The iPad certainly seems to have become The Hot Thing to have if there's someone on the autism spectrum in your household and, too, if you're a parent in general. Thanks to everyone for your stories and thoughts (and thanks of course to Shannon for her BlogHer article on her son Leo and the iPad).
There are some aspects of being the parent of an autistic child that make having an iPad a bit more, how to put it, pressing? poignant? something like essential?
The ease with which I can find photos and music and (we have a 3G iPad) download anything anywhere so Charlie can almost immediately have these, is a very great thing. So is the brightness and clarity of the screen, not to mention the size of the device---it's just right for Charlie to hold in his lap, keeping in mind that he's gotten so tall for his 13 1/2 years that he was, quoting Jim, 'the tallest person' in the convenience store when we stopped there prior to a bike outing yesterday morning. Charlie has an iPod Touch but its size has limited his using it---he can type even on the smaller screen but, of course, it's not easy to see things on a device of that size.
When Charlie was younger, I spent a couple hundred on a touchscreen that was jerryrigged with clips onto a laptop. It only worked intermittently, was always on the verge of falling off, and bothered Charlie because he knew it was an 'add-on.' The iPad's touchscreen works just as well as one might wish for, though Charlie is still learning just how much pressure to apply to slide the 'power on' and to get apps and files and photos to open (he tends to touch it too lightly). And, it's super-easy to record short phrases for Charlie to activate with a tap of the screen.
I have to say, had Charlie been younger, I would have thought the iPad something of a dream machine. No more carting around piles of flashcards, cutting out magazine and catalogue photos for the flashcards, getting gluestick all over myself, fighting with the laminator, running up an Office Max bill from buying so many color cartridges for the printer, watching Charlie rip the photos off the flashcards.
Which leads me to one reason why I was hesitant about an iPad for Charlie.
The damage issue.
Another parent brought up this point in a comment a few days ago. Kent Adams suggested a durable OtterBox case (I've ordered one). We've been through quite a few experiences of catapulted electronic devices with, as a result, seeing those little X's appear in the eyes of the start-up icon on the silvery blue iPod mini Charlie had years ago, and a visit to the Genius Bar during which the Genius informed me that my laptop was broken in the place that's 'most expensive to fix'. (Throwing, one learns, is not covered under AppleCare.) There is also the potential for other sorts of things occurringthat might make an iPad or other device not work, such as immersion in parts of one's household where there's water (lost at least two iPods that way and had a plumber bill to boot when the silicon case floated down the pipe). And of course there was the time Charlie threw away his iPod in the garbage.
These unfortunate fates have befallen various of the electronic devices in our household in part because, time and again, videos, music, photos, all have the potential to be over-stimulating to Charlie's sensory system and therefore get thrown, I suppose out of a need to get that over-stimulating item out of the way ASAP. Sometimes throwing has been preceding or followed by head-banging---because Charlie's head was not feeling too good from the over-stimulation, or because he felt bad for throwing the device and was, sigh, taking it out on himself). Then, one has numerous problems to address, of which the thrown device quickly becomes the least (if increasingly money-gobbling-up) important.
Being parents of children with disabilities who need a device to communicate and to give them something to do as they have so few activities, and who may just have a terribly hard, hard time without being able to hear that music or see those videos and photos or play that game---due to these circumstances, it's not unheard of for one to find oneself foing back to the store the very next day (if not the same day) the iPod, etc., was rendered unusable and to get another, new device, courtesy of your weary credit card. Some may deem such a parent to be 'spoiling' her or his child by getting another device after she or he has just, um, broken one, but a parent knows why she or he is doing what she or he is and of course one is trying to teach one's child cause and effect (throw the device = break the device = no device).
It's just that, in Charlie's case at least, it takes some times (quite some time) to work out such relationships.
So yes, the throwing issue (and the putting-the-iPod-in-the-water-issue) were reasons that we were in no rush to get one for Charlie. We more than appreciated the kindness of my aunts and my parents to get one for Charlie, you can be sure! Of course, we keep a careful eye on Charlie when he has the iPad. So far, he's shown no signs of anything untowards and I do think past experiences chucking stuff in the air and seeing the result has taught Charlie you toss it, it's broken, that's it. Charlie is taking to the iPad but slowly, in the methodical way he does when dealing with anything new: Charlie was a late walker, in part because, I often think, he needed extra time to accommodate himself to the major change that walking and being vertical would be to the crab-scoot-thing he'd started doing when he was just turning 12 months old. Charlie never likes to be rushed.
Needless to say, everyone from his daycare teachers to the pediatrician to us who worried about him not walking when he was a (non-toddling) toddler can only now say, well, he certainly gets around fine now.
To the tune of 37 miles over three bike rides, two on the home route and one 19-miler on a different stretch of the horse country bike trail---just lovely times we had on Saturday. An after-dinner walk (with me) put Charlie at just over 40 miles for the day.
Too, bikes---Charlie's and Jim's mountain bikes---are very durable entities and can survive mud, rain, dirt, dust, throwing, and the hard pedaling of one 13 1/2 year old very well.