Tuesday, 16 February 2016

David's iPad, an alternative to parenting?

David's iPad - an alternative to parenting?

I think if I told some people how long my son can play or should I say, is allowed to play, on his iPad I'd get strange looks. I know if I told people he spent hours everyday on it I'd be judged.

Some kids and adults with autism use their iPads to communicate. There are great programmes like Proloco2go that means an iPad becomes a tool to interact. But that's not what David does. He communicates mostly with Makaton sign language. In fact, one of the first signs David learned was the sign for iPad. So obviously I'm using it as an alternative to real parenting right? 

Parenting, the act of taking care of and supporting a child through to maturity, is a bit of a big ask from an iPad. But I'd be lying if I claimed that five year old David wasn't supported by his tablet device. David is amazing, he's worked out how to use his iPad to support himself.  So to the people who stare at me because my boy is on his iPad as we walk through the supermarket car park, here are a few things you should know about:

1. Sensory input

Let's start with an easy one. Tablets can play music, bright videos, display images in great details and can do this while being held in your hand. Like many kids with autism and other conditions, David's body senses feel out of balance and need levelling. His iPad can give him a whole heap of sensory input which he can even combine with other things like being squashed, rocking in the rocking chair or yes, even jumping across the car park. If this is what he needs to feel level, it's great he can do it. 

2. Calming through routine

I think the iPad is extremely comforting for David. Many individuals with autism need routines as a way to cope with change.  The iPad is a programme after all and this means it has no surprises. The games always play out the same way, time after time after time and this is incredibly reassuring and enjoyable for David. 

3. Pre-writing skills

David is five years old but he doesn't know how hold a pencil. He has a lack of interest in writing and drawing.   The iPad provides him with an opportunity to practice pre writing skills by drawing shapes, numbers and letters thorough various learning and drawing apps. He finds it difficult to engage in this in other ways. This at least gives him a start. 

4. Prevent a sensory overload

But didn't I just say the opposite in No1? It's possible that while walking across an empty supermarket car park that David needs input for his senses. Get him inside the supermarket and the device plays a different function. David is surrounded by shelves and shelves of colour, piles of people, bright lights, cold fridges, loud echoing tannoy announcements and constant beeping that's coming from the check-outs. 

Here, David can use the iPad to block out all this from his senses. He takes the calming routines particularly music programmes, turns them up to full volume and then holds it close to his face. This blocks out unexpected noise, light, sights and comforts him.

5. Being in control and making decisions

If David has the iPad then he is the one in control of his environment and time. He is able to decide whether he needs an input or calming activity. He can make decisions about how he feels and what he wants to do. Interpreting their own feelings can be difficult for some people with autism and this is part of a process for him. 

So, one of the greatest things about David's iPad is that he is using it to parent himself. He has taught himself and supports himself with these things.  Asking him to be without his iPad when he needs it would be like cutting off his leg and asking him to walk. He might do it with support and therapy but it would be difficult. 

If he is going to function in society then firstly I will encourage him to use the ways, like the iPad, that he has found to cope with how he feels and teach himself skills. Secondly, I will continue to look for and find other ways to help him learn and cope like using a token economy for example. And finally, I ask that you not judge the boy playing on his iPad or the parent next to him. After all, he might just be preventing a meltdown.


  1. We can all be guilty of making snap judgements of others but it's great to hear the iPad working for him is a number of scenarios - if it works for you guys then that's all that matters #SSAA

    1. You are so right -I've made a lot less snap judgements since the kids were diagnosed with autism. I started understanding things aren't always as they appear!

  2. ignore those small minded people they aren't worth our time. My son also has too long on his computer but he is less stressed.

    1. Indeed. Autism is stressful for those who have ASD too. If an iPad relieves this, that's a good thing!

  3. Brilliant post, I'm so with you on this. Our girl doesn't need it quite as much, but I'd let her have it if she did and I felt it was beneficial. I still get way too many comments about how much I let her watch the ipad. She would not sit and read a book though, but she will read off the screen, so it has been an invaluable learning tool for us x

    1. That's really interesting how she engages with books on screen. I will remember that! Thanks for comment ing!

  4. It's hard for me to comment as neither of my children have autism. I am quite anti-ipads for children as I prefer mine to play, get out etc. But as I say they do not have autism and I think if it helps your child process and cope then it's a completely different thing and am glad it helps #thelist

    1. Thanks Laura. I think you are right, it's more about understanding that not everyone can parent the same way, and for a variety of reasons not just autism. Thanks for commenting!

  5. It's whatever works for him. My son has learning disabilities, he loves his tablet. He watches youtube and he's singing along with Bear in the Big Blue house, joining in with the episodes and so on. I have him my phone yesterday in a restaurant to keep him calm whilst we waited for our food. If other people don't like it well tough!

  6. The iPad works great for both my boys too, and they both use it in different ways. There are times where I feel guilty, that they might use it too much, but as you point out there are so many good reasons to let them use it too.
    Very good post, helped me feel a little better about myself too :-)

  7. We got Ethan his iPad when he was two and a half, we were going on a long haul flight and wanted to take with us his Winnie The Pooh movie obsession. Since then the iPad has never left his side. Do I have guilt over the amount of time he is on it, of course. But I know that through the iPad Ethan has learnt his numbers, letters colours etc. I had a three year old non-verbal boy that could name most of the magnetic letters on the fridge! I know that when Ethan comes home from school the iPad helps him unwind. I honestly don't know what people did before iPads were around.

    Thanks for linking up with Small Steps Amazing Achievements :0)

  8. Oh goodness I relate to this so much. Mine is only 3 and has a leapfrog leappad - which he will lay on for actual hours. I am actually impressed that any 3 year old, let alone an autistic one, has that attention span. But I worry, just like you. I completely agree with everything you say about it. It provides him with all the input/routine etc he needs and he really loves it. But the mummy guilt about letting so small a child use it for so long is really difficult. I don't know what to do for the best. I imagine it won't be long until he wants to upgrade to a proper tablet. On balance, I think he needs it and I am happy to let him use it a lot, with a few strict rules.It can be really tough sticking to them though! #spectrumsunday

  9. I whole heartedly support your decision to allow David so much time on the tablet. Hayden gets so many benefits out of our iPad, and the only reason I limit him is to stop the arguments between him and Ellis (I need to get Ellis' tablet fixed) it also calms him down in the evening on the bedtime wind down. Thank you for linking up to #spectrumsunday lovely, hope you join me again this week xx


I read all your comments and appreciate you sharing your thoughts with me and our readers. I welcome any feedback on my posts and you can always contact me directly. Thank you.

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