The iPhone 5c has opened up the world for my daughter. She is on the Autism Spectrum, and has what was formerly known as Aspergers. Communication is difficult and from the outside she appears to be dark and brooding with occasional fits of outright rebellion.
I gave her an iPhone 5c because she needed a device. It was a good hand-me-down. No one needed it, but it’s powerful enough to get the job done. She loved it! I set up all the usual parental controls and joined it to the family iCloud account.
At first she only used it for Netflix. She would watch Netflix and stampylonghead videos on YouTube. That was pretty much par for the course. She would isolate herself in these other worlds with an intense focus on what ever stimulated her. No one could really get in. We couldn’t really see who she really was.
One day she asked me something. “Dad can I have an app?” It was a common question. I didn’t think anything of it. She wanted Clash of Clans. A fun game with little battles you have against other players and other clans (groups of players). She was playing for about a month. Nothing really changed. She did her own thing.
Then I found out she was trying to play in her current clan she had joined, but no one wanted to play as often as she did. So I had her join mine. I was nervous at first. I thought she might be really awkward, or that people would say something inappropriate in the chat. Neither happened. In fact with online chat she does pretty good, and keeps the conversation age appropriate.
Beyond just being able to play a fun game we instantly had something to talk about. With her laser focus, and me enjoying the game too, we had something to do together. We had nothing in common besides genetics a day before, now we could have whole conversations.
Along with a few games we had in common, we now had new ways to talk. In the past we would get in arguments resulting in consequences, because neither side could understand what the other one was saying. She is extremely black and white. There is no grey. Certain concepts do not compute.
Now texting was a thing, using iMessages. Now each side could say exactly what they meant. Instantly. It really started to open the door into a world we were either not invited into or could not understand before. She would send an “I Love You” in the morning. She would voice her concerns instead of just losing her mind.
Before the iPhone we only knew that she was deeply focused, and very obsessive about a very small group of interests. She would become obsessed, and not let go of an interest until she had done it to death. We knew she liked dark colors, was shockingly good at art (of all types), loves Dr. Who, and will not willingly participate in most things except for the items listed above.
Pinterest changed all that. We found that for someone who wears nearly all black cloths, she loves girly cloths. We learned that she shares her Mother’s love of puns. She and my wife will spend hours sharing interesting things. Back and fourth. She was not this deeply brooding human who occupied her own space in the house. She had a fun personality that you will not see without tuning in to the right channels.
A Ray of Hope
When your child is diagnosed with Autism you are told a lot of things by a lot of people. Family will generally tell you that the diagnosis is wrong. That you should ignore the quack who made it. Well meaning people will tell you fun facts about diet or that you caused the condition by Vaccinating to early.
The one thing that didn’t make me want to slap someone, and that I have found is true, and only said by people who have been in your shoes is, “you have to mourn the person you thought they would become.” In the beginning I wanted it to be her diet or anything to fix this. I wanted fish oil or vitamin B12 to make it all better. It did not. I struggled. I made it worse.
Technology has brought back some of what I thought was lost. She didn’t die, and while I had to mourn how I thought things were going to be. My Wife and I have discovered that she is inside that sometimes awkward, and stormy person she has become. We can visit and we can share in who she really is. We just had to find the window. The new way to get into her world.
Don’t Give Up
I am not trying to give anyone false hope. If you put an iPhone in your autistic child’s hand you may not get anything besides a broken iPhone. You might have given them a way to be more isolated and distant. Or you might have given them a window to look out though. A world they can control. They can say “this is me!” Without the judgement and self doubt they feel from just saying it.
I can’t tell you how good it feels to get an “i love you :)” from a girl who would just stand awkwardly in the corner or sit and rock. If you are having the same struggles maybe give it a try. Get a device with good parental controls, and try to find that window into their world inside it.
You most likely won’t find the whole answer. You might just find a piece of the puzzle. If you have an experience like mine you will get to know your child in a new way. You may find a deeper connection than you thought you could.