March 13, 2011
It’s a Miracle
This morning as I checked my email I noticed a new Schafer Autism Report was out, with the timely title “Is the iPad a ‘Miracle Device’ for Autism?” prominent in my inbox. I mention the title is timely because I just spent an afternoon at my son’s school getting acquainted with his new iPad, which has been fitted with “Proloquo2go”, or as I like to call it, the “miracle app”. Although every time that three letter abbreviation is mentioned I am compelled to think of food, I managed to focus during the ninety minutes Justin’s teacher and speech instructors introduced me and my mother to his new augmentative device (yes, I was proud of myself). It is, in fact, a miraculous contraption. As I navigated my way through the speech teacher’s carefully constructed folders (after making a mental note to make her show me how to turn the device on before the session concluded), I admit I was elated with the promise it held, the opportunities spread wide open for my bright boy.
Now I just have to stop perseverating on my fears of breaking the thing.
Justin has truly outgrown his former communicative device, the Springboard, which has since died an inelegant death after taking an impromptu swan dive during snack time at school. Fortunately, this dearth in communication lasted only a few days for my son, as due to the diligence of his school staff this new Apple contraption was almost ready for his use. For ninety minutes yesterday my mom and I were treated to a tour of its properties, with the two of us making a few suggestions here and there, while the technology wiz before us did the tweaking (you know it wasn’t me). Mid-way through the tour we watched breathlessly as a “button” was pushed which displayed the alphabet, its symbols revealed to us in all of its small and large-lettered glory. I sat in wonder as I realized this device, unlike his last one, is capable of “speaking” his wishes to the world, rather than simply spelling each word out loud.
Oh please, dear universe, I’ve let go of my dream of reclaiming my pre-birth semi-flat stomach for all eternity. Let’s permit this particular miracle to come to pass.
I’m excited for the other options on this program as well, the opportunity for Justin to reveal his feelings to us with the touch of his fingertip, the chance to “say” ‘Happy Birthday’ to his little brother. Hell, the staff even managed to create a page that diligently lists every Eric Carle book ever created, and since we possess each title in its now tattered and bedraggled form, Justin can even fulfill his literary needs without rearranging every bookcase in the house. I’m hoping that with a multitude of options laid out in colorful array before him, that maybe he’ll even begin to request more interesting leisure activities than his staple DVDs and plush toys. Perhaps one day, he’ll demand an activity that would necessitate participation by his entire family.
I admit, as we perused the creative wonders of minds far more technologically savvy than mine (which is clearly not even close to giving the geniuses at Apple their due), I am completely consumed by one aspect of the device, the one that would simply open up the world to him. The truth is, my son doesn’t often communicate his wants to us or instigate conversation, has in fact primarily used his augmentative devices for academics and basic needs. As he’s grown more independent he’s mostly employed the technology for the former, which has been a bittersweet outcome for me. While I revel in his ability to meet his own desires, his newfound competence has precluded his wish to initiate any kind of dialogue with us. In the last year, his cumbersome device has often been relegated to the back corner of its table, left alone and ignored, rendered mute in its abandonment.
Today however, I’m allowing hope to creep back in once again. Perhaps the allure of these carefully constructed screens will elicit this desire to reach out to us, to commence any kind of conversation that transcends mere need. I am permitting the sometimes elusive specter of hope to make its return because I don’t believe I’ll hear my boy’s authentic voice during my lifetime. Despite his fairly tender age, I am convinced that the severe apraxia that so plagues him will effectively render his vocal cords mute forever, save for the plethora of vowel sounds that punctuate our days. I’ve accepted this fate for him and our family, have relegated it to the back of my mind, let the sadness of the situation go. As my grandma was fond of saying, “it is what it is”. To dwell there is not productive for anyone.
But maybe, just maybe, there are some miracles left in the universe. Perhaps one day, with the use of this wonderful device, me and my boy will simply have ourselves a little chat.