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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Awesome iPad


Jackson has always been a techno geek. By age 2, he was adding Spanish subtitles to every TV he could get his sticky little fingers on. When Paul was in Afghanistan, it was a 3 yr old Jackson, who could barely talk, that had to help me set up Skype so we could video chat. He taught himself to read at age 4 so he could hack into our computer and access Veggie Tales websites. I could spend hours listing all the crazy ways this kid has been years ahead of his peers in his understanding and use of technology. He's had an ear bud hanging out of his head since he could walk, using those old school MP3 and portable CD players to access audio stimulation on the go. Many people thought we were crazy to buy a young and irresponsible autistic child an expensive iPod and give him the freedom to use it however and whenever he desired. But it wasn't until the iPad that his use of technology radically changed.


Before iPad: For the past 10 years, Jackson has used his knowledge of technology for evil. His brilliance for all things electronic has caused some major issues both behaviorally and financially. His love of technology can cause behavioral issues because, if overused, Jackson will begin to stim on certain items. For those of you with some understanding of autism, you surely know the concept of stimming. It is the term used to describe the repetitive action made during periods of sensory overload. It is a type of coping mechanism used to manage overstimulation. We know Jackson is stimming on something when he wiggles his knees in and out and jumps up and down. We call it "shakey-shakey". When Jackson is exposed to too much technology, he begins to stim and this usually leads to behavioral outbursts. We have found that the quickest way to help him manage his emotions is to take all technology away for long periods of time. Technology has also caused some major financial hardships. He burns through iPods like they are disposable cameras. He disregards common rules like not eating/drinking near keyboards which has led to multiple laptop crashes. He changes setting on things and we can never figure out how to change them back. He loses chargers and adaptors rendering items useless.

You might think this is all parental negligence, and you are partially correct. But what you fail to understand is that we permit these lapses in judgement because the greater good is so much greater. We have always allowed Jackson to use the latest gadget with little oversight because it has always given him a radical boost in communication and emotional understanding. He discovered YouTube a few years ago and he has used it to search for scenes from TV shows that mimic what he is feeling. He then acts them out for us when he is trying to express his emotions. Even though all this technology has provided some benefit for him, it was never exactly the right fit for his needs. We just kind of took what we could get and dealt with the unpleasant side-effects because the medication was so beneficial.

After iPad: But then came the iPad! It was finally the perfect marriage of technology and education that eliminated the unwanted stimming and had such a simple interface that even Jackson has not been able to damage, lose or crack off an essential part (knock on wood). It is more than just the amazing array of apps available that make it so perfect for Jackson. It is the intuitive nature of the touchscreen, the ideal size and weight to be able to have great visual impact without being too small to lose or too big to be impractical...even the coolness factor makes it ideal. He can carry it around and his peers think it is awesome - that he is awesome for having his own iPad!

The iPad is an integral part of our homeschooling curriculum as well. It is not used as a form of entertainment but strictly as part of a lesson. I find apps that support the day's lesson and I use them as reinforcers at the end of each block of instruction. For example, if I am doing a lesson on multiplication, I will create a quiz on MathBoard using the number set that we worked on that day. If we are working on nouns/verbs then he will complete 20 questions on the Sentence Builder app. There really is an app for everything! And many of them are free. I can pinpoint exactly what he needs to work on and find a very specific app that focuses his attention on an isolated task or skill. He does all his iPad lessons independently because they are meant to serve as confidence boosting tools. Most of the apps have the coolest encouragements built in so when a child successfully completes a task, there is always clapping, cheering or even confetti..which is amazing for Jackson's academic self-esteem.

So here is a short list of my favorite apps that we are currently using. This list grows daily, so I will try to post new lists often.

Language Arts:

Brain Pop
Story Builder
Question Builder
Language Builder
Sentence Builder
Montessori Words
Build a Word
Frankenstein
Toontastic

Math & Science:

Math Board
Splash Math
Rocket Math
Solar System HD
Bluster
TinkerBox
Jungle Coins

Behavior:

Calm Counter
Model Me Kids
ABA Flashcards
Autism Xpress
Autism Apps

By far the best iPad resource for homeschooling autism is AutismApps. It is a comprehensive database of over 150 apps that serve people with developmental disabilities and other special needs. It is truly a life saver! It has everything organized by categories that make it super user friendly. While many of the apps are geared towards younger children, I have been able to find so many helpful tools that have made homeschooling much more effective and successful.

At the end of the day, technology is a blessing and a curse in this house. Jackson has thrived because of it, but it has also caused a lot of anxiety (and not just for him). But when we weigh these pros and cons against each other, we can't help but agree that the pain we occasionally endure is no comparison to the elation we feel when Jackson connects with us on a linguistic and emotional level we only dreamed of a decade ago.

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