blood from a stone

“But Mom, can I pleeeeease have some more moneyyyyy!”
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“Honey, I don’t have it to give you. Continually asking me for what I don’t have is like trying to get blood from a stone.”
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~ A recurrent conversation from my childhood
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Have you heard about the Behavior Tracker Pro? It’s an app – or more accurately a group of three apps originally designed for iPhones, iPads and iTouches, but now more widely available on other platforms as well, such as Android and Blackberry.
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The apps were created by autism parents, Elizabeth and Steve Maher together with Nick Rudolfsky of Nitrex Pro Inc. As told on their website, the story was that “Liz needed to find a quick and easy solution to the problem of taking data and instantaneous graphing both professionally and personally. Her husband, who had spent the last 12 years as a senior level UNIX systems administrator, suggested using an iTouch application. Steve began liaising with Nick Rudolfsky and Behavior Tracker Pro was the result.”
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It’s a wonderful idea. Revolutionary even. In concert, the three apps facilitate ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) data collection, graphing, analysis and sharing like nothing else I’ve ever seen. And from what I’m told it does not fall the least bit short of its marketing as a “Comprehensive ABA Based Autism Treatment Plan.”
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The components of the system are as follows:
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The Behavior Tracker Pro, described by its creators as “an iPhone/ iPod Touch application that allows BCBAs, Behavioral therapists, aides, teachers or parents to track behaviors and graph them.” They go on to say that “The application was specifically designed to support the behavioral treatment plans for children with Autism however it can be used to track behavior in any field.”
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The Skill Tracker Pro, described as a tool designed “to increase efficiency in the instruction of children with Autism. Designed by parents of a child with autism, Skill Tracker Pro (STP) helps automate applied behavior analysis instruction.
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The Team Web Portal, which has three versions, a Portal for Professionals, a Portal for School Districts and a Portal for Parents. The Portal for Parents is described as “an umbrella service where users of BTP and STP take the data they collect and turn it into an effective treatment and educational program.”
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Just above the section marketing the Portal for Parents are the words, “As parents, we know that early intervention is critical. Don’t waste time !”
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This is a product that was created BY Autism parents to be marketed TO Autism parents to help their children learn. In the “In the Press” section of their website three of the seven headlines are “New App Helps Children with Autism,” “Luzerne County Couple Creates iPhone App for Autism” and “Mountaintop Couple Create App to Help Autistic Children.”
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They are very clear about who their product is marketed to and who it is designed to help.  I couldn’t be happier that time, energy and resources are being dedicated to creating tools for our kids. I’m thrilled to see parents teaming up with programmers to tailor applications to our children’s unique needs. I’m gratified to see parents helping one another – filling gaps where they see them and providing new resources to help, as we so often do in this world.
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I wish I could end this post there, and send you off to buy the apps. I’ve been wrestling with this for weeks, but I just can’t seem to let it go, so I’m just going to say it.
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I’m all for capitalism. I am in fact a card-carrying capitalist. I believe that everyone has a right to profit from their hard work. Our economy, in theory at least, is designed to financially reward innovation and creativity and I find no fault in that. I think the ability to make money off of one’s work is a crucial motivator for our society. I also think – or at least would hope – that the rules would be slightly different when autism parents are creating products to help other autism parents.
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I don’t mean to imply that the apps should be free. Certainly not. The creators undoubtedly have significant costs to cover and they have every right to charge accordingly. But the Behavior Tracker is $29.99, the Skill Tracker is $29.99 and the Portal for Parents membership fee is $24.99 PER MONTH. (If you buy a year’s membership it comes to $239.99 representing a twenty percent savings over the monthly fee.)
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To be clear, the membership fees are significantly higher for Professional Accounts, which run anywhere from $59.99 to $139.99 a month, depending on the number of clients for which the provider will be using the portal. But truthfully, I couldn’t care less what they charge the professionals. Professionals charge (us) for their services, are at least at the beginnings of becoming reimbursable by insurance in many states, and well, I’ll happily let them negotiate their own rates. My problem with this is that I think that marketing a phone app to Autism Parents that costs a minimum of three hundred dollars a year is somewhat egregious*.
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There is no secret that autism is expensive. No, I don’t know the numbers – I don’t have fancy statistics at the tips of my fingers and I’m not going to spend my very limited time looking them up. I don’t need to.
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I know what we, as a group, pay out-of-pocket for speech therapists, occupational therapists, high-priced special needs classes, neuropsych evaluations, lab testing, special foods, augmentative communication devices, noise canceling headphones, weighted blankets, swings, social skills groups, chewy tubes .. I could go on for days, but do I really need to? Luau and I pay nearly fifteen thousand dollars a year for Brooke’s specialized services out-of-pocket, in addition to what we pay for a premium insurance plan. I have friends who pay much, much more. If she didn’t get such a spectacular menu of services in school, we’d be paying much more too. And if you’re one of us, you know that.
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So I would say to anyone looking to market products to us that are designed to help our kids, “Thank you. Thank you for taking your time and devoting your efforts to mitigating our children’s myriad challenges. These types of products can be wonderful and could have a significant impact on our kid’s lives and what they are ultimately able to achieve. But please think carefully about how you price them. Please make every effort to make your product accessible, rather than available only to the select few who can afford it. Please, if you really want to help our children, help us help ALL of them.”
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ed note: all quotes and information about the Behavior Tracker Pro, Skill Tracker Pro and the Team Web Portal are from the Behavior Tracker Pro website – http://www.behaviortrackerpro.com/default.aspx.
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**** CORRECTION: Please note – I made an error in referring to the BTP suite as ‘an app that costs a minimum of three hundred dollars a year.’ This is a misrepresentation. If one were to purchase all three of the offered apps, the price the initial year would be $300, but the outlay for the BTP and the STP are one time only. Therefore, the maximum cost in subsequent years would be $239.99. Also, in speaking at length with Steve Maher today, I learned that there is no need to buy all three in order for them to be effective.
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Steve and I had a very enlightening dialogue, in which I learned that it is far more expensive to launch an effort like this than I could have imagined. For Steve and his wife, the apps are currently a money losing proposition. Steve has promised to write to us in detail about the process from inception to launch, to outline the associated costs so that we may better understand them and to discuss the thinking that went into pricing the product.
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Additionally, Steve has offered to provide free software to low-income or financially struggling readers. He has a limited number of free units that he is happy to share where there is need. Please e-mail him directly at steve@behaviortrackerpro.com to request a code.
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I apologize to Steve and his wife, Liz for my error this morning. I am grateful to Steve for his time, his transparency and his generosity. I look forward to passing on the information that he sends.
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39 thoughts on “blood from a stone

