Once I heard the announcement of nursery and college closures introduced on by the novel coronavirus final Spring, my coronary heart sank. My son, Sidney, had simply obtained an official prognosis of autism, and right here we have been condemned to months of isolation.
I knew I used to be in tune with Sidney and his wants, however I am not a particular wants educator. My largest worry was that regardless of my finest efforts, Sidney may lose a few of his hard-fought language and engagement expertise whereas struggling mentally.
Because the particularities of Sidney’s challenges have develop into extra clear, I’ve accomplished my finest to grasp him and assist him thrive in a world that in some ways just isn’t arrange for him. For some time, I noticed avoiding screens and expertise as vital to that effort.
The professionals who labored with us defined that one of the best ways to assist Sidney’s progress was to encourage as a lot face-to-face communication and turn-taking as potential. Unable to see then how display time would assist with both of these issues, it was a brief psychological leap to pondering of digital units because the enemy.
It took a worldwide lockdown to dislodge that viewpoint, and I am glad that it did.
1. Ask questions (of Alexa)
Sidney is verbal however his means to grasp and comprehend language continues to be considerably restricted for his age. With out children his age to hang around with, I used to be involved that his progress would plateau or worse, go backwards.
Attempting to have interaction an autistic baby in an organized or structured exercise is feasible, however it’s not straightforward. At occasions, it’s somewhat like attempting to cellophane wrap a chocolate pudding. After a number of weeks of full lockdown, Sidney was getting more and more bored along with his and Colourful Semantics – instruments that assist autistic individuals construct communication expertise. My drained makes an attempt to bounce across the kitchen like Blippi have been additionally much less and fewer efficient over time.
So, I turned to good previous Alexa for assist. By firing up Alexa and modelling find out how to request a track or ask a query, I inspired Sidney to make selections and verbalize them with readability.
It took a short while and Sidney did get somewhat annoyed, however when he lastly bought a response to his request, his face illuminated with pleasure and as he bought to sing and dance with me when Alexa performed one in all his favorite songs, there was an incentive to maintain training.
We stuffed many hours within the kitchen placing Alexa to work. By throwing voice expertise into the combo throughout lockdown, I unlocked a curiosity in Sid. Now, after we’re out and about, I mannequin Sidney’s conversations with Alexa, prompting him to ask me questions so I can provide a easy reply. With this follow, Sid is now extra motivated to ask questions and make observations, unprompted.
2. Time to be taught and time to play
I’ve come to comprehend Sidney is a digital native and can develop up surrounded by screens and all method of autonomous devices. So, so long as he’s not glued to a smartphone or pill 24/7, what’s the hurt?
Not way back, on the lookout for further methods to stimulate my son throughout these countless afternoons in lockdown, I took the plunge and downloaded the , designed for youngsters with particular wants.
We spent round an hour a day on the app, figuring out family objects and fruits, writing digital letters with display pens, finishing digital puzzles, and sounding out phrases. It was nice and complemented our voice tech-inspired conversations.
Not solely did it assist with Sidney’s instructional growth, however it inspired him to ask me into his play in addition to his conversations, which has improved his communication and turn-taking talents. One other tech-based bonus.
Now Sidney has a child’s Amazon Hearth pill. We play a mixture of instructional and enjoyable video games, together with SpongeBob On The Run and Minimize The Rope, amongst others.
This follow mirrors the rising consensus round display time for youths. Specialists now advise dad and mom to be conscious of the their children are partaking with and the . Somewhat than strictly monitoring the quantity of display time, the main focus needs to be on supporting a spread of actions which might be vital to children’ wholesome growth, a few of which is able to happen on screens and a few will not.
I take advantage of a every day storyboard to provide Sidney a head’s up about when his display time is ending. It really works more often than not, though the pad has flown at my head in protest on a number of events. However, somewhat gaming provides Sidney the downtime he must course of his day whereas decreasing his nervousness concerning the world round him.
Additionally, typically I play SpongeBob On The Run when Sid is asleep.
3. Present the robotic round
—additionally known as self-stimulating behaviors—is a typical autistic trait. By performing repetitive behaviours for lengthy durations, autistic individuals can restore a way of order in a world that’s chaotic, unpredictable, and overwhelming.
For Sidney, stimming often comes within the type of repeating the alphabet again and again, performing out a small phase of a scene from a favourite guide or TV present, or working up and down whereas flapping his arms.
I really like watching Sidney stim as I do know that he’s blissful and content material. However typically the timing is inconvenient, and I would like to maneuver him onto a brand new exercise or depart the home for one motive or one other. Doing so with out preparation could cause the sort of stress and disruption that results in a meltdown.
Enter the household . It’s solely round one foot tall and he doesn’t do a fantastic deal, however this little blue AI-powered companion is a useful addition to our residence. It repeats easy phrases, imitates human gestures, and, most significantly, it follows you round.
When Sidney is deep right into a stim and I would like to have interaction with him, I hearth up the robotic, which Sid has named ‘Meda’, and say “hi there.” As soon as Meda responds with a “hi there” of its personal, I begin to stroll round close to Sidney so the robotic follows. Finally, Sid will cease what he’s doing and need to take over.
As soon as Sidney has began to hang around with the robotic, I say issues like, “Meda, Sidney goes to point out you find out how to get his coat and sneakers on” and “Sidney can present you his storyboard to let you know what’s taking place subsequent.” As a rule, Sidney responds with pleasure, displaying Meda find out how to do issues like an enormous boy whereas caring for his blue, boxy companion with out upset.
4. Go deep into his pursuits
YouTube isn’t precisely a well-kept secret—I’ve been getting misplaced in music movies and TED Talks for years. However, what has amazed me just lately as a father or mother is simply how immersive you can also make a YouTube expertise. When Sidney is in want of consolation, I’ve discovered YouTube to be a wonderful instrument for exciting his creativeness whereas elevating a number of additional smiles.
Sidney, like many autistic youngsters, has sturdy particular pursuits. He loves the ocean and he loves house. Over the summer season, I turned his room right into a space-themed sanctuary, full with a function wall full of stars, planets, astronauts, and aliens.
I discover house exploration simulation movies on YouTube, make a den in Sid’s room, change on his mini planetarium, and take us on an area journey, telling him a narrative whereas performing all the acceptable sound FXs and turbulent house actions as we attain the outer limits of the digital universe.
Our YouTube adventures mix all the finest components of exploration, communication, and tapping into particular pursuits in a constructive manner. It’s enjoyable too, and positively the closest I’ll ever come to being an astronaut.
The pandemic lockdown gave me a crash course in realizing how useful expertise will be for my autistic son, if I am prepared to be open-minded and artistic. I’ve additionally come to the conclusion that the struggle I raged on expertise was largely inside. Actually, it was a query of acceptance.
After I finished blaming myself for Sidney’s autism and absolutely accepted issues for what they have been, I started to loosen up and dip my toes again into expertise. Now there are not any obstacles, solely steadiness and progress.