer to make them!

We know that there are a lot of options on the market for speech, but we feel The Tiny Talker reaches a special niche. It is a great option because it’s portable, handy and has large enough buttons for kids with fine motor delays to manage. It also happens to be inexpensive enough to own more than one. I, personally, keep one in the cup holder of my car, beside my son’s car seat so that we can reach for it while in the car.

We also have one in his backpack, one in his diaper bag, and one for his caregivers. Obviously, the device has limitations as it only contains 12 words. This is because we wanted to keep the device as simple as possible. It was also very important that we keep the price as low as possible. This would let people try The Tiny Talker as an option before they spend more money on more expensive devices. Case in point: about a year ago we bought Luke a $300 iPad app that he never uses!

If Someone was Considering Your Services, What Would You Want Them to Know?

As parents of a non-verbal child with special needs, communication has always been a challenge. We have tried picture exchange communication (PECs), iPad apps, augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) devices, and sign language (ASL). Each of these works, but only to a certain extent. Sitting around the dinner table one night, we wondered, ” Why is there not a small, lightweight, and inexpensive speech aid out there? Something basic that uses common phrases to help with communication?”

After spending lots of time searching the market, we couldn’t find anything even close to what we had in mind. This led us to put on our thinking caps and The Tiny Talker® was born!

Following several months of selling The Tiny Talker, we came up with another idea, ” Why don’t we write a book that teaches kids how to use an introductory speech-generating device, like The Tiny Talker?” With this in mind, we sat down and wrote Lucas the Lion Loves The Tiny Talker in honor of Lucas (our son). The book tells the story of a young lion cub who like Lucas cannot speak, As you can imagine this very frustrating for him.

Then, his mom buys him The Tiny Talker, and it tracks how he uses it in a given day to communicate his needs. We hope that kids can relate to Lucas and learn to use The Tiny Talker, and eventually other devices, to communicate their needs as well. We believe that everyone deserves to have a voice.


Special Strong provides fitness and nutrition for special needs children, adolescents, and adults with autism and other disabilities. Through our online training platform, we also provide special needs fitness certification courses for personal trainers and service providers who want to work autism and other disabilities.

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