Friday, January 21, 2011

Joseph and the iPod

Greatest moment in computer game history

For months, we've wanted to get Joseph an iPad, hoping that he could use it as a communication device and also to play games that would help his development. We applied for the Hollyrod Foundation program that was providing free iPads to autistic kids, but we didn't really expect him to be selected. After Christmas and his birthday a week later, I went looking on Craigslist for a used iPod Touch. While it probably wouldn't be quite as useful to him as the iPad because of the smaller size, it will offer him many of the same benefits since it runs most of the same apps.

We bought Joseph an 8GB, 2nd generation iPod Touch. The 2nd generation Touch was the first model with a speaker, so it could be used without headphones. I would have preferred the 16GB model, but decided that if this one works well, then later we'll get him a bigger one and I can inherit his old one. :)

First, I put some Spongebob episodes and a few Pixar films on it for him. We'd been using Kristy's Nano for a while, if we needed him calm and quiet and couldn't find any other way, we would give him the iPod and let him watch Spongebob. We've had mixed success with this. It accomplishes our goal usually, but I know that it's not helping curb the bad behavior. (Fortunately, since going back to school after break, we've had much more success getting him on the school bus without the iPod, which was when we had to use this carrot the most.)

Second, I installed Angry Birds and Angry Birds Seasons (the Lite versions of both). Joseph really likes Angry Birds, and he loves Christmas, so "Christmas Birds', as he calls it, was a big hit. Unfortunately, after I showed him the educational apps I installed for him and the initial novelty wore off, all he wanted to do is watch movies and play Angry Birds. So today I decided that Angry Birds and the Bubble Wrap game needed to come off. So far, he's either not noticed or it's not bothering him. Also, I've put some music on, all with cover art so it can be found without having to read titles. Bob Marley, Hannes Wader, Chopin, Imagination Movers, Yo Gabba Gabba and a few others. I showed him a couple of times how to get to it and play it, but so far he's shown zero interest in listening to the music (which is really surprising).

I've been researching apps for a while. My priority for him is improving his receptive and expressive communication. I've been researching apps for a while now, but most of the ones that look like they'll be useful cost a couple of dollars. We're hoping we can get Kristy's parents to buy Joseph an iTunes gift card to pay for some of these. I'm particularly interested in the apps from, most of them are flash-card style apps and they say they're based on the principles of ABA.

I started looking for free apps, going through lists of apps for special needs kids in general, and autistic kids specifically. I found Lite (free) versions of several, some flash-card apps, some spelling apps, a Dr. Seuss storybook app. Most of the Lite apps are frustratingly limited, but good enough to get an idea of which ones are worth buying (because I'd hate to buy an app and then have him not be interested in playing it.) The goal is to have a collection of apps that Joseph can use by himself that will keep him occupied and teach him.

These are all either free, or have Lite versions that are free.
  • The Dr. Seuss storybook app is a success, so far. It's going on the list of apps we're going to buy.
  • Soundrop isn't exactly educational, but he plays it and doesn't get sucked in the way he did with Angry Birds.
  • Doodlebuddy is a good, free drawing app.
  • TapToTalk is a free communication app. It's $99 a year to have access to create your own vocabulary for it, which is a very good deal compared to some of the others. He fiddled with it for a few minutes, but has not shown any real interest in it. They've made it available on the iPod/iPhone/iPad, the Nintendo DS and several other devices.
  • There is a series of apps called "FirstWords" that I like. They show you a picture of something (a cat for instance) and then you drag Scrabble-tile looking letters into their correct positions to spell the letters. It reads the letters out loud as you position them, and when you complete the word, it says it and the picture spins. It kept him occupied for a little while. I suspect he lost interest because it only had a few different words in the lite version. Whether or not he's learning anything from it, it's at his skill level and he can play it by himself.
  • Animal Match looks good, but we've not been successful in getting him to play it by himself yet (just installed it today). It's a memory style card matching game, which he should excel at.
  • iColoringBook is another new one we just installed. I'm not sure yet if it's something he's going to be interested in.
  • We're hoping to find an app that will let us set up his schedule in the iPod and then it will alert and remind him. Like, he gets on the bus at 8:05, so it should make some noise at 8:00 and show him a picture of the bus. The same with dinner time, teeth-brushing time, bed-time, etc. I saw one in the app store, but there were a lot of complaints about it not working properly and this one was more than 99 cents.
I was concerned about leaving Joseph unsupervised with the iPod, so I asked around for the toughest iPod case available. I had several people tell me that the Otterbox Defender was the best. I ordered one from their website directly, $35 with shipping. I got it today and put it on his iPod. Three hours later, he had torn off the tab that covers the dock connector, and torn another part of the outer silicon case in order to remove it. I really expected a lot more. I am going to call Otterbox customer service, but I suspect my options will be return it for a refund, or have the silicon outer case replaced. Neither will really solve my problem, making Joseph's iPod Joseph-proof, as it will leave us either without a case, or with another silicon case that he can (and will eventually) tear.

He's had the iPod for a week now, and it's not been as revolutionary as I'd hoped, but he's showing interest. I will update again in a couple of weeks and we'll see how things are going then. I suspect that once we're able to buy the full versions of some of these apps that they will really be able to capture his interest.

If you have any apps, free or otherwise, to recommend for a mostly pre-verbal four year old; please leave a comment and tell me about them.

