When the iPad Flies (and I mean that literally)

The iPad certainly seems to have become The Hot Thing to have if there's someone on the autism spectrum in your household and, too, if you're a parent in general. Thanks to everyone for your stories and thoughts (and thanks of course to Shannon for her BlogHer article on her son Leo and the iPad).

There are some aspects of being the parent of an autistic child that make having an iPad a bit more, how to put it, pressing? poignant? something like essential?

The ease with which I can find photos and music and (we have a 3G iPad) download anything anywhere so Charlie can almost immediately have these, is a very great thing. So is the brightness and clarity of the screen, not to mention the size of the device—it's just right for Charlie to hold in his lap, keeping in mind that he's gotten so tall for his 13 1/2 years that he was, quoting Jim, 'the tallest person' in the convenience store when we stopped there prior to a bike outing yesterday morning. Charlie has an iPod Touch but its size has limited his using it—he can type even on the smaller screen but, of course, it's not easy to see things on a device of that size.

When Charlie was younger, I spent a couple hundred on a touchscreen that was jerryrigged with clips onto a laptop. It only worked intermittently, was always on the verge of falling off, and bothered Charlie because he knew it was an 'add-on.' The iPad's touchscreen works just as well as one might wish for, though Charlie is still learning just how much pressure to apply to slide the 'power on' and to get apps and files and photos to open (he tends to touch it too lightly). And, it's super-easy to record short phrases for Charlie to activate with a tap of the screen.

I have to say, had Charlie been younger, I would have thought the iPad something of a dream machine. No more carting around piles of flashcards, cutting out magazine and catalogue photos for the flashcards, getting gluestick all over myself, fighting with the laminator, running up an Office Max bill from buying so many color cartridges for the printer, watching Charlie rip the photos off the flashcards.

Which leads me to one reason why I was hesitant about an iPad for Charlie.

The damage issue.

Fragments of a frieze of Herakles and the Nemean Lion in the museum in Archaic Olympia
(Something broken that can only be fixed so much.)

Another parent brought up this point in a comment a few days ago. Kent Adams suggested a durable OtterBox case (I've ordered one). We've been through quite a few experiences of catapulted electronic devices with, as a result, seeing those little X's appear in the eyes of the start-up icon on the silvery blue iPod mini Charlie had years ago, and a visit to the Genius Bar during which the Genius informed me that my laptop was broken in the place that's 'most expensive to fix'. (Throwing, one learns, is not covered under AppleCare.) There is also the potential for other sorts of things occurringthat might make an iPad or other device not work, such as immersion in parts of one's household where there's water (lost at least two iPods that way and had a plumber bill to boot when the silicon case floated down the pipe). And of course there was the time Charlie threw away his iPod in the garbage.

These unfortunate fates have befallen various of the electronic devices in our household in part because, time and again, videos, music, photos, all have the potential to be over-stimulating to Charlie's sensory system and therefore get thrown, I suppose out of a need to get that over-stimulating item out of the way ASAP. Sometimes throwing has been preceding or followed by head-banging—because Charlie's head was not feeling too good from the over-stimulation, or because he felt bad for throwing the device and was, sigh, taking it out on himself). Then, one has numerous problems to address, of which the thrown device quickly becomes the least (if increasingly money-gobbling-up) important. 

Being parents of children with disabilities who need a device to communicate and to give them something to do as they have so few activities, and who may just have a terribly hard, hard time without being able to hear that music or see those videos and photos or play that game—due to these circumstances, it's not unheard of for one to find oneself foing back to the store the very next day (if not the same day) the iPod, etc., was rendered unusable and to get another, new device, courtesy of your weary credit card. Some may deem such a parent to be 'spoiling' her or his child by getting another device after she or he has just, um, broken one, but a parent knows why she or he is doing what she or he is and of course one is trying to teach one's child cause and effect (throw the device = break the device = no device).

