I must admit, for years I thought all the hype about Apple products was just that…hype. I didn’t get the appeal, certainly not for a price point I really couldn’t justify. Sure, I remember my sister’s first MAC and the goofy little icons and the weird mouse-thingy. I thought it was all kind of ridiculous and pretentious. I was a PC gal through and through. I sneered when my other sister became an early adopter of all things Apple —the iPhone, the iPod, etc. It became a badge of honor to me that I resisted the pull.
Then, just a little less than a year ago, some friends —with the generous assistance and kindness of some strangers— made it possible for my son to receive an iPad. We had no idea whether he would take to it or what it might do for him. After all, my nonverbal, multiply disabled son had recently been diagnosed as mentally retarded (those were the words of the doctor) and we were told to prepare for a lifetime of care giving and not much else. We didn’t believe in the diagnosis and just knew we had to show the doctors that there was —there IS— a light burning fierce and bright within our boy.
Because of all the hype, we had borrowed an iPad several months prior, but Nik didn’t really get it. He struggled with the touch-screen; his cerebral palsy made it hard for him to control his hand movements. Isolating finger movements for tapping or making single strokes or swipes required for some of the simple apps we tried was a pipe dream. We were reluctant to try again, fearful that the good will and generosity being extended to us would be wasted.
Nik’s new iPad arrived just in time for Thanksgiving —and shortly before his seventh birthday. We already knew that Nik loved letters. In fact, he is obsessed with them! Not having a plan or any idea as to what might be good to try, we relied on the generosity of still more strangers —the fantastic people associated with Moms With Apps— who donated free apps for Nik to try.
The advent of Nik’s Vantage Lite speech generating device in our lives, roughly two years ago, brought dramatic change; it gave Nik the power to communicate with us in ways that did not involve screaming, throwing, or slamming his head on the floor to express frustration. To date, no other technology has provided that for Nik. Even the iPad, with all its myriad communication apps, does not give Nik the ability to communicate in the manner which works for him. However, I do not exaggerate when I say the gift of Nik’s iPad changed our lives forever.
While the iPad cannot replace Nik’s communication device (yet), it has opened up the world to my boy. It’s not about the technology, per se, but what is being done with it and the ways in which children like Nik can discover and be motivated to push themselves so far beyond what others have deemed his ability level. In the time Nik’s had his iPad, he’s taught himself so many things and has opened the eyes of those around him to the intelligence he holds in his wordless self.
Once written off as mentally retarded and not very teachable, Nik is now impressing his teacher and other professionals with his spelling abilities, his problem-solving skills and his manual dexterity. We are seeing cross-over and generalization of skills beyond the use of the iPad.
My child, who could not point his finger a year ago, can now actively show me what he wants me to look at even if he doesn’t have the voice or the words to describe it. He can find music to soothe himself, videos to entertain or teach himself new things —his interests run the gamut from ABC’s to DIY home repairs. (I told Niksdad to lock up his power tools, just in case!) It has opened up a world of exposure to peer interactions which are not otherwise available to my son —an only child. Video modeling at its finest.
Do I think it’s a coincidence that Nik has recently begin to approach children his own age for play and interaction —regardless of how clumsy the attempts may be? No, I do not.
Do I think the advent of the iPad means Nik will suddenly be able to live independently or go to college? Perhaps, perhaps not. But I do know that it’s made the idea that it may even be possible a part of the conversation. For that alone, you can call me a Fan Girl.
Steve Jobs was a visionary, an out-of-the-box thinker and a remarkable leader. I think his legacy will not be about technological innovation as much as his transformation of the way we connect to one another, the ways in which we open up new horizons for both those who would boldly step into the future as well as those for whom, perhaps, there was once no future.
Rest in peace, Mr. Jobs. You will not be forgotten here.