Thinking tech for a 14 year old with autism

In a few weeks, my oldest daughter will be graduating from middle school. High school begins in the fall. I'm starting to get a picture of who my baby may be as an adult. Scary, but in a good way because she's an amazing young lady. She's intelligent, sweet, compassionate, has a wicked sense of humor and has thankfully has spared us from most of the average 14 year-old angst. She also has high-functioning autism. Looking at her now you'd never know I was once told that she might never speak in full sentences. 

Like many kids with autism, she needs a lot of structure in her life. She always has to know what's happening next or she gets very stressed out. She also has fine motor issues. She can write, but it's barely legible. She's very comfortable on the computer. She never had much interest in email, but does communicate with classmates from time to time on gaming social networks that are kid-appropriate. I just turned off her cell phone account because she was never using it. Only recently has she mastered answering and using the telephone at home. She also has an internal filter that's better than any parental control software. She refused to see a PG-13 movie until she was actually 13. She doesn't like to hear bad words. If she stumbles across something she shouldn't see on YouTube, she'll switch it off faster than I could react. She loves to read and write, but needs help making sure her stories have a beginning, middle and end.

We've decided to get her an iPad this summer. This isn't a toy or entertainment device, although we certainly expect her to use it for that when appropriate.

I rely on technology to keep my life organized. I don't keep anything in my head I don't have to. I have work and personal Google calendars that tell me what I have to do and when. Everything is nicely synced between my desktop computer, laptop and iPhone. I would be a steaming pile of mess without it all. And I don't have autism. How unfair is it that my child with autism is expected to keep a paper planner and write everything down when I can't do that?

The iPad will be perfect for her. A notebook computer will be heavier and require more maintenance. An iPhone or iPod Touch is too small for her to get much use out of the keyboard with her fine motor challenges. She loves to read and it will be great for her to be able to keep so many books with her. She can write with Pages. And I know there has to be some great apps out there specifically designed to help young adults like her organize and communicate.

We will turn parental controls on. Not so much for content, as I explained, but to make sure that she's not using it in school to play games or watch videos when she's bored. I've already spoken to some folks at the school and they think it's a great idea (she goes to a small special needs private school). The school doesn't have public wifi, so that will help. When she's home or on the weekends, I have no problem with her using it for entertainment. In fact, the more she enjoys it the better chance she'll make sure she always has it with her. 

I found this screen shot of the iPad parental controls…is there more to it than this?


Looks like while we can easily turn YouTube on and off, we'll have to manually toggle her school-day access to games and other distraction apps.

Wishlist for Apple: How about iPad parental controls with time-of-day restrictions on apps?

For calendar and email, we'll likely set her up with a Google Account instead of MobileMe.

The advantage of Google is that it's what the rest of the family is already using. Her account calendar can be shared with her father and me and we can put on it all the details of weekend plans that she's constantly asking us about. I know how comforting it is to be able to look at a calendar and see everything that has to happen in nice, neat little boxes. It will be a little bit of heaven to her. It can sync to the iPad via Exchange when she's on the home wifi. Easy. It's also free.

Wishlist for Google: parental controls. Period. I'd love to be able to set up an account for my young teenagers and link it to mine. It should give me the option to disable YouTube uploading, filter videos, make me approve any buddies on Google Talk, auto bcc's me on outgoing messages, etc. This article in Gmail help is seriously lame, Google. You can do better than that. 

Any other suggestions for giving a young teen an iPad? Any suggestions on Asperger's/HFA-friendly apps (a casual search mostly found apps for very young or verbally-impaired kids)?

One response to “Thinking tech for a 14 year old with autism”

  1. Wow, she has great judgment! I wish my 11 year old Autistic son was as mature! When he is on Youtube we have to sit behind him. We made a separate account on the computer for Youtube, whereas on his account he can only go to the sties that are entered from the parental controls due to not using better parental control earlier on.Danny’s mom (yep, you know me Judi)