On the iPad and “isolation” in The Toronto Star’s “Autism Project”

Filed Under (Communication, Computing/iPad) by Estee on 14-11-2012

I just want to make a brief comment regarding The Toronto Star’s reference to how iPads are changing the face (or might) of the education of individuals with the autism label. Briget Taylor was quoted as stating that the iPads could increase isolation of children with autism. I want to break that down a bit. I’m not sure how that quote may have been taken down by The Star. Here are a few things off the top that jumped out at me immediately.

Before I do, here’s a brief background that has shaped my view. Prior to the advent of the iPad, I began teaching Adam how to type on label makers, computers and the Alphasmart Neo which is simply a lightweight qwerty board with a small screen. Teaching Adam how to type with support was difficult for all kinds of reasons (many of them motor-planning ones), but it has enabled his emerging independence. I need to keep learning how to support him and I’ve been at it for a few years now. I also take the advice from others to help me and we share information. If you click on technology and communication tags on this blog, you will see some of my posts which talk about this more. It’s a process.

The iPad (and computers and the Internet prior to the iPad) has enabled”voice.” That word is used very often because we don’t have a better one as of yet. Many people see it as problematic as “voice ” implies capacity, intelligence and competence (and independence) coming through the verbal. The deaf community has made plenty of references to this and it is still used in Verbal Behaviour today — “we have to teach him the power of words,” in terms of discussing ways in which to motivate autistic people to speak (even if they cannot). So, we might want to consider this in terms of autism and social justice and human rights overall, but this is not what today’s post is going to talk about today.

When thinking about the iPad and how to use it as a teaching tool, and an enabler of self-expression, how can we consider it as a supportive of autistic agency? I put that question up because I am worried it will be seen as a panacea for creating nomates, and we have so much difficulty accepting (or understanding?) human difference.

The idea that the iPad will isolate autistic children as Ms. Taylor was quoted, presumes that autistic people are, or want to be, isolated. It harkens an “ideal” way to be human — to be an adept social (typical) communicator. It also builds upon the notion that autistic children are “locked in their own world.” I think we have to be very careful in talking about autistic people and locating ourselves while we do. When making statements like that we are talking from a different standpoint. When I write about disability, I am also writing from an outsider standpoint with a view that I need to always question my own thoughts and ideas about what it means to be human.

I do think teaching social skills, among other skills is important, but it’s not an end in itself. We still have to address autistic difference which also can mean different ways of being social. Sometimes, Adam needs his time alone on his iPad. He needs reprieve and he is teaching himself by discovering. When he’s had enough, he can also be very social, in need of people. He loves to play. Like all of us, we need down time, right? Further, autistic individuals who also use programs like Second Life, the blogs and other self-advocacy organizations to socialize. Now we are all on Facebook (okay most of us) and other social media. As autistic people have written valuable books and blogs that have helped our understanding, I would like to see schools hiring autistic people to enable education.

So, I don’t think the premise that autistic children will be more isolated is a reason to limit iPad use, necessarily. That premise is used by some university professors who don’t want screens in their classrooms. Based on limiting screentime-arguments, how could a person with a disability who needs to use a computer be able to participate, attend university? Isn’t that isolating? That is what concerns me with the quote as written in The Toronto Star.

Instead, how can we consider how to use the iPad to enhance learning opportunities for autistic children and further, how can we transfer the learning on the screen to learning in real time and space? Can autistic people shed some light here? What is a preferred autistic social style or “space” (I assume it is varied)? I find socializing sometimes exhausting. I can imagine that for many autistic people, it can be much more difficult. Now that we have an amazing tool, we have to still do the work to learn how to teach to autistic strengths with it. We have to recognize and respect the differences. We have to be supportive and we need autistic people to help us.

Omom22 has commented on The Star and iPads here.


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About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (www.taaproject.com), and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.