Enter Technology

This is the twelfth installment of the story of our journey with Maura…

We’re a very technologically orientated family.  We got the laptops and the tablets and the smart phones and the Xboxes and all sorts of containers of wires and parts and motherboards.  Josh likes gadgets and new technology.  It’s kinda his thing.

So looking back, it’s even more surprising that Maura wasn’t hooked up sooner with some sort of modern technology.

Part of it was that her fine motor skills were so crappy, she couldn’t manipulate lots of things.  When she presses a button with her forefinger, her finger bends somewhat unnaturally backwards thanks to being hyperflexible.  There was more than one time she threw one of the older kids Nintendo DS’s across the room because she couldn’t make it work for her.  Too many tiny buttons to press.

At one point, we got a Wii – yet even then, it proved a bit too much for her.  Her siblings would hand her a controller without batteries so she could feel included.  (We do have a Kinect, and she was just able to start figuring it out how to play it when we moved here…and now, our living room is too narrow for us to use the Kinect.  I’m eager to see what she’ll be able to do with it when we get a bigger living room.)

So Maura, in this sea of things that went beep, was still living like it was 1990.

At school, she didn’t “qualify” for assistive technology.  I’m not sure why, no one ever discussed it with me.  The only assistive technology I saw was the one other student’s device, which looked like a toy out of the 1970’s and could hold about 20 pictures.  He’d press the photo of what he wanted to ask.  Maura didn’t need that, and even if she did need that, I’m not sure she could have pressed the buttons.

When Maura was in kindergarten, we started doing extra speech therapy outside of school.  My friend hooked me up with her son’s awesome speech therapist, and every Friday, we’d drive over to her house where she’d have Maura work on ending sounds and S’s and F’s.  Her routine was to have Maura work for X amount of time, then take a very short break with something fun – all while I took mental notes on how to work with Maura at home, and flashbacks to my own days in speech therapy.

One spring day, she announced that she had a new fun bribe for her kids – and unveiled a shiny new iPad.

It took Maura about twenty seconds to figure it out.

A couple therapy sessions later, the therapist was working with Maura with the iPad, an app that would show four pictures, one word, and say “Find the…” and have you find what the word was.  Bee, cow, cat, dog…

The therapist eyed Maura and said “Let’s try something.”  She went into the settings, turned off the verbal prompting, then went back to the page with the cow, cat, dog, bee and pointed to the word.

“Can you find that word Maura?”

Maura looked at the word – and pressed the right picture.

The two adults in the room kind of went “Naaaaah…fluke…”

So she tried it with another one.  Maura got it right.  Maura got the next four out of five words right.

My reaction was something like “Holy shit! She can read!”

That was the day I went home and told my husband – who works for Microsoft – that we had to buy an iPad.

This was just when people like me were beginning to discover that kids like Maura, who couldn’t use anything else, were excellent at touch screen devices.  We kind of balked at the idea of buying our 7 year old special needs child this fragile, very expensive device.  But the more she worked with the speech therapist’s iPad, the more we knew we had to get one.

And so we did, finally. Along with an Otterbox case to protect it.

A week later, we learned that when the guy at the Apple store said “Oh no, you don’t need a screen protector, it’s virtually impossible to scratch it.”, he really didn’t know what he was talking about.  Three big long scratches thanks to Maura’s metal medical id bracelet, a frustrating visit with a non-helpful “Genius”, one phone call to the Apple hotline (thanks to my brother who said “Call them”) and another trip to the Apple store later, we got a new non-scratched one.  And then we went to Target for an Invisible Shield.  And then, the new one’s wifi keep failing, so we had that one replaced – third time was the charm though.

I went to the school and asked about assistive technology.  Specifically, an iPad for Maura to use at school.  The girl who didn’t speak much or clearly, and couldn’t write, and proven to me that her brain wasn’t just full of rainbows and daisies.  I also knew that there were iPads in the district to be used.

I was told no.

I pushed the issue.

I was told sorry, the only one we could use in our particular district was being used with a preschooler.

I kept pushing the issue because dammit, we found something that worked with this child.  When you have a child who scores depressingly on the IQ scale, and then she proves that there is a little more going on in her head than you imagined, you want to do everything you can to harness this new ability.  Even if it means being a pain in the arse to some woman from the county who was the assistive technology expert, who spent maybe an hour assessing your child.  (Really, I don’t know if she spent any time with Maura.) (You may also wonder why we didn’t just send in our iPad – the reason was, no one could guarantee that if it was broken during school hours, they would pay for a replacement, and I didn’t want to risk that.)

Eventually they compromised with “We can bring the iPad over from the preschool for her to use in the afternoons.”


And then the assistive technology woman said “But, she may ONLY use it as a communication device.”


Yep, Maura hated it as a communication device only.  The stubborn little girl decided to have nothing to do with communication programs.  And really, I wasn’t looking at it as a communication device, but as a learning tool.  Maura is not a typical girl, she doesn’t learn like a typical child.

But no, no learning tool for us.

In an ironic twist of fate, the year after we left that school, they took the very large donation that was to be used for technology only, and bought every kids in the district…iPads.

To be used as learning tools.


I can be honest – when I saw someone post a newspaper article about how our old district was being all cutting edge with their iPads in the classroom, helping kids to read and do math and learn, I went a little cross-eyed remembering how not that long ago, they gave us a hard time for even asking about this same device for Maura.   My request for at least an adaptive keyboard was never heard.  I was lucky to get a special pencil grip for the girl.  But now every kid has an iPad.


Such is the life.

I can also admit – the iPad has become less of a learning device as an entertainment system for Maura.  And that’s okay.  She has her games and her videos and music, and it has come in quite handy when traveling.  She adores it to the point that we refer to it as the crackPad.  We now also have a little old iPhone – or crackPad Junior.  Because she started throwing fits that everyone had their own phone and she didn’t.

Because at the end of the day, there is this part of her that wants to keep up with everyone else.  Especially in the cool toys department.  She wants to play her games and watch her shows and listen to her music too.

And in its own way, that’s learning too.  Maybe not academic learning, but it’s learning about life.

In a way, that silly crackPad has given her a sense of independence, and of fitting in.

Every so often, we’ll have a new kid in the house, and they’ll go “She has an iPad?!?!?!?!”  So I’ll explain how she can’t play the Xbox or other game devices, or can use the computer.  So, she got an iPad.  The kids will go “Oh!  Okay.”

What’s funny is that my own kids weren’t that jealous when Maura got the iPad.  We made a strict “This is Maura’s only” rule, and they were all “Great, now she’ll finally leave my DS alone!”    Now, they use it a lot when they babysit her, so she’s is occupied and not pouring nail polish on the carpet or flooding the kitchen.

And I use it to lure her onto the potty and get her to poop.

Yes, it’s a versatile device, that silly little iPad.

Maura and the iPad - 2011
Maura and the iPad – 2011