Descriptors like “visionary,” “game-changer” and “innovative” are commonplace in all the tributes being written and posted about Apple guru Steve Jobs. For me personally, the word I choose to describe Steve Job’s life’s work, in relation to me and my family, is possibility. Glorious, wondrous, hopeful possibility.
My eldest son is not only autistic, he’s nonverbal, and he had little interest in anything. He is not into any videos, video games, TV shows, or any particular activity outside of twirling his beads, swinging on a swing, or going swimming. Though he’s made strides in many things over the years, one of the biggest problems we have is motivating him to work. We’ve done Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), as well as many other therapies, with Lil D, but the problem of motivation has always made progress difficult.
And so, over the years as we’ve explored a variety of assisted communication devices to help Lil D find a way to communicate, the problem of motivation persists. The past year and a half, Lil D’s been working with a cumbersome device called a ProxTalker – a combination of a PECs (picture-exchange communication) system with a voice. Lil D uses it, but sort of half-heartedly. And it’s quite heavy and cumbersome.
With this in mind, last year I approached his teacher, speech therapist (ST) and occupational therapist with the possibility of teaching Lil D to use an iPad. We knew it would be tough. It takes months to get him to learn anything. And it would require him using a pointer position, swiping the screen effectively, focusing in on what was on the screen, and learning how to manipulate the apps. But we all thought that the iPad was the wave of the future, and pairing Lil D with it would hopefully give him a voice as well as giving him a manageable, cool device as he transitioned into middle school years.
That was last spring. Now we’re five weeks into the school year (he’s in fifth grade), and I just had a parent-teacher conference with Lil D’s lead autism teacher and his speech therapist. We talked about how Lil D was doing with the iPad. His ST expressed hope that this could be the thing to replace the cumbersome ProxTalker. They showed me this matching program that Lil D managed to complete. I mean he actually sat for a few minutes, used his finger, moved things around on the screen, and matched up the pictures. He’s also using the iPad to choose a preferred item from a field size of two.
It’s baby steps, but it’s promising. I feel excited, and I don’t know how long it’s been since his team at school and I have felt excitement. It’s enough excitement for me to ask the family to chip in for an iPad for Lil D’s next big Eid gift.
We love Apple products in our home (my husband has a MacBook, and we both have iPhones, and I owned an iPod Nano when it first came out), but this is different. To be able to dream and hope that Lil D could really take to a device like the iPad, that it could actually help him in some real way, well, we haven’t had that kind of hope in a while.
On behalf of thousands and thousands of autistic kids who are using iPod touch devices and iPads to manage their schedules, play games, do their programs, communicate, and find their voices, I want to say thanks, Steve. Thanks for the glorious, wondrous, hopeful world of possibility.