You hear this a lot. What’s too much? How much do you limit your child? What’s healthy? Send them outside to play. Let them be kids. Take the tech away and allow them to imagine. What happens when you have an autistic child? A child who depends on technology to navigate the world around them? Who can’t speak without the help of technology? Who can’t focus without the aid of technology?
I remember before J was born, telling myself that he would only eat healthy foods. He wouldn’t have access to any technology except for limited periods. He’d play outside. He’d make friends and run around. He’d be a kid that would use his imagination. Build things. Play sports.
As J got older we realized that all those things that we wanted for J, that we said we would do and wouldn’t do, changed. We realized that J was special. It turns out J needs technology. He needs control over something tangible. He can’t “speak”, he uses an iPad with an app on it to help him communicate and like you or me walk around with our mouthed moving, he walks around with his tablet. We also have come to terms that when we leave the house and will be gone for periods of time, J needs his fun iPad. It grounds him. Focuses him. Makes him easier to handle. He listens better. This is a big deal as J is sometimes unsafe in big places.
As J has gotten older I’ve noticed that he needs noise. He’ll set all sorts of toys off at once and have a cartoon going. He needs noise. It’s like the quiet is deafening for him. I wish I knew what was going on his head.
Technology has become an integral part of our lives.
When J was 3.5 we got him his iPad. It has been the best thing for us when we go out with him. Try telling a 1.5-2 year old that they can’t have the same thing as their brother. How do you explain autism to a toddler? A didn’t understand why J could have one and she couldn’t. In the end when A was 2.5 we got another iPad. It’s great on trips but she’s not as dependent as he is. A likes to color. Be outside. Play with dolls. She likes change and different things to keep her occupied. But she does ask for her “pad pad” when J has his out.
We have been able to limit the iPad to outside the house. They aren’t allowed to have them when we’re home. It makes them special. A treat. We were able to do that at least. But technology is one of the few things we have in our arsenal to use with our son. As the kids get older we’ll be able to explain why J has it and the other two don’t. But right now, while they’re all so young it is what it is.
We watch movies. It’s novel having a child who will sit and enjoy a movie with us. A loves movies. It’s fun to sit and watch them with her. J can’t sit still. He wants to be around us. He wants to sit but it’s like his body can’t be still for long periods. He’s better now but he can’t sit for a whole movie. The best experience we’ve had was taking them to the sensory friendly showings of movies at the AMC theaters. J has his iPad but he sits. He sits for the whole film. A loved it.
So what is too much technology? How do you gauge what is right for each child? How do you deal with people staring and judging you for allowing your very young kids to have iPads? How do you explain that this is how your life is? This is what it takes to be able to eat out in restaurants. To go to stores. Why do you have to explain? I won’t lie and say I wasn’t one of those who judged and wondered. You never really understand until you live it.
I don’t judge now. I see. I smile. I nod in understanding. Because I do understand. Because I live it every day. I see you and it’s ok. Giving into technology is just a tool in the autistic arsenal that allows us to be out and do things we would have done had our children not been extra awesome. It allows us to eat out. Shop. Be out in the world without feeling the pressing desire to hide our kids from the world because they need technology. The world needs to see how awesome they are. How fantastic they are. Even with technology paving the way for our kids.
J will always have an iPad. And that’s ok. That’s how J will learn. That’s how J will speak. Technology in J’s case, is a good thing.