  1. Thank you! We don’t have the money for private speech therapy, classes, social skills training, ABA, social skills groups—all the things that are out THERE that would help my son. If only. Our state doesn’t provide much in the way of resources (oh, Texas) and insurance is limited in scope, as you know.

    We do what we can and make tremendous sacrifices, and we are fortunate that our guy has made tremendous gains without expensive help. That doesn’t stop me from wondering daily what his life might be like if we had more. The inequity of distribution of services is glaring and frustrating. To see other parents, who presumably want to help other families, charge exorbitant fees…it’s disheartening to see them widening the gap.

    • A few clarifications:

      Behavior Tracker Pro is a one time purchase of 29.99.
      Skill Tracker Pro is also a one time fee of 29.99.
      The team portal is 24.99 per month, but it is an add on service that is not required in any way to use BTP and STP. The person who said $85.00 per month for the apps is just completely misinformed.

      We have put ALL proceeds back into development.

      We are parents of a teenager with Autism and Liz and I understand concerns about finances. We have a fulltime developer to pay, have emptied our 401k and savings.

      If you want to talk to me, please call me at 570-332-2285 and I’d be happy to talk to you.

  2. I can understand a one time fee on the higher end but a monthly fee? sigh. I remember in the days of getting married if you tacked on “wedding” to anything it was a big mark up and I feel the same with special needs items. I was looking for different types of weighted vests for my daughter and went to Etsy and they were more than the one’s in the catalogs. Very frustrating.

  3. Wow! That is expensive for an app. Even if they are trying to offset their costs to create the app, that is so over the top for an app…don’t they realize that if they lower the price that their numbers would go through the roof and that their market share would explode??? They should do some better market research on their end.
    Most people who use iPhone apps are only willing to pay a few dollars per app, even if the app is awesome. Seems almost like they are taking advantage of parents of children with autism, as the creators realize that they have a somewhat captive audience who are pretty willing to do anything to help their children.
    Hopefully, you will get loads of people who will respond to your post so that the makers of this app will have some food for thought…am going to be sure to mention you blog post to friends, both those with children on the spectrum and those who just care about making things better for autistic children, even though they do not have a child on the spectrum. As you stated, egregious creators of this app…hope they will rethink their business plan, as it could be and should be a win-win for not just them but also for the families the app is supposed to help.
    Colleen

  4. Boy does this post touch home.

    If money grew on trees could you imagine how much help children with disabilities would receive? Imagine everyone reaching their full potential.