Update on Otterbox: I called customer service and they offered to send a replacement silicon outer case for free and I accepted. He's left the torn case on all week, so hopefully once we replace it he will leave the new one alone.

Monday, January 10, 2011


Insha'Allah is Arabic for "If God wills it." In the Qu'ran it says, "And never say of anything, 'I shall do such and such thing tomorrow. Except (with the saying): 'If God wills!'"

Kristy's at he OB/GYN this morning. Last month, she went to the ER with complications from kidney stones. While she was there, they did a pregnancy test that came back positive. It was a big surprise for us. Kristy and I both wanted more kids, but did not feel that we would be able to manage financially. Our apartment is pretty cramped with just two kids.

The elephant in the room, of course, is Autism. We've accepted that Joseph is autistic. It's even somewhat of a comfort, since it explains a lot of the difficulty we have with him. It's a controversial subject, whether autism is a bad thing, or just a different thing. As parents of children with autism, I think that believing that autism is not a bad thing is the only way we can be happy and stay sane. Autism has forced me to be a better father, a better person, it has brought some amazing people into my life, it's given me a new way to define myself and made me a part of a community of amazing parents that I value immensely. I've written a lot about the good that autism has done for me and my family, here, herehere, and here. While I could not possibly love my son any more than I already do, the truth of the matter is I would rather my son was not autistic.

Right now, every child that is born has a 1 in 110 chance of being autistic. Boys, a 1 in 70 chance. The docs at Children's Hospital told me that the sibling of a child with autism's chances of also being autistic are 1 in 12.

A while ago, I mentioned Christopher, the child we lost to a miscarriage before Joseph. What I've wanted most in my life is predictability, stability, security and certainty. I want to know what my kids will be doing next year, or even next month. I want to not worry about where next month's rent money will come from or what we'll do if our car breaks (which is has, right now we're sans automobile). I'd even settle for being able to be reasonably confident about these things. Unfortunately, this is a luxury that I don't get to have.

As vital as the support of our friends and family has been and continues to be, I think that my faith right now is the only thing keeping me sane. I'm learning to be thankful for the blessings that we have, despite the challenges. I'm thankful for the people that have come into our lives in the last 6 months. I'm thankful that we have a place to live, that I have so much family nearby, that my children are so sweet. I'm thankful for the very nice TV we got for free on Craigslist last month because I told the guy Joseph is autistic and it turned out his son is autistic too. I'm thankful that we live in Franklin County and our Board of Developmental Disabilities covers more than any other BDD in the state, and we have so many autism schools and research centers to choose from. I'm thankful that the Goodwill across the street regularly sells clothes up to size 4 at 10 for $2.99 and Joseph is still in size 4. I'm thankful that Maria is doing better in school and that Joseph is talking so much more, even if they both have a long way to go.

I know that God has a plan that we cannot comprehend. I know that whatever happens, it's part of his plan, whether we ever can understand it or not. These blessing that we have, most of them are not attributable to anything that we've done right. An atheist might say they're entirely coincidental. But without them, I can't imagine how we would get by or even have made it this far. I must believe that if God chooses to send us another child, whether they're a boy or a girl, whether they're autistic, ADHD or neurotypical, they are a part of God's plan and he will always provide for us, whether it's with work, government assistance or friends and family. I need to allow myself to feel certainty and security in that.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Happy 4th Birthday, Joseph

I should have started this post earlier, but I didn't.

It's Joseph's fourth birthday today. He came five weeks early. I had been working for a local outsourcing call center for two months, and I was in the process of trying to get them to approve my "paternity" leave. On the 3rd of January, Kristy thought she was in labor and we went to the hospital. They told us that she wasn't, and sent us home. The next morning, we went back and they decided that maybe she was after all. A few hours later, we had an extremely skinny, but otherwise healthy and full-sized baby boy.

(2007-01-04) Baby Joe's First Day 022

Being Joseph's father has been more challenging than I expected. It's forced me to become better than I was, and we're both getting better every day.

A year ago, I felt like Joseph's personality and his level of interaction was very limited. Now, he's talking a bit, we're starting to understand more about his motivations and we're learning how we can help him overcome his challenges. I think if I he was someone else's child and I hadn't seen him for this whole year, he'd be barely recognizable to me.

To Joseph:

My son, you amaze me. Every day, I am proud of your persistence and perseverance. A year ago, you were a blank slate to me, with apparently no more personality than a newborn. Getting to know you and watching you develop as a person since then has been wonderful. Every day I see more evidence that you're totally aware of what's going on around you, and that you understand far more than we had thought you did. I'm both anxious and excited to see what kind of man you become and I can't wait to have a conversation with you and find out what is going on in that lumpy head of yours.

Though sometimes you decide you won't eat your dinner, and sometimes you become frustrated and lash out at us physically, I know that you're an infinitely sweet and caring child who is enthusiastic about discovering everything the whole world has to offer. This is why you smear a whole brand-new tube of toothpaste all over the bathroom sink, or sift through the cat's litter box at your grandmother's. I know that all of this is at least as difficult for you as it is for us, but somehow we will manage together, as a family.

For as long as I can remember, I've had trouble relating to people. I know that is probably going to be a challenge for you as well, probably much more so (though already you seem more popular with your classmates than I can recall being myself). I hope that we can make this mutual challenge into something that will bind us together.