Saturday, 18 August 2012

Jimmy 'Buttons' : or how an iPad helped one small boy with #autism

This article was originally posted on Crystal Jigsaw, a wonderful blog that covers life, farming, special needs and everything in between.  It's being reprinted here for #specialsaturday (details below) as the theme this week is iPads.  Links to how you can get an iPad for your child are also at the end of this piece.

 It was an auntie who christened him Jimmy 'Buttons'. He just couldn't pass them by. Phones, TV remotes, toys, keypads, you name it. But Jimmy has autism and he didn't always use those buttons in a useful way. That is until he started using an iPod Touch and then an iPad. According to Mum Katy, they helped with behaviour management, speech, motivation and his social skills. The family live in Donegal in North-West Ireland, but Katy is originally from Limehouse in East London.

The first signs of autism were when Jimmy lost the words he had as a baby, he wasn't comfortable in his clothes, began flapping his hands when he was excited or anxious, and developed an obsession with Thomas the Tank Engine. At first Katy felt like an over-anxious first -time Mum as she took her son back and forth to the GP with questions and worries. At playschool he still wasn't talking, and a referral to speech therapy eventually led to a diagnosis of autism in 2005. For his Mum the diagnosis came as a relief after all the uncertainty

After diagnosis Jimmy was referred to the local Assistive Technology Unit and various educational games were recommended. Even at just 3 years old, Jimmy 'Buttons' showed his family that he knew exactly what to do with them.

But with very little speech, it was still a struggle for anyone to understand his needs. One day in school he "threw a wobbler," and it took the teacher and his Mum almost two hours to get the word "teeth" out of him. To realise that your child is in pain and unable to explain or tell you where it hurts is heart-breaking, and could even have dangerous consequences.

Jimmy was already using a new communications App - Grace - and his toothache led to the inclusion of a whole section on the App about body parts together with a 'sore' button, so that if it happened again, he would be able to show and tell his Mum exactly where it hurt. Now at 9 his speech is much better, and it's mostly used as a reward and motivation for good behaviour. It's also brought the family together:

"He doesn't just sit and play on his own, he'll show us stuff, like trains that he's found on YouTube," says Katy. "He's learned to play Minecraft by watching his brother, and sometimes they do things together, and that's lovely to see."

It's not just kids with autism who can benefit. Even my own daughter, who has severe cerebral palsy, enjoys using the iPad. From watching the latest pop videos on Vevo, to interactive stories, to cause and effect apps, it provides great entertainment, and it's so easy to get her something new when she's bored. In September, I'm hoping to introduce her to a simple communications app in conjunction with her school.

Now the Irish scheme that helps children like Jimmy to get iPads is available in the UK through the Manchester-based Hearts and Minds charity.

It's very simple: Register on the website, collect old mobile phones and then swap them for an iPad. You will need a minimum of 165 phones. That may sound like a lot, but more than 1000 families in Ireland have succeeded and there are plenty of hints and tips on the website to help you. This scheme is open to families and schools and you don't have to have a child with special needs to take part.

What's in it for the charity? Well they make money from the scheme too, and this is will be used to build a school for children with autism in Manchester.

The info bit:

Twitter: @handmchallenge

There is also a similar scheme in Ireland:

If you know of anyone who could benefit from this scheme, please tell them :)

Special Saturday:

#specialsaturday which was set up by @savvywendy to improve awareness and increase understanding of special needs. It is now a global campaign and this week the topic is iPads, how they help kids with special needs and how to get them. @savvywendy is an inspirational mum of four kids, three with autism and other special needs. She is currently recovering from two strokes. Join #specialsaturday by 'liking' the facebook page -; following on twitter - @Specialsat and retweeting hashtag - #specialsaturday; or reading and following the Special Saturday Blog :

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