Thursday, October 6, 2011

A thank you to Steve Jobs from a special needs mom

In Burlington we are very fortunate to have iPad's in the integrated preschool. They are an amazing device especially for our friends that have delays in their ability to communicate. I'm amazed every day when I watch our young students interact with the devices and how easily they are able to navigate them. The apps that they have for young learners with special needs are simply amazing and we are so fortunate to be able to use this technology with our students. I think this blog post speaks volumes to what a wonderful tool an iPad is and how lucky we are to be able to use them daily in the integrated preschool.\

Dear Steve,

I am hoping you will read this on your iPad in The Great Beyond, assuming there is a good Internet connection there (and hopefully a Starbucks, too).

My son, Max, has cerebral palsy. Doctors told us he might never talk, and so we are very grateful for the words that he has. He has a lot more going on in his mind than his mouth can speak, however, and we knew early on in his life he would need a communication device. He was 4 when I first asked the speech therapist at his school about it. "He's not ready for one," she said.

I challenged her. We had an augmentative communication evaluation, paid for by our school district, in which a team of therapists determined that Max was, indeed, ready for a speech device. We got one. Only it was a total clunker, and I mean that in every which way. It was heavy to lift; my son, who has challenges using his hands, wasn't able to carry it himself. Programming it was a pain, and my husband and I detested the task. We rarely used it at home, preferring instead to guess what Max was trying to say or nodding even when we weren't quite sure we understood him. Sometimes, we all got frustrated.

Cut to the spring of 2010 and the iPad's debut. Around that time I heard about a speech app, the Proloquo2Go. I asked Max's speech therapist at his current school, an enthusiastic and dedicated woman open to trying new technology, about them. Turns out the school was buying four iPads with speech apps, and would we like to trial one with Max? YES YES YES, please, WE WOULD.

Max took to the iPad from the start. He was fascinated. Who wouldn't be? Here he is, the first weekend he had it:

I hadn't ever seen Max use his pointer finger like that, no small feat for a child with cerebral palsy whose hands and fingers tend to be stiff. The iPad motivated Max to isolate his finger and maneuver it. Soon enough, he'd learned to use a lighter touch on the screen and he'd zoom around the iPad. He also discovered YouTube and Lightning McQueen videos, another life-changing event for him.

We had somewhat of a challenge in our house when Max's little sister, insanely jealous of his iPad, started hiding it in her room. But then my husband got an iPad and now she hides my husband's in her room.

The iPad has enabled Max to share what's in his mind with the people around him. Some parents worry that a speech app will discourage verbal communication, but Max's has motivated him to communicate more. His current favorite button is the one that announces "That stinks." He enjoys telling people how much he loves spaghetti and the color purple. There is no button yet that says "Mom, leave me alone!" but I am sure he'll request one soon.

Max uses the iPad to draw, read stories, and play educational games, along with silly ones kids love. Apps made for fun, such as Talking Ben the Dog and Songify, motivate him to articulate sounds and words; ones likeCut the Rope help develop fine motor skills. He continues to watch too many Lightning McQueen videos and I hear "I. Am. Speed" in my dreams.

Other kids in our neighborhood consider Max's iPad and speech app cool—not something they would have ever thought with the previous communication clunker. It helps him fit in. I can't even imagine how many more social and educational doors it will open for him in the coming years.

Steve, you have been an inventor and innovator beyond compare, known for the Apple, Mac, iPod, iPad, even Pixar. Yet many are unaware of how much the iPad has been a game-changer for kids and adults with special needs. When I tell people that Max uses an iPad for speech communication, they are often surprised to hear that technology exists.

But this community knows.

This child knows.

This mom knows.

And I am eternally grateful to you for opening up my son's world.

So I'll say R.I.P., and by that I mean Refresh In Peace. Because I can only imagine that you will keep going, wherever you may be.