In recent months, we have discovered that Peter knows a lot more than we ever imagined. It is technology, among other things, that we have to thank. These days, parents are so concerned about electronics and their detriment to child development and learning. However, studies have shown that children with autism gravitate towards electronics and can even learn better on tablets or computers. Tablets are predictable, they stimulate the senses, and they don’t require social interaction. All things that appeal to those with autism. Peter got a Kindle when he was three years old and has had some kind of tablet ever since. In this YouTube video you’ll see him learning to use the Kindle on the very first day. Today, we try to limit Peter’s time on his iPad, but we also recognize that technology is helping him to learn.
It has always been difficult for Peter to learn in a traditional school setting. He is completely nonverbal. He has sensory issues. He never sits still. He has trouble attending to tasks. He can’t take standard tests and evaluations are difficult. He was enrolled in an autism classroom in a public school for three years, but we were never sure if he was learning anything. Yes, he had an IEP (Individualized Education Program), and yes, his progress was measured. But the problem has always been this: how do we really know what he knows?
We know from testing that he can identify letters of the alphabet. But can he read? We don’t know. He can pick out sight words from a field of flash cards, but is he really reading the words and understanding that they have meaning? He knows his numbers. Recently we learned that he knows all his animal sounds. If you ask him, “What says ‘moo’?” he will answer “Cow” with his Talker.
“I didn’t know he knew that!” I exclaimed when Peter’s BCBA (Board Certified Behavior Analyst) at Autism Academy of South Carolina told me he knew all his animal sounds. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Because I’m certain he learned them from his iPad apps and videos.
We firmly believe that he has learned a LOT from apps and games on his iPad and Kindle. His therapists agree. Yes, he has learned a lot of things from school and from ABA therapy, but in his “free time” his favorite thing to do is play games and videos on his iPad. Most of them are educational in nature, but they incorporate fun sounds and music, so he engages with them. As he is “playing,” he is learning. And it appears that he is now able to generalize what he is learning across multiple environments. As a result, he is starting to engage in back-and-forth conversations, something he has never done before. He is asked a question and responds with his Talker. This is so promising!
We feel that this is just the tip of the iceberg. What Peter knows, what goes on in his head, is largely a mystery. Right now, it’s impossible to know what HE knows. Maybe the future will give us glimpses of his brilliance.
Meanwhile, we will continue to offer learning opportunities in as many formats as possible. This includes his Electronic Teacher, the iPad. We are thankful that we live in a time when our son has technology at his fingertips to help him learn and grow.
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