Last April we got an iPad for Josiah. After reading about the iPad and watching some videos, I had a hunch that this would be something that Josiah would dig. He already loved buttons, electronics, music and anything that would make noise. Perhaps instead of “stimming” on those things, we could actually lean into those motivators so he could learn. Well, my $499 gamble has paid off big time.
I realized that I wrote about “Why We’re Getting an iPad” last March, but I’ve never really followed up to tell people what the results have been for Josiah. Well, I see nothing but potential, potential, potential! Just this morning, I stepped back and marveled at what he was able to do with this miracle of modern technology. Out of all of the apps that are loaded on there, he knows EXACTLY what he wants, what it looks like, how to get to it, and what to do with it once he gets there. There are not just a few choices, he has to be thoughtful, and my son can figure it out! Yes, he’s still very behind in his development–the preschool apps are most suited to his aptitude–but he’s learning!
When we first got the iPad with its intuitive touch screen, Josiah first was mostly drawn to the piano app. He’s a big fan of keyboards. But with the primary proloquo2go app (think a totally pimped out voice-output version of PECS–picture exchange), he kind of had a hard time getting his little finger pointer coordinated to work with it. He wanted to use his fingernail, and it didn’t have the pressure to make the requests needed. But, his therapists worked with him for about 2 weeks on that, and then he took off with it.
I remember one particular day this summer when Josiah grabbed his iPad and went into our closet, sat in a little laundry basket we have in there, and played for a while. He came out knowing how to do the electronic puzzles all by himself. Before that day, I recall being shocked when he checked out the puzzle app and then took my finger and guided the puzzle pieces into the right places. He does know HOW to do it! I began to realize that both motivation and motor planning–not aptitude–were probably at the core of many of Josiah’s deficits. Then, when he figured that out, he has done nothing but excel with the iPad. Quite honestly, he mostly teaches himself on it through exploring.
Goodbye Velcro Pictures
His therapists began to see that he really was taking to the iPad. So they decided to ditch the velcro book and laminated pictures and replace them with the iPad and proloquo2go for his requesting and communication. They obviously still continue to work on his verbal requesting, but speech is still so slow to come. But the iPad has helped us to learn about how Josiah thinks and what he likes more than we ever could have guessed. When he busts out in laughter while playing a certain game, or solicits my help because he wants the sound for one app turned off, it helps me KNOW HIM more. I so desperately have wanted to know what he’s thinking for so long.
I think the biggest challenge that we face is the education and therapy world catching up to the potential that the iPad can offer to children who have difficulty communicating. A couple of months ago, I had a parent meeting with Josiah’s therapists and they were ready to use the iPad for more than just requesting. I wholeheartedly agreed and said, “Yes! There are apps that I’ve downloaded, and you can see he knows how to do matching, he’s a whiz with the puzzles, he can learn more there how to identify letters and numbers. The electronic books can help him learn to read!”
Hurry Up Autism Therapy World–You’re Falling Behind
Now, I do realize that Josiah’s entire life cannot be lived on the iPad, but because of the iPad he is now doing real 15-piece puzzles when he “couldn’t” do 5-piece ones before, or would lose interest. But here we are, a couple of months later, and they are struggling to know how to start using the iPad more while making sure they can stick to the curriculum and the “towers” they must fill for federal standards. The “one-size-fits-most” approach and standardization can be good, but can also limit creativity. Who will lead the charge at the higher levels? Our kids are born with technology in their hands, so would someone declare that you can use the iPad to accomplish or spur some of the same skills that are currently tracked only when accomplished tactiley?
Our kids with autism don’t learn the same way as other kids do. We all know that. But that doesn’t mean they can’t learn to approach concepts that will translate to real life if we give them the right tools. Apple probably didn’t set out to revolutionize the world for kids with autism, but it sure is doing it. It’s fun to follow some of the older teens with autism on Facebook who are rocking out their lives now with the help of the iPad. And the iPad is cool! When they use it, it doesn’t look like they are lugging around some chunk of medical equipment. It’s helping one teen I know of make more friends and be more social in high school because she can show how funny and interesting and smart she really is–even though she can’t herself speak a word. I had to laugh when she wrote on Facebook that she got “shooshed” by the teacher because she used her proloquo2go app to “whisper” to a friend during class.
So, Josiah’s Christmas presents this year will probably look like iTunes gift cards so we can buy more apps, instead of a lot of light up baby toys. My boy is 5 now, and he is going to crack his world more open thanks to the iPad. Now, if the rest of the world could catch up, and the people who develop autism curriculum would start making apps like mad fools. Get your current therapists to some conventions and show them how to implement this stuff. Time is a wasting! Link arms with the autism parents that are searching for the cutting-edge, and pioneer with us. Onward, ho!
Here’s Josiah in his early days with the iPad. The piano app kicked things off, and now he’s branched out.