What a Broken iPad Taught One Dad About Parenting

I am so pleased to introduce Keith Hammond as a guest blogger today. Keith is a manager at the adult day services program at Easterseals Serving Greater Cincinnati, and he’s the father of two children on the autism spectrum.

by Keith Hammond

Keith and his kids

Keith and his kids, Hillary (left) and Steven (right)

There is a saying that claims “Challenges are what make life interesting.” As a parent of two children with special needs, I can assure you that life is always interesting.

My son Steven is on the autism spectrum and is predominantly nonverbal. My family has become accustomed to the ups and downs, finding that progress often presents new challenges. In summer of 2011, we had one such breakthrough that came with unexpected challenges.

We had always struggled with how to help Steven communicate. He had a Dynavox that brought moderate success, but the invention of the iPad opened up more possibilities thanks to the autism apps available. He made excellent progress during that school year.

The challenge was that Steven was rough on the iPad. He had a tendency to fling it away from him when he was done. This broke several of them — we probably bought five iPads the first year. As you can imagine, it made for an expensive year.

Oh, yes. We did buy Otter boxes for it. We armored that thing up so much that Tony Stark would have been impressed. But Steven is a master of destruction. Give him Captain America’s indestructible shield and in five minutes you will have a pile of red, white, and blue dust.

Steven had been attending summer camps, and so we sent his iPad to camp with him, and when he was finished using it to communicate with his aid there one day, he flung it away from him, as had become his practice.

Unfortunately, at that time, he was in a boat. In the middle of a lake.

Bloop! Straight to the bottom of the lake. The aide was very optimistic, diving in and recovering it from its watery grave. At home, my wife Amy covered it with rice. She’d heard rice can absorb moisture, and while that may work if you spill a drink on an iPad, it is less successful after the iPad was fully submerged in the middle of a lake. It was time for iPad number six. This one did not go to camp.

I wish that were the end of the story, but sometimes challenges have a way of hanging around to add insult to injury. A few weeks later, I ended up talking business with a camp rep at a gathering of multiple disability service agencies similar to Easterseals. For some reason communication devices came up as a topic — maybe I mentioned that my son used an iPad to communicate.

The camp rep smiled at me, nudged me, and said, “Hey, you want to hear something funny? This family we serve at our summer camp sent an iPad in with their son to talk, and you know what happened?”

I had a feeling that I did know.

“The kid threw it in the lake! Isn’t that hysterical?”

I weakly agreed, “Yyyyeahhhh—hysterical.”

“Can you believe it?”

What else could I do but nod knowingly? “Yes. Yes, I can believe it.”

Challenges definitely make life interesting. But there’s more. The rest of the saying is that “Overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.” Steven may not have learned how to be gentle with an iPad, but we have learned how to take the lows, and enjoy the highs. And that’s pretty meaningful.

Read one dad’s story about his daughter’s experience with the Dynavox


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