    When Wyatt was first diagnosed with autism we spared no expense. Everyone was saying early intervention was key. Well 4 1/2 years later and another child with autism the well has dried up. There is only so much money out there. The thing is, less than 250$ a year for something to do with autism is ridiculously cheap. But that’s only because the prices for therapies have gotten out of control. My SLP went up 15$ an hour this year but my insurance still only covers the same amount. (50$ of a now 105$ session). So I don’t think the creators of this software think they are over charging. They probably really believe that this is affordable. This is unfortunately not the reality for all families out there.

  5. Un freaking believable!!! And they’re parents of children with autism?
    Disgusting! I’ll stick with my pen and paper charts and graphs.

    $85 a month for all of those apps? That’s an hour and half of ABA I can buy right there.

    I’m all for capitalism too but now you’re breaking the backs of people stretched financially to the max. UUUGGGHHHH

  6. puke. and that’s nice of you to promote it. before i read too far along i started searching the market on my droid for it. ridiculous.

  7. Hmm…. with that price tag it should come with a ” reach-around”. Just sayin’…
    Yet another marvelous idea that comes with a royal screw. It’s baffling to me that an autism parent would help create something so universally helpful and then turn around and charge that kind of money to people who are already financially strapped paying for servicessupplementsteacherstherapiatsetcetcetc for their kids.
    I believe in karma. It should be interesting when that Jimmy Choo swings back to kick ‘em in the pants.
    Phooey.

    • We’re 100,00 upside down on the financial side of this project. We’re infinitely right side up on the karma side. I’m willing to show you the bank account. Someone had to step up and risk it all and fight back against the abomination that is Autism support at the State and Federal levels. Thats what Liz and I did. To the tune of 100,000 and growing.

      570-332-2285. Call me.

      • Steve, after reading how willing you are to help those who truly need it, please accept my sincere apology. I guess, as a community desperate to help our kids in any and every way, we are all sick of getting schiestered by snake oil salesmen. Thank you for your willingness to make your developments more accessable to those who can truly benefit. I retract my Jimmy Choo and return it to the box ( or more accurately, Nordstom’s where I only drool over them instead of purchase as I have to fork over that cashola

  8. I agree with Colleen: “don’t they realize that if they lower the price that their numbers would go through the roof and that their market share would explode???”

    Also, this is not truly comparable to the cost of a therapy session, because that session at least is customized and dedicated solely to your child. This app, even if you pay the monthly fee, will only work if YOU put in the time and effort to log the data and analyze what it means for your child. It is a one-size-fits-all app that you must customize to have an applicable use. That being said, if money were no object I probably WOULD go out and buy the iPhone, the app, the subscription fee, AND a hundred games to keep my little guy entertained.

  9. A few clarifications:

    Behavior Tracker Pro is a one time purchase of 29.99.
    Skill Tracker Pro is also a one time fee of 29.99.
    The team portal is 24.99 per month, but it is an add on service that is not required in any way to use BTP and STP. The person who said $85.00 per month for the apps is just completely misinformed.

    We have put ALL proceeds back into development.

    We are parents of a teenager with Autism and Liz and I understand concerns about finances. We have a fulltime developer to pay, have emptied our 401k and savings.

    If you want to talk to me, please call me at 570-332-2285 and I’d be happy to talk to you.

  10. this sounds like really creative, inventive technology, i hope they can find a way to make it more accessible financially. they need to create additional app that makes the other apps cheaper.

  11. We routinely offer free codes not just for reviewers and research, but also college students studying ABA. Parents who have expressed concerns about the cost have also received free copies. If you have a device that BTP or STP will run on and you can;t afford it, email me and you’ll get a free copy too.

    If you want we can also do a live screen sharing and I will show you what it costs to develop an app like this.

  12. This is hard. If the apps work as advertised, they can be worth the costs, — but that doesn’t matter if you can’t afford it. I cried when we had to end my son’s subscription to Teach Town, an online ABA/skills tracking program, but the monthly $35 was no longer in our budget. But if we get to expand again? Teach Town will be right back in.

    I’m more irked at the companies who continue to sell static CD-ROMs of simple activities for $80, honestly. At least apps like Behavior Tracker are dynamic — and as a former software producer I can tell you that that both development and dynamism come with ongoing costs.

