My granddaughter’s iPad is her voice. Because she has severe childhood apraxia of speech (CAS) that can be part of being on the autistic spectrum, she can only express her wants, needs, and thoughts through an app called TouchChat. This app uses Apple devices for the program that gives her a voice. While her first iPad was heavy and clunky, at least it was sturdy. Unfortunately for her and countless special education students who use iPads, most people want their Apple devices to be lighter and thinner, resulting in them being much more prone to breaking when treated roughly. And believe me, a child without a voice can be easily frustrated and thus very tough on her devise.
My granddaughter, who has gone through four iPads, just broke the second iPad mini allotted to her by my purchase of Apple Care for an extra $69. Now, instead of a $50 replacement charge, I had a choice of paying $299 to replace it with a new one with no Apple Care option or $309 to obtain a refurbished version of her iPad mini. I’ve never been a math whiz, so I went with the refurbished one because, for another $69, I could get Apple Care again. All I know is that this is a pretty expensive proposition for a child likely to continue her breaking ways.
Why did she throw her iPad to the floor? She indicated that she wanted dinner at 3:00 and was told no, it wasn’t time for dinner, but she could have a snack. She must have been super hungry. While a neurotypical child might have whined and even had a crying tantrum, she expressed her anger by tossing the iPad and shattering the screen. Lest you think her iPad was not properly protected, it was in a Griffin Rugged Protection Survivor case (“Designed and tested to protect against damage from 6-foot drops onto concrete.”). We have also used Otterbox Defender cases (“Shock-absorbing and impact-deflecting materials completely cover your device along with a built-in screen protector that guards against damage to your touch screen.”) for previous iPads, with similar results.
It is probably difficult to empathize with the anger and frustration of a child who can’t tell the world anything. In a Huffington Post article published June 25, 2014, Learn About Childhood Apraxia of Speech, I shared,
“You may have heard of aphasia if you know someone who has had a stroke or brain injury. The person is still competent and knows what he wants to say, but he can’t talk and may not be able to understand others who are speaking to him. He may have trouble with reading, writing and coordination. CAS is aphasia’s lesser-known child… [Children with this problem] know what they want to say, but… can’t coordinate the muscle movements necessary to speak those words. Some of them also can’t coordinate the muscle plan needed to sign.”
The best way I can visualize my granddaughter’s problem is that there are connections in her brain that did not develop properly. Despite reading to her, talking to her, going to enriching activities, spending countless hours taking her to private therapists, and loving her to pieces, she still can’t share what she is thinking or why she cried or what she would like to do or even what she wants to eat or drink. TouchChat is a way to use technology to give her a voice. It’s a pretty awesome app, but it has to be accessed via one of Apple’s devices. And those devices don’t last very long in my granddaughter’s world.
I suspect the same is true for many special education students who depend on apps like TouchChat for their voice. It is frustrating enough to have to find the icons or type in the words so the app can speak them aloud. The world doesn’t wait for answers that take longer than expected. I have tried using TouchChat and feel frustrated when I can’t navigate to the screen with the icon that expresses what I want to say or keyboard my words quickly enough to give voice to my thoughts.
This is my plea to Apple: I suspect the iPad may eventually go the way of the dinosaur because phones can do the same things and more. One of the biggest markets for tablets is schools, and many are using the much less expensive ChromeBooks. If Apple designed and marketed an iPad-like devise for special education students and people with disabilities, it may be an important and unfilled niche. The sturdiness should be built in rather than requiring army-quality cases and screen protectors that are still vulnerable to children who slam or throw their devices in frustration. I know they would cost more, but families like ours and special education programs would pay for a “Special Needs” iPad or Tablet that would ensure our kids could learn and have a voice.