The i-Pad Story

Have been wanting to write this one for a bit.  I think it's better that I waited though, as the story has changed somewhat over the last few months.


If you are a part of the Autism community you are likely aware of The Coming of the i-Pad.  If not, I can tell you that Apple's latest toy has become the "must have" technology for a large number of kids on the spectrum.  There are two reasons for this.  First, for those who are non-verbal and can or do use assistive communication devices, the i-Pad is far less expensive and there are communication apps available for it making it an affordable alternative.  Second, it is a touch-screen based technology, so it is significantly easier to use than a computer - for those who have difficulty using a mouse or who are not cognitively able to type, it opens up a whole new world. 

There have been many, many stories of the "i-Pad miracle".  There are so many apps available for it at little to no cost, many of them educational, kids are doing things with it that they would never have done otherwise.  It gives families some tremendous insight in to what their children know and can do, but just haven't seen. Kids are spelling, reading, doing math, communicating, and the list goes on.


Josh likes the computer but it's hard for him.  He has tremendous difficulty with fine-motor activities in general but also making the connection between what he's doing with the mouse and what the cursor is doing on the screen is too big of a leap for him.  So we've never really been able to harness that affinity in to anything helpful for him.  When I heard about the i-Pad and read the stories that were coming out of how it was wonderful for kids on the spectrum, I wondered if Josh might have some success with one.  Despite how affordable they are compared to an actual assistive communication device, they are still not exactly cheap, so I was reluctant to just go spend that much money on something we had no idea would be of any use or not.

Then, Josh's very generous paternal grandfather got him one for his birthday in August!  I was excited to see what Josh would be able to do with it so I loaded a few apps on to it that looked appropriate for his cognitive level (an alphabet book, a basic spelling app and a basic math app) as well as a bunch of Blue's Clues episodes that I was able to download from i-Tunes - I figured if nothing else, it would be an easier way to port them around than the portable DVD player, since we have to haul all the DVD's with it too...

I had him sit with me as I brought the apps up and got them started.  He wasn't terribly interested.  Until we brought up the menu with all of the Blue's Clues episodes.  He was all over that, surprise, surprise!  He loved watching Blue's Clues on it, but was not able nor willing to manage the control of it himself.  I would take his finger and have him do things with my guidance and this is how it was for some time.  We took it to my family reunion on Vancouver Island and it really was much better than the portable DVD player, particularly because its battery life is substantially longer.  And not having to fuss with changing out the DVD every time Josh wanted a different episode was great - Zach was able to manage most of what Josh needed in the car with it and we brought it on the ferry to help Josh pass the time.

For a while, all he did was watch Blue's Clues on it.  I would try to bring up the apps sometimes but he just wasn't interested.  And for a while, he still needed someone else to control it for him. Like many of the things we've done or tried with Josh, I figured it was going to be another case of Josh not responding when most others seemed to.

For a while.

Then one day, I was in the kitchen and I heard a Blue's Clues episode playing.  The tv wasn't on.  I looked in to the den, and there was Josh, sitting on the couch with the i-Pad, watching Blue's Clues.  By himself.  I also watched him stop that episode, go back to the menu and pick another one.  All. By. Himself.   I stood in amazement as he would rewind what he wanted, when he wanted, find other episodes, all on his own!  He had watched, we had practiced hand-over-hand, and he got it.  He learned and remembered.  All of the sudden, things in the house changed significantly, at least as far as his Blue's Clues watching goes.  You may have noticed that I haven't been keeping up with the counter for the episode requests.  That's because he's doing most of it on his own now with the i-Pad and even though he's still watching just as much, I am not having to manage that... which is HUGE. 

For some time he was content with the i-Pad.  Then, because he is Josh, he decided that the episode of Blue's Birthday can ONLY be viewed via VHS on the tv in the family room AND, it must be playing concurrently with whatever he has going on the i-Pad.  Really Josh?  REALLY??  Yes.  Really.  So, I do still have to manage that, and there are some episodes you can't get from i-Tunes that he wants to watch so there is still some running back and forth to the DVD/VHS player being done, it's just too hard to estimate how many times a day he's watching an episode though, since so much is done on his own with the i-Pad.  I'll have to figure out to keep track of that so I can keep up the counter properly.

Even though he wasn't suddenly communicating or reading or doing educational things with it, it was still a major break-through.  For him to be able to manage something that is such a big part of his life on his own, is fantastic. 

Then one day, I heard the spelling app playing.  It's an audio as well as visual app, that has simple words missing one letter, a picture of the word, and then a selection of letters to choose from to complete the word.  When you make the correct selection there is a voice that says the word.  He was using the app.  On his own.  He was not spelling the words, but, he brought up the app and was looking through it.  He also started looking at the alphabet book app and the math app.  With no prompting from me.  Josh is all about control.  Understandable, given how difficult it must be to exist in this world with his issues, so he controls what he can.  It was good he'd discovered the apps on his own, he'd likely never look at them if he thought someone else wanted him to.  Even though he's not really using them exactly as they are meant to be used, he still chooses to look at them sometimes which I think is great - at first I didn't think he'd be using the i-Pad on his own at all and now look at him, so, who knows what he will be doing as time goes on. 

The funniest thing is that we do have a few non-Josh apps on there, for when he's asleep and the rest of us can play.  Yes, we have Angry Birds   ... 

And Josh will actually bring it up and play with it sometimes! 

Though for the most part he flings his birds backwards.  It's very cute  :)   It might seem silly that I'm excited about his being interested in a non-educational game, but it's just such a novel thing for him to show interest in something that everyone else likes too, not to mention vaguely age-appropriate. 


The i-Pad has become an integral part of his existence now, we bring it in the car almost every time we go out and he carries it around the house, even goes to sleep with it.  It's been exciting watching him become independent with it and show some interest in things OTHER than Blue's Clues.   


I'll keep you posted as he progresses with it.