Jedi recently received an iPad and wireless keyboard to help him with handwriting and spelling issues. Because of his asperger’s syndrome and dyslexia, he is several years behind in handwriting and spelling, to the point where being behind is actually causing a lot of problems. Cognitively, he is way ahead of his writing and spelling skills. So, this splintering of skills has made it very difficult for him.
Some of the questions we get about this (and the answers…. 🙂 ) are:
- Don’t you think that’s spoiling him?
This question always cracks me up. He didn’t get an iPad to keep up with the jones’ or to be the “cool kid in school” or “because everyone else has one”. He got it simply because it provides him with a way to compensate for a disability. We actually were going to get him a laptop, but he’s a whopping 47 pounds…a laptop is quite cumbersome for him in size and weight. An ipad is fairly light and very portable. He can easily bring it to co-op, therapies, and field trips without straining himself. It’s also lighter than most netbooks on the market.
- Isn’t it keeping him from learning to do it by himself?
If a child had a broken leg, you’d get him some crutches or a wheelchair. A child who is blind learns braille. Jedi has had YEARS of therapy focused on handwriting and he still can’t progress well enough to keep up with the requirements of 2nd grade. So, we are teaching him to type (his IEP actually calls for a scribe…or someone to do it for him. We think it’s more important for him to learn how to compensate for his deficits in a socially acceptable way. He is still doing handwriting and spelling practice without the use of technology, but he is also learning to type and use a spell check so that he can keep up with assignments.
One thing we notice about Jedi, and I believe this is also really common with other children with communication delays, is that requiring him to write an essay using good handwriting and good spelling is a recipe for disaster. This child can churn out a multi-chapter book (a 2nd grade version of authoring a multi-chapter book of course!) in a couple hours when we don’t tell him to use good handwriting and fix his spelling. But the second we put those two requirements on it, he’s so focused on it that it can take him over an hour to write one sentence. So, we have to split what many children can do without thinking. He has to separate spelling, handwriting, and composition into different lessons in order to allow him to focus on the particular skill being taught. Most of school involves composition–creative writing or answering questions, so giving him a tool to alleviate the spelling and handwriting anxiety allows his brain to focus on the other tasks at hand. Jedi even has apps that will dictate based on his own speech (so he can say his essay and the program will write what he says).
Will he continue to practice handwriting and spelling? Absolutely. Do we ever expect him to be proficient in it? At this point, we don’t know if he will be able to catch up. We certainly hope he will, but we also know that in 10-20 years, most people will be doing everything on their smart phones, tablets, computers, or whatever version of these exists. We hope he will be able to write a shopping list or jot a note down and we will continue to work with him to practice those skills.
- Ok, so it helps him with typing and dictation…what else can it do for kids with special needs?
Lots! The calendar app allows Jedi to know what’s coming each day. He does a lot better if he knows what therapies or activities he’s going to so he can plan his time. A common feature of autism spectrum disorders is lacking the ability to plan ahead, as well as an overwhelming anxiety when the child does not know what is coming that day. Jedi’s calendar helps alleviate some of that.
Jedi also has multiple checklists set up. While most kids would automatically know what steps to take to leave the house (get dressed, eat breakfast, brush your teeth, put your shoes on, grab your bag), Jedi has some difficulties with that. He’s attempted to leave the house without shoes on several times simply because he forgot to put them on. Having checklists set up for him lets him see what he needs to do each day, and allows him to do it independently, without being nagged at.
- Isn’t the use of technology just making him dependent on technology?
Hey, I don’t think he’d be the only one! I’m not sure what I’d do without my laptop, smartphone, and tablet. I use it from everything from blogging to socialization to keeping a shopping list to having my calendar beep and remind me where to go and when, to even having books on it to read. I’d wager that many Americans rely on technology.
Children with special needs often require several accommodations in order to function well. The best part of having a tablet or laptop or ipod for children with special needs is that it allows them to complete tasks independently. Instead of me having to walk Jedi through the process of getting ready to leave the house every day (at 8 1/2 years old), he can go down his checklist and get ready independently. Instead of having a scribe write for him, he’s able to type his answers. Monkey actually has an iPod that has a picture communication program on it, and when she is in public, she is able to utilize it to speak for her (she is selectively mute in public, although she has made huge strides and now participates in her co-op class without using a communication device!)
In the past, children with autism have had to rely on clunky electronic communication devices or cumbersome velcro and picture communication books. The use of modern technology has streamlined these accommodations, and have even accomplished this in a socially acceptable way. Many people wouldn’t even think twice about an older child carrying around a tablet or an iPod because it’s a “cool” thing to have. It doesn’t single the child out or scream “disability”. In fact, I’ve noticed that instead of kids asking questions about Jedi’s iPad, they’re drawn to it (it doesn’t help that he has some cool science apps on it…and of course, Angry Birds. 😉 )