Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Case FOR iPads Being a Miracle Device for Children with Autism

Recently, Sullivan over at LB/RB put my eyes on a Wired article titled iPads Are Not a Miracle for Children With Autism. The author, Daniel Donahoo made a well thought out and reasoned argument on how the iPad is not a panacea for autistic kids. His discussion is valid and I agreed with most of the points he said...and I still think say he's an asshole and I disagree with the premise that iPads are not a miracle device for children with autism. I should just end it that way and REALLY piss him off, huh?

I'll start by reiterating some of his points, which I guess he 'just' thinks are neet-o and not necessarily a miracle:

  • The device is providing the cheapest augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) tools that professionals and parents have seen
  • Some philanthropic organizations, like golfer Adam Scott’s Foundation, have been providing iPad to families loaded with a suite of apps recommended for children with autism.
  • Online there have been a large number of websites set up to review and assess “apps for autism.” There are an increasing number of YouTube videos showing children with autism and other disabilities making developmental progress using the iPad
  • Initial research using iPod Touches with primary school students, especially those with identified special needs, looks promising..
  • The anecdotal evidence that children with autism benefit from engaging with the iPad is high
  • Parents have flocked to the device and governments and other organizations that support children with a disability have been hit hard with requests for funding and to support the purchase of the device

Okay, they don't add up to a miracle. But for something out for less than two years, the paradigm shift of how devices will fit in the autism/special needs world is dramatic to say the least.

Let's look at some of your other statements too:

Of course, :the hype: has had the unintended impact of being quite a difficult experience for families of children with autism who can’t afford the device. The feeling that there may be something out there that can support their child’s development, but that they can’t access, is a terrible situation for a parent to be in.
People who can't afford a $500 device can't afford a $5000 one either. Schools will fight tooth and nail not to spend that money in the US, even for essential AAC devices. As with almost everything in an autistic child's life, there is ALWAYS something out there that would support their development that they cannot have access to because of money. The iPad will help change the economies of this situation.

You see, it is called Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) because the impact it has on a child’s development spans the breadth of development. No two children can be supported in exactly the same way. Parents and professionals understand this, and because they do they also understand that for some children with autism it might not be the right time to introduce an iPad.

That's kinda the point though, the iPad is a single device that has the potential to be utilized across a wide range of issues and ages on the spectrum. No two children need to be supported in the same way. Schools can take this single platform and use it to help a teenager with social issues one day; and turn it around to be an AAC device for a grammar school child the next.

I have been working with an organization undertaking an iPad trial to see how it can be used by early childhood intervention professionals. I have worked with non-government and government agencies that have supported children and adults with a disability for more than 10 years and it is exciting to see the potential of the iPad. But, the potential of the iPad is not achieved by the iPad alone, nor by simply placing it in the hands of a child with autism. The potential of the device is realized by the way professionals like speech pathologists, educators, occupational therapists and early childhood development professionals apply their skills and knowledge to use the iPad to effectively support the development of children. The potential is realized by engaged parents working with those professionals to explore how the device best meets the individual needs of their child.

Here's where the 'magic' can truly begin. Here is a platform that is common across the world; that is interconnected to the world; and that most professionals will be familiar, if not intimate with. The infrastructure of technical professionals and systems are there; programmers, sales people, research, schools can and already are developing, testing, selling...making money and getting results. Cloud computing can allow access to literally everything related to the device, the users and indeed the child for everyone to share. All this in an intuitive, completely portable, relatively (and soon to be even more) inexpensive, wherever you are device. COMEON DAN, this may not be a miracle, but it IS a 'wheel', or at least, a why-don't-we-attach-two-together- with- a-pole-and-put-stuff-on-top-of-it extension of the wheel. It's not the device, but the infrastructure behind it that enables the iPad to be the miracle. But now, that infrastructure just got one whole of hell lot bigger!

Of professionals I have spoken to who are using touch technology in their work, their main concern for children with autism is that the device is used excessively for what they refer to as “stim” (stimulation). Screen-based technology, for all of us, has the ability to stimulate a range of senses; for children with autism this is also the case and it can be heightened. An iPad may engage a child with autism, and help calm them down, but that does not necessarily mean it is providing any developmental opportunity. It is being used like so many of us use our devices from time to time — as a babysitter.

I agree wholeheartedly that we have to be careful how the tool is utilized. But just remember that for many kids on the spectrum, there IS nothing that they stim on that would be considered socially acceptable. Why should typical people be allowed to stim by throwing virtual creatures at blocks, and yet we should look upon an autistic stimming on the exact same machine as not acceptable or 'normal'? Remember too that for some autistic kids, that the iPad may be one of the few ways that they CAN calm down, or make it through a stressful social environment.

Dan, maybe I shouldn't have called you an asshole; you're obviously on the right team; you are working with the disability community to help make their lives better. Maybe you are too close to the technology side of it to realize that this is not just another group of people all abuzz over the latest gadget. It's that the disability community is finally part of a first wave of technology use. Yea, some will rush the iPad on their kids; but most of us fully understand the implications and pitfalls of hanging hopes on an idea like this.

I'll reiterate the most important statement you made:

It is your child, your family and the network that surrounds you that is the miracle.

Reminds me of that Verizon commercial from a few years ago. Where the person on the cell phone was surrounded by a network of technicians. Yes, the therapists, teachers and other professionals will always be there; but now we've gained a whole lot more people working behind the scenes for autistics.


Usethebrains Godgiveyou said...

The iPad will help change the economies of this situation.


I am stimming on my computer right now. It helps me avoid the work in the yard I need to do.


I don't want to downplay the guys concerns, it is a legitimate fear I have. That she will take to the iPad like fish to water, but not make progress on communication, and just have a very expensive stim toy.

I have the phrase "religion is the opioid of the masses" stuck in my head relating to this. Something like "The iPad is the opioid of the individual...masses" Who knows, that may be a blog post 2 years hence, not that anyone will be blogging in 2013, that will be so passe, like, so 'Aught' (as if it's not 'null decade' already!) Bill

Jen Myers said...

"...there IS nothing that they stim on that would be considered socially acceptable."

It is so hard for so many of our kids to figure out what to do with recreational time at all. My son loves to sift dirt, rocks and stones.. kind of hard to bring those things on an airplane, in a restaurant, or on the couch on a rainy day. If an iPad allows him some ability to be independent, or enjoy something that a typical 10 year old would like I'd be thrilled!

I thought the Wired article was too much of an opinion piece, without much investigative journalism (in fact the word "miracle" was taken out of context. I believe the original "miracle" comment all originated from Shannon Rosa in her BlogHer/TPGA post
in which she called it a "near miracle" for "her son", and never claimed it to be the end all for every child with autism.)

Thanks for your take on his take.

sharon Morris said...

I purchased an ipad1 last week on Ebay the week after the ipad2 was available here in Australia. I suspected there would be a pile of geeks selling off the 1st one and so there was. My excuse was to purchase one for my (ASD) son, but since he is only 2, it's turned out I have to use it more often to justify the purchase. Don't you hate that. Anyway I am quite happy to admit I now have a bit of a crush on the ipad. Is that stimming?