It's just that, in Charlie's case at least, it takes some times (quite some time) to work out such relationships.

So yes, the throwing issue (and the putting-the-iPod-in-the-water-issue) were reasons that we were in no rush to get one for Charlie. We more than appreciated the kindness of my aunts and my parents to get one for Charlie, you can be sure! Of course, we keep a careful eye on Charlie when he has the iPad. So far, he's shown no signs of anything untowards and I do think past experiences chucking stuff in the air and seeing the result has taught Charlie you toss it, it's broken, that's it. Charlie is taking to the iPad but slowly, in the methodical way he does when dealing with anything new: Charlie was a late walker, in part because, I often think, he needed extra time to accommodate himself to the major change that walking and being vertical would be to the crab-scoot-thing he'd started doing when he was just turning 12 months old. Charlie never likes to be rushed.

Needless to say, everyone from his daycare teachers to the pediatrician to us who worried about him not walking when he was a (non-toddling) toddler can only now say, well, he certainly gets around fine now.

To the tune of 37 miles over three bike rides, two on the home route and one 19-miler on a different stretch of the horse country bike trail—just lovely times we had on Saturday. An after-dinner walk (with me) put Charlie at just over 40 miles for the day.

Too, bikes—Charlie's and Jim's mountain bikes—are very durable entities and can survive mud, rain, dirt, dust, throwing, and the hard pedaling of one 13 1/2 year old very well.

Boy going places

10 Responses to “When the iPad Flies (and I mean that literally)”
  1. feebee says:

    I have bought nine identical remote controls. And four Leapsters, before we gave up on them. Two Nintendos DS.
    The best (worst?) one at our house was having to buy a new television because a certain someone stood on top and peed on it, resulting in a loud POP!, a cry of pain, and a howl of loss.
    BTW, I’m watching the HBO/BBC production of Rome on DVD and really enjoying it. I already had a thing for Julius Caesar and this is just making it worse. I know nothing of the historical accuracy but it seems like the sort of thing a classicist would either love or hate. Have you seen it?

  2. emma says:

    Ah, the joys of printing and laminating! Actually it gives me that “doing something” feeling so I quite enjoy it:)
    Our iPod – so far – has been remarkably resilient, it has met with floor more times than I can remember (marble – not carpeted), and quite a few times as a projectile rather than accidental drop. I’m very wary of the bathroom!
    I think Dimitri is starting to get the throw=break=no device. Sometimes he(I imagine) forgets in intense moments, other times I can almost see an inner struggle of self control going on (arm positioned ready to launch object). Although, other times I think there may be an element of “dare me, go on!” twinkling in his eye.
    I think you are going with a sensible approach to the iPad, introducing it slowly, at Charlies pace. It’s very tempting with such a device to try everything all at once and adding every app that you can find, which is just confusing.

  3. Nicole says:

    two tv’s (the first one he broke at 18 months!!), at least 10 lamps, one computer (I’m not counting the one that had to be rebuilt but is under the “throw it out a window and we’ll fix it” warranty), two printers, one cordless phone, a wooden dresser older than me, three pairs of prescription glasses (we have learned, recently, to invest in flexible titanium), and two very fritzy leapsters later…
    yeah. We’re going through a very difficult kindergarten transition at the moment, that results in a lot of hitting and throwing of objects between 3 and 8 pm each night. I was considering buying an ipad, but after seeing one that was, literally, shattered I decided it could wait for now.

  4. Sarah says:

    Hi Kristina and Charlie,
    Might it help to tell the IPod to take a nap every twenty minutes or so to give Charlie time to process input that might otherwise overwhelm him? Just a thought!

