Friday, June 7th, 2013
I read an incredible letter the other day written by a dad of a teen with severe autism. His son, Dan, had started taking classes on Coursera, one of several sites offering massive open online courses (MOOCs). In earning six certificates, his dad said, not only has Dan gotten a great introduction to college learning—it’s changed his social life. Connecting with fellow students via emails and in forums has helped him feel less isolated. When asked to sum up his experiences taking one class, Dan answered “Not impossible.” And the words went viral.
I know exactly how he feels.
Every single day, I feel lucky for the technology that exists: It gives Max a better, richer life, opening up new possibilities for him.
The speech app Max started using three years ago,the Proloquo2Go, enables him to articulate words he cannot yet say.
He also uses mimicry apps like Talking Ben The Dog, which repeat sounds and words users make back to them; anything that encourages articulation is a great thing for Max. It helps him hear how he sounds, and I’ve sometimes been able to get more clear-sounding letters and words out of him this way.
The iPad is easy for him to use to play games; Max has fine-motor skill issues because of the cerebral palsy, but he’s become amazingly adept at swiping and tapping the iPad. We read books on the iPad, too. Max is currently obsessed with looking up clips from the movie Cars 2 on YouTube, and while that’s not my idea of a good time, he finds it endlessly entertaining. And listening to the iPhone with earbuds or headphones calms him down when we’re in a new place and he’s experiencing sensory overload.
Tech has enriched my life as a special needs parent. The web enables me to look up therapy ideas for Max and find new tools that can help him. The web connects me with other parents and lets us exchange idea, information and a whole lot of inspiration.
Reading articles like the one about Dan give me even more hope for what the tech future holds for Max. While nobody’s yet invented an app that’ll give him a bath (if only!), maybe more therapy apps will come along that show and encourage him how to, say, better use his fingers. Perhaps he will be getting virtual therapy from a virtual therapist. Perhaps some machine will do the job while he sleeps. Perhaps a companion robot will help Max do daily tasks, and deliver me a nightly glass of Pinot Grigio!
For now, I am awed and grateful for the tech that exists, and the many ways it has opened up Max’s world.
Image of tablet with world map via Shutterstock
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