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'Old' iPads can help children with autism

When the iPad 3 was released last month, Apple sold 3 million in less than a week. Recently I read an article about people who must have the latest technology and what they should do with their "old" iPads.

Here is an alternative suggestion: Donate your old iPads to the special education department of your local school district. Pass them along to BOCES or to another agency that works with people with disabilities. Summit, Autistic Services, Aspire and People Inc. are all great resources for the disabled, to name a few.

I am the mom of an 8-year-old boy with high-functioning autism. His speech therapist recently introduced the iPad, and he has done very well with it so far.

Children with autism have a difficult time learning social cues and socializing in general. They often learn quite differently from the rest of us. My little boy is a visual learner, as are many children with autism. The iPad is a tremendous tool for him and for others like him. I know some children who were unable to communicate with their parents and teachers before they were able to use technology as a communication tool.

Imagine not being able to communicate with your own child on even the simplest of levels. My son is higher functioning than some, so he is verbal and can communicate his needs to us, among other things. I am very grateful for this, even though his communication skills are tremendously different from those of his 4-year-old sister, for whom all this communication stuff comes naturally.

Every day it is a great challenge for him to tell us what he did at school. Some days we don't get any answers at all. As a parent, this is heartbreaking. As a younger sibling, it is both frustrating and confusing because it is difficult to explain this disability to a small child who cannot see anything different about the big brother she adores.

Most school districts are downsizing due to greatly reduced budgets. Teachers are being laid off and students suffer because of this. Special education students suffer even more because they have greater learning challenges than their classmates. There are no extra funds in school budgets to purchase these great educational tools for these wonderful children.

Any tool that can help children with autism learn can only help society in the long run. Allowing these children the opportunity to grow educationally will help them with job skills when they are ready to graduate. Believe me when I tell you that nothing makes these students happier than feeling like a regular functioning member of our society.

So, before you pass that iPad on or sell it, think about what a difference you can make in the life of a differently abled child. Think about the joy parents may have experiencing their first conversation with their child who has never spoken a word to them.

Think about a generation of children, who learn differently, being able to grow up and get good jobs so that they can support themselves and be independent in the future. Think about the message you will be sending to your own children by helping those children, who by no fault of their own were born with a disability.

Finally, think about how good you will feel for making a difference in the life of another human being. After all, isn't that what we should all be doing as a community?


Deborah DiVencenzo O'Neill, of Lakewood, is the mother of two beautiful children, one with autism.