  13. Steve, in my opinion you come across as a nice guy, well done for developing your product – it sounds good! Also it is nice that you are offering some free copies. I wish you all the best! To everyone else – yes the price seems expensive – but hopefully it will become cheaper!
    I can see both points of view – and hope that when the price can come down a bit – it will be a great application for kiddos (and not break parents bank!) and do ok for Steve and his family too – a win- win!!
    Merry Christmas to all! x

  14. So what you mean Steve is that you will continue to rape the parents, who aren’t poor, for as much money as possible. This industry continues to disgust me. Our kids have become one big dollar sign to some.

    • One time purchase price of 29.99 for an app that we emptied our 401k to create? I don’t know how to respond to your rape statement. I’m speechless.

      I’m writing a overview of what we do, whats involved in terms of process and costs and how and why the price was set at 29.99, again a one time fee for the app. I don’t know what else to say.

      I’m open to phone calls to discuss, even you Sandra.

      Steve
      570-332-2285

  15. Ok–deep breath here. 29.99 x 2 is NOT an exorbitant fee. It is less than 2 months of Dunkin Donuts coffee. This is a niche app–only useful to the special parents out there who have been blessed with the autism fairy–I would guess it is hard to get rich off this. We bought proloquo 2 go ($299!) for our son after shelling out the money for his itouch and it is the BEST money we have ever spent. We are lucky that we can afford it outright. Holly Robinson Peete’s foundation recently launched a campaign to give families affected by autism free ipads (which of course ran out immediately)–so the word is out there that this technology can be lifesaving and can give our kids the voices we know they have. Steve–thank you for developing this app and I hope it becomes so successful that in time you can decrease the price to make it affordable to all. I don’t own it now but will check it out.

  16. **** CORRECTION: Please note – I made an error in referring to the BTP suite as ‘an app that costs a minimum of three hundred dollars a year.’ This is a misrepresentation. If one were to purchase all three of the offered apps, the price the initial year would be $300, but the outlay for the BTP and the STP are one time only. Therefore, the maximum cost in subsequent years would be $239.99. Also, in speaking at length with Steve Maher today, I learned that there is no need to buy all three in order for them to be effective.
    .
    Steve and I had a very enlightening dialogue, in which I learned that it is far more expensive to launch an effort like this than I could have imagined. For Steve and his wife, the apps are currently a money losing proposition. Steve has promised to write to us in detail about the process from inception to launch, to outline the associated costs so that we may better understand them and to discuss the thinking that went into pricing the product.
    .
    Additionally, Steve has offered to provide free software to low-income or financially struggling readers. He has a limited number of free units that he is happy to share where there is need. Please e-mail him directly at steve@behaviortrackerpro.com to request a code.
    .
    I apologize to Steve and his wife, Liz for my error this morning. I am grateful to Steve for his time, his transparency and his generosity. I look forward to passing on the information that he sends.

  17. Everytime I received my son’s behavior chart from school, I’d think, there’s got to be a better way. That an iPad, iOhone or iTouch were ideal for these sort of incentive charts. And I began to dream of developing one myself — now THAT was just plausible enough to feel absolutely impossible. But I seriously considered it. Even spoke to a software developer about the possibility of teaming up with me to do it.

    Then through Autism Speaks, I learned of the Behavior Tracker App. Someone had taken the daunting task I was considering and offered me a solution for something around $30. While more than my typical App outlay of $1 to $8, this would clearly add more real value to my iPhone or iPad than my Tipulator or BrainQuest.

    I want that App. I also want to buy my son an iTouch to send to school with him and ask his team at school to use it. Maybe. Maybe after I get my husband on board. I bought him an iTouch for Christmas. once I get him addicted and his son constantly swipes his cool iPod to play Cut the Rope under the covers, maybe then I’ll be able to get one for my son.

    For now though, I making do with iReward Chart. It’s value is in line with the fee, I think it was something like $6? It’s pretty good.

    But what I really want for Christmas is the real thing – Behavior Tracker Pro.

  18. Seriously? COOL product! And while we know that autism is expensive, this looks like a relatively affordable tool to help. And yes, it’s a choice to pay… We lost our house to pay for the da@$n speech therapist- who worked miracles for our daughter. It was worth every penny- even though our credit is now trashed. Until we have universal coverage of treatment, nifty toys go to those who can pay.

    Steve, I’m sorry you’re getting trashed- but I also hope that you’re getting sales. What you’re getting is our anger (and your anger, too!) at the “programs” that promise things- at an exorbinant cost. There’s tremendous anger among autism parents…

    You might market the products along with your “story”- how you wanted something to help and how you emptied your pockets to make it and to share with others. That way we see the “real” people, not just the company. And as soon as I get a grant to use it, I’ll be teaching my teachers about this! (Teachers don’t have extra money either…)

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