  5. Louise says:

    I have been thinking alot about your statement that Charlie has a difficult time with “no.” This post, like that one, is about the need to accommodate your actions and statements to Charlie’s needs: his communication abilities, his slow time in getting used to changes, his responses when he doesn’t get what he wants. You accommodate his needs and desires as much as humanly possible. It helps Charlie to be “peaceful-easy feeling,” because he doesn’t have to deal with not getting what he wants or with frustration.
    You and Jim are both totally devoted parents, shaping your schedules and activities to Charlie’s needs and desires, his moods and psychological states. He stays safe from self-injury and remains happy because of your tender, complete care. Your standard of giving is so far above what “normal” parents (like me) do that it often puts me to shame!
    As the parent of a teen-aged “neurotypical,” I can attest that a lot of Jake’s upbringing consisted of getting him to teaching him to accommodate himself, his needs and desires to the expectations of the rest of the world. Our desires, his teacher’s, those of store and restaurant and museum patrons and owners: all these desires and needs of adults took preference over his. Now, bosses’ demands will take preference over his desires.
    It seems to be the reverse of your approach. I wonder what would happen if we raised our child the way we are raising youyrs. At what point does thw switch-over in styles begin, and at what point does emphaiss on obdience and accomodation to others become a problem to the child?
    Just pondering … no conclusions yet. What do you think? You say that Charlie shouldn’t hear “noes,” because of his bad associations. “No Barney,” “no Farm Families” means the loss of those items – often an enforced loss, because it really means “No item that you perseverate about.” Parents of NT families know how furious and sorrowful hearing “No” can make a child, but they often believe that their reasons trump the child’s: finances, school demands, standards of public courtesy, hygiene, health and diet, etc. Would it be better for us and the child if we stopped saying “no”?
    Or, conversely, how do you see Charlie handling moments when he must hear “no” from you, teachers, or other parents? Do you believe that avoiding such situations (such as the Red Brownie Box Store) or giving him what he wants (exercise as demanded) is the best policy?
    Jake says it’s better for him that he was raised hearing and learning to accept “no,” because he goes so many places where “no” is said. How do you prepare Charlie for that?

  6. Sharon says:

    and durability is the reason Steve Jobs won’t promote the iPad as a device for our kids. My kids have not thrown their devices but we have had a computer or two drop or fail due to negligence.

  7. autismvox says:

    I think the HBO ‘Rome’ is quite good—not accurate on all fronts, but what can be! Most of our household items that have suffered the fate of your TV have been couches, mattresses (even with the plastic covers, incredible!).
    Marble, mmm, I think we might have lost a few more things in that case—though our house is almost all hardwood floors. I must confess that Charlie has not always been the culprit when something gets dropped.
    @Nicole and Sharon,
    I’m actually kind of glad that Charlie IS a bit older now that the iPad has come out and seems to have a better understanding about things being dropped!
    A very good idea—I have the iPad set to go dark after 2 minutes and as Charlie has not yet been able to turn it back on on his own, I guess that is a bit of a natural way to break things up.
    I guess one thing I would say is that I hope that people will change to accommodate individuals who are different and understand that there are other ways of speaking and being. Charlie certainly understands there are limits and I get the sense that he indeed looks for them. It is the case that the limitations on what Charlie can do, on where he might go (not without someone with him), and so forth are much greater and more absolute even than for many, indeed certainly many more than in the case of Jake (who was very lovely to meet back in May; hope he is well).

  8. autismvox says:

    It is great — though wondering about what might happen if it were to, ah, fly? Especially with the speaker. — I should say, Charlie has so fa not shown any signs of being inclined to do such.

  9. Shannon says:

    I’ll be very interested to see what Charlie & you think of that OtterBox. We watch Leo like hawks when he has his iPad. Red-tailed hawks. He seems to understand that the iPad is not to be beaten upon, but then he received his iPad in May – the beginning of his mellow temperament season. We’ll see what happens as winter/unpredictable season nears.
    We’re still doing both digital and velcro-based visual schedules, btw. Because Leo knows the digital schedule can be modified, it doesn’t have absolute authority, and he will sometimes argue with it. Which is pretty funny, really.

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