Can the iPad Really Help My Autistic Son?
My wife Jill and I recently visited the classroom of my autistic 12-year-old son Alex, where a boy, Alex’s classmate, was drawing bright splashes across the screen on his lap.
“iPad,” I said to Jill, who drooled. She’d just bought an iPod Touch, and she’s swiftly became obsessed with it and its apps.
Wow. Somewhere amid the shriveling budgets my son’s 6:1:1 class got its paws in eight iPads (in fact, Alex’s special-needs school just got a $200,000 overall technology grant). “Apple is going to save the world!” noted a reader on Twitter. Being unemployed and growing more unemployable (I worked in publishing), I see the future as hopeless. Yet how can I maintain my pessimism as the dad of a pre-teen with autism when somebody coughs up two hundred grand to help my son?
Well, I can still fall back on Alex’s speech still being primarily screeches and Rain Man-y mutterings, fall back on Alex’s waking at 4 a.m. and rocking crazily in his bed and chattering almost like a squirrel. I can fall back on his dawning sexual awareness, which in the autistic can be its own special nightmare. And I can certainly always rely on Alex still loving, on the cusp of puberty, Elmo.
“In my opinion, we should encourage Alex to verbally communicate as much as possible before getting him reliant on these tools,” his service coordinator has said; she’s looking into funding for Alex’s personal iPad. “It may be helpful to get a professional opinion on whether this can benefit him, though.”
Alex’s school must have gotten a volume discount on the iPads, like the one they recently got the on PCs that came with no CD-ROM drives, and the ones they must get on the latex-free, powder-free rubber gloves they go through at about a hundred a week. I didn’t know this, but special-needs schools use these gloves for everything from feeding to toilet training, and by the time the gloves run scarce in a school like Alex’s they’re as precious as cigarettes on the WWII black market. Does Apple ever run out of rubber gloves?
Alex’s teacher welcomes my suggestions about apps, and she seems enthusiastic about teaching Alex with this new tool, much as a teacher must have once been excited with the idea of teaching with the first pencil. Don’t get me wrong: I hate the alternative, where Alex’s school would get the worst of everything all the time. These are iNuggets of promise. And they are really cool: I watched Alex’s classmate swipe explosions of color – or at least pictures of explosions of color – across the book-sized screen.
Leaving aside that Alex tries to access TV shows on Preschool On Demand not by pressing the buttons of the remote but by pressing his fingertips on the TV screen, I’m left to answer: What is this teaching him? Will it help him survive? Stand up to people who want him to eat in his classroom? Keep him off a park bench in 30 years? Or will he simply use the big Pad to find, and I know there must be one, an Elmo app?
Photo by ad-tech
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