But the truth is, electronic devices deserve special recognition, because they have been game-changers for families of kids with special needs. I am not talking about stuff like, oh, speech apps that enable our children to communicate. I am talking about the electronic diversions that give parents a break and some peace of mind. Forget the kids—we need these devices!
This was our life before the iPad came along:
We couldn't go to most restaurants, since Max was scared of noises, new places and crowds. Headphones sometimes helped, but not if he was just plain terrified of walking into somewhere different.
He'd melt down in airports and on planes.
He'd lose it at family events.
He barely wanted to go to kid activities.
He didn't so much enjoy leaving the house.
This was our life after the iPad came along (cue the angels singing):
Wherever we went, Max could sit and enjoy a movie or videos, with headphones on if he chose. Once he warmed up, he'd usually try eating at the restaurant/doing the activity/mingling.
And you know what? As he realized that the world out there wasn't so scary, he grew more comfortable doing stuff without his electronic security banket. He didn't get codependent on his iPad—he got confidence.
YES OF COURSE: Our kids are not Krazy-Glued to their electronic devices. We go for walks, we go to the mall, we take them to the park, to the playground, to the fire station. YES OF COURSE: Screen time for hours on end isn't good. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that entertainment media be limited to one to two hours a day for children and teens, and should ideally be "quality programming." (It also recommends that TV and other media be avoided for tots under two, which I definitely screwed up.) (When the kids are on school breaks, I also screw up the "one to two hours a day" thing.)
I am not sure whether the Tacodile scene in Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2, watched ad nauseam, or YouTube videos of fire trucks zooming to fires constitute "quality programming." Hmmm.
But here's the thing: Electronic devices serve a critical purpose for parents of kids with special needs. They distract and engage our kids when they're on sensory overload and generally impossible to manage. (And if this sounds implausible to you, you do not have a child with sensory issues.) Electronic devices enable our families to do activities as families. They spare strangers from having to listen to our kids' screeches. They make our lives work. While we hope that over time our children's sensory issues and fears will dwindle, for now, we need all the resources we can get. And sometimes, we need iHelp.
BUST OUT THE iPAD!
BUST OUT THE iPHONE!
BUST OUT THE GALAXY!
BUST OUT THE NABI!
BUST OUT THE LEAPPAD!
BUST OUT THE [WHATEVER ELECTRONIC DEVICE HELPS]!
There is no shame. There is only salvation.
Thanksgiving is coming. At homes around the country, parents of kids with special needs will be calming their children—nervous about the crowd of relatives, the hustle and bustle and the disruption in their routine—with electronic devices. And for that, I'd say, a whole lot of us will be giving thanks.