iPads, computers, smartphones, and the Internet that connects it all. Addictive and compellingly, these are powerful tools. We can instantly hear news from anywhere, locate long lost friends, and have a nice long video chat with a person half-way around the world. We can play games with people we don’t know and come to bond with those we’ve never met. The very words you are reading now were brought to you by a computer and the Internet.
The power of these devices, and the Internet that connects them all, is not lost on the four year old boy who is my son. We are fortunate enough (or not) to live with an iPad under our roof. And truly, my son is addicted to that thing, as well as any device for which there is a touchpad, keyboard or mouse. But most especially, he is addicted to the iPad. And he can use it successfully at his age because, the boy can read.
I’m not talking about some simple words which he does not comprehend. My son reads for meaning. On the computer, he clicks an icon to surf the web. He goes to one site to play a game racing cars, types in his name to immortalize his score (always under my supervision). On the iPad, he makes choices, scrolls, points, selects and plays music to accompany his gaming, resets and goes back to the “main menu”. He can do this in seconds. Faster than I can think through the moves he makes, he can open an app, choose a level for a game, type in his name, select a location, by reading his choices, and commence his gaming business. He has never been formally taught to read or play these games. Remember he is four.
Now, this can be a curse as well as a blessing. Two great challenges of ASD at my house are (1) appropriate socialization and (2) avoiding fixation on a particular activity up to the point of obsession. As for the socialization, there is a magic that comes from sharing games on the iPad between my son and the one other boy with ASD with whom he interacts. It was very funny when the two got together at Christmas time. They did not talk but played on an iPad and iPhone, kind-of, sort-of together. When he see his one other neurotypical friend, they take turns playing with games on an iPhone. Who doesn’t want an iPad or iPhone? These devices are helping to bring my son together with his only friends for play purposes. In effect, they are serving as tools that bond them together to share the experience of play. That is an amazing step forward with socialization.
The problem is the fixation. I love that a lot of learning occurs on the computer and on the iPad. He loves the excitement, the pace, the colors, and the variety of topics covered by the apps. And he loves to learn.
My son enjoys the iPad so much that you cannot tear him away from it until he is good and ready. Just like any kid you say? No. My son goes further. He does not want to leave it to go potty. This is a problem. He cannot attend his preschool class if he is not potty trained. He must be placed with the younger children. He is not going to have friends, if he stinks because he does not make it to the toilet in time because he is too preoccupied doing something else.
His fixation has the potential to kill the socialization. The socialization comes from the bonding with the iPad. He is so fascinated with learning on the iPad that he becomes fixated. Fixation means no potty. No potty means stink. Stink means no friends. An amusing dilemma.
The question is the extent to which his use of the iPad should be restricted. The obvious solution, and the one being currently implemented, is to take the iPad away after a certain number of minutes and then give it back to him when he uses the toilet without being prompted to do so. And little Einstein has figured out by repetition now that a couple drops in the toilet means he can go back to blasting ragdolls (a physics game that he does not realize is a physics game) and playing memory match. And so we’re making our way back to clean underwear by way of iPad manipulation. See, the irony? The iPad causes the problem and then fixes it. The desire for the object can be used for good, not evil.
Well, not really. In the end, it is the parent and not the object that caused the problem and then fixed it. Yes, I admit the iPad had become quite a little babysitter. Sure, there are lots of other activities we could have been doing. Most days we are busy with therapy, or running errands so we have a break from these devices. But after we complete chores, there is always some time where we both bury our heads deep in our electronic devices, he with his games and me with my writing. So, blame me if you will but remember, he has acquired skills beyond his years, and played “with” friends, in the short time he has had access to it.
When I am deep in thought and daddy is out-of-sight watching a football, basketball, baseball, fill-in-the-blank game, the young gamer plays. And so, I am a bit lax in the enforcement department. I’m not perfect, just a mom. Oh well, the family that touchpads together stays together, right? Hmmm, gotta go. Nature calls…