Monday, April 23, 2012

Autism Celebration: How to Use Technology to Help Our Kids with Autism by Victoria Holt


In just the three short years since our daughter Tessa’s diagnosis of ASD, the availability of knowledge, information and resources has boomed. Books, local special education services, Smartphones and iPads, and especially the Internet have expanded the help that is available to families touched by the disorder. 

Victoria and her daughter, Tessa.
Our family has used technology in a number of ways to help us navigate the churning waters of Autism. Indeed, what would we all do without Internet search engines and especially uplifting blogs written by family members who know what we are going through on a daily basis? We have our sleepless nights and our public and private meltdowns like anyone with Autism in their family, but we have managed to reduce the number of public meltdowns with the help of modern technology. I had the good sense to marry a computer geek, so for the past eighteen years, technology has been at the forefront in our home. 

Recently, we were preparing for a trip to the dentist, and I felt prompted to bring my digital camera. I thought I could take photos of the waiting room, the dentist, the exam table and so on, and use them at a later visit to the dentist for a social story. The visit to the dentist went even better than expected, in large part because my daughter Tessa was determined to make it so. She told me before we arrived that she did not want to cry! I took photos of everything: big sister brushing, Tessa smiling, the hygienist working on big sister’s teeth and so on. The staff was extremely accommodating, and allowed Tessa to sit during the exam, rather than lie back on the chair. I recorded it all, feeling such pride and accomplishment on Tessa’s behalf. She was working so hard to not let her anxiety take over, that I had to blink back tears.  After a successful exam and many accolades, we came home, and I had these remarkable photographs of something I thought I would never see. Tessa at the dentist, happy.  

It occurred to me that I could upload the photos to our computer and look at them often to boost my daughter’s morale. As I was uploading, I thought about my blog and how neat it would be to put them on there. But my blog is about food and cooking…not really the best venue for such momentous pictures! That’s when it all snapped into place. I would create asocial stories blog for Tessa to review photos of events that she participated in, and to remember what it was like, and how she reacted, all in vivid Technicolor! 

As I recorded the dentist appointment, it occurred to me that other parents and kids might benefit from such a blog. I made the executive decision to open the blog for public viewing. I hadn’t seen anything like that in cyberspace.  

As you all know, life is hectic and at times, overwhelming. I don’t update the social stories blog as often as I would like, but it is a resource that is always there when we need it. We recently viewed the famous dentist appointment visit again, as it was time to return for a check-up. Tessa remembered the hygienist’s name, the general routine, and her younger brother enjoyed looking at the photos as well: it was an unexpected benefit because he had a check-up also. 

When I have time and the inclination, I like to photograph simple events in our lives and put them on the social stories blog so that Tessa can prepare herself for upcoming situations. It is a somewhat simple solution that has great dividends for our family. I have also used photographs to create a hands-on social story by printing them out and making laminated books that Tessa could look at again and again. In a pinch, I have simply carried my camera with me, and recorded events as they happened, and shown the photos on my camera to Tessa during the outing. It has the ability to calm her down because it gives her a slightly different perspective on the situation. Additionally, Tessa’s school teacher uses an iPad and other hi-tech devices to aid Tessa’s learning in the classroom.

 I am thankful for the prompting I received to bring my camera along to the dentist that day, because it turned out to have lasting positive consequences. I encourage other parents to think outside the usual routine and attempt to use some of the technology that is out there to provide better experiences for their child with Autism. Everyone who views the photographs, from the child with Autism to her parents, siblings and grandparents, will enjoy this alternate perspective on situations, and has the potential to bring happy memories alive again, and put a positive spin on an otherwise stressful event.

Notes from Danyelle: Here are some additional recommended apps to use on your android tablets, phones or iPads. Enjoy!

 What types of technology have you discovered to help your child with Autism?
 

Victoria Holt is the mom of 5.33 kids. She has had a handful of short fiction stories published in literary journals you've never heard of, and also an essay in Segullah, which you may have heard of. She loves to scrapbook and read outside in warm weather. Her daughter's ASD diagnosis actually came as a relief after two years of genetic testing and other false starts. Autism has brought her family closer together and closer to God. For some low-key social stories, check out her social stories blog http://asdsocialstories.wordpress.com/ . For some low-key recipes, you can check out her other blog: Whats4Dinner?." http://v1ct0r1a.wordpress.com/ 

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