Finding the Balance of the iPad for Children with Autism

I am going to start my blog today with my final thoughts on how I plan to conclude.

All in all, the dangers of iPad use aren’t really that bad at all, and as long as you keep close tabs to ensure your child with Autism isn’t neglecting all other activities to play on his iPad you should be fine.

 Last week, we quickly discovered during the team meeting, we needed to limit Cody’s time  on the iPad.  Those words frighten me when our Behavior Analyst approached me because you see I really struggle taking away something that has proven already to work with his academic learning.  Cody learned his alphabet, numbers, colors and shapes ALL by video modeling preschool and kindergarten preparation educational videos.  Why take a way something we know is working aligned with several therapists teaching him how to communicate?

When Cody was 18 months old before he was diagnosed we went ahead and started intervention therapies on the delays that we were aware of. As far back as that time, the therapists, Brad, Cameron and I all struggled finding toys, activities and really anything that would stimulate and motivate Cody to want to play with.  This is why we call him the Toy Junkie!  We circulate toys in and out of his therapy room, therapy closet and news ones more than Santa has in his workshop.  It takes some patience because all of these toys have to be taught to Cody and then you got to hope he hangs on to want to play with it more than 1-2 days.  A neuro typical child can spot out an American Girl Doll or a cool Hot Wheel Track across the room and would never need to be taught on how to play with these. That is not the case for CR.  It’s easy to give up because when you are playing with a toy,  Cody’s normal reaction is to walk off and then pop back in and might stack a quick block and then back out again to only return to be able to crash the blocks on the ground after stacking them taller than him!  If you stay consistent doing this after 5,6 or 20 times HE LEARNS HOW TO PLAY and will then will initiate on his own.  It takes time, patience and a lot of deep breaths.

This is a therapist’s biggest nightmare too.  You see, ABA therapy is a lot about teaching programs and then often rewarding the child with a toy that can be used as a motivator to reinforce them to learn again.  When you do not have any reinforcers it is really tough to work on the goals you have set for that child.  Horrible comparison but think about training a dog?  You use a lot of chicken/beef treats when teaching them commands and discipline.  Imagine if you were trying to train a dog using a green bean instead?

Last Wednesday, Cody was not wanting to give up his iPad between sessions so we had to put some parameters in place. I met the next day with our BCBA to come up with a new plan. Basically, our therapists use during sessions, outside of sessions (inside our home), we do not allow anymore. If we are at a baseball game, restaurants, church, etc. Cody is allowed to use.  I put my BIG girl underwear on and was ready for what I knew would be a long tough transition paired with a lot of tantruming.

Guess what? It was a non-issue. He asked just a few times over weekend, I said no and we quickly moved on. I was pleasantly surprised. I contribute this success because I prepared for this change after we met last Thursday. I made a few other entertainment areas in the house where we had music, a mirror for him to watch his self and instructions and I set up 5 toy stations with a post it taped to them on what vocals I would work on so the boys and I could also use the consistent words.  I believe this made a difference and gave him some other choices plus the iPad was completely out of sight.  We have started a 15 minute toy time after therapy sessions each day and made a chart so we could all rotate this time with hopes of increasing Cody’s reinforcers.  I also found several activity reinforcers for those that may share the same struggle that we plan to implement as well.

I have a few take-aways I have learned from my AUsome Moms and what I have researched to look for when your child is playing on the iPad. Watch the child carefully during play.  For some children, electronic devices are very over stimulating.  Notice your child’s behavior while he/she plays.  Do you see increased body tension?  Body posturing?  Increased sounds?  Flapping or finger movements?  How soon after engaging with the device does this begin to happen?  If it happens as soon as the child begins playing, this device might not be the best thing to use for independent play.  It would be better to reserve the use of the device for teaching/playing with an adult.  On the other hand, if the child doesn’t begin these behaviors until 10-15 minutes into the game, you will learn to limit playing with the device to a lesser time.

Each child is different and their ability to benefit and learn from the Ipad will be different.  If these suggestions don’t work for your child, your child may need more specific intervention suited to meet their unique needs.  Some additional “hints” include:

  • If you’re using the Ipad as a communication device, don’t have other apps on the device or move your communication device to an exclusively used device.
  • If your child always gets “wrong” answers when you know they know the right ones, look at the error sound the app makes.  It might be very reinforcing for the child.  You can typically turn off the error sounds in the settings menu.
  • Limit movies on the device if your child tends to rewind and watch the same segment over and over.  Limit movies to a TV with a DVD player out of reach so you can have more control.
  • Choose apps that might have some reinforcing sensory stimulation for correct responses to increase the likelihood the child will play with the device appropriately.
  • Once a skill is learned on the Ipad, make sure it’s generalized to other types of stimuli found in the natural environment to promote generalization and make the skill functional.

All in all, the dangers of iPad use aren’t really that bad at all, and as long as you keep close tabs to ensure your child with Autism isn’t neglecting all other activities to play on his iPad you should be fine.

I won’t lie, I am tired and we worked really hard to get all this in place but think it was the best thing for Cody Rivers in the long run.  Here are a few highlights of our last week.  Never boring at the Neustupa Nest!

 

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Published by mamalamaneustupa

Bio My name is Shelley Neustupa. I am a mother of two cool boys and a wife of 22 years to my high school sweetheart. My oldest son attends the University of Oklahoma. Boomer! My youngest is in 2nd grade and was diagnosed with Autism and Mixed Receptive Expressive Disorder at age 2. Since his diagnosis, I promised him I would advocate and educate as hard as he works each day in therapy. I began writing and have been able to touch many parents that may be new to this journey providing them with actual experiences (not candy coated), support and resources through my entries. Writing is my therapy and my hope one day that my nonverbal son will be able to take these diaries and speak about his own journey and how autism relates to his own experiences. Who knows he and his older brother may become National Speaker’s one day? Come along on our journey to better understand our lives through the eyes of a boy with autism, his Skilled Companion dog Jude, his big brother (and best friend) and mom and dad. My raw vulnerability captures the everyday moments of our journey and will bring even more awareness. A week does not go by where we do not learn something new about ourselves and I want to share these chapters with you. My Sons Undeniable Strengths… Extremely smart and figures out things quickly. Has a memory that allows him to remember more things than I could ever hope for. Persuasive by his personality and sheepish looks. Overabundance of stamina and strength. Loves the outdoors. Enjoys life and always has fun with an unforgettable smile. You can find us here: Writer: Autism Through His Eyes Facebook Instagram YouTube Pinterest Canine Companions for Independence News Interview Cody and Skilled Companion Jude - Our Story

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