Monday, August 15, 2011

The Device Known As iCrack

I've mentioned many times here how much I love Apple products.  They've done wonders for Lily's ability to communicate.  And it just keeps getting better.

I spent Thursday morning at Lily Bird's school and watched her use the iPod Touch to request specific items.  I am continually amazed at how intuitive the products are and how quickly Lily has caught on to the idea of using them to "talk".

But notice I mentioned the Touch - not the iPad.

Early on in our use of technology, we decided to use the iPod Touch as a communication device and the iPad as the fun device.  For example, Lily will complete several tasks at school and can then use the Touch to request the iPad as a reward for doing her work.  So the Touch has her communication apps on it while the iPad has her games, music, and the like.

Have I thoroughly confused you yet?

Then we discovered that some of the games that Lily was playing on the iPad were highly educational and while she thought she was simply having free time, she was actually learning things like alphabetical order, and matching shapes and colors.

So we increased her use of the iPad to allow for additional learning time.

That meant she was using the iPad for a pretty large chunk of time during the day, both at school and at home, for learning and for play.

I believe this is when The Bird's transformation to The Beast first began.

I started to notice that she was growing ever attached to the iPad.  It was really the only thing she wanted to do while at home.  I would try introducing other toys or games or books but they just didn't measure up in her eyes to the fun of the iPad.

And because the iPad is so easy to work and Lily quickly figured out how to use it, she began to do all kinds of other stuff with it.

She would get the iPad and immediately go to youtube and watch videos.  That was fine at first but then became all she wanted to do.  So I removed the youtube function from her iPad.  I would add it back on when she could truly have some unstructured free time.

Or take music.  Rather than listening to an entire song, she knew that if she touched the screen while it was playing, she could restart it.  Over and over and over and over again.

For example, the song of the Soccer World Cup 2010, Waka Waka, by Shakira is one of her favorites.

I know you must be thinking - "what an odd musical choice for a 4 year old."  But don't forget that she has two much older sisters.  The only music on her iPad is what they listen to.  Lily has to be the youngest Coldplay fan.

Anyway, click here to have a listen to Waka Waka.

But you don't have to listen to the whole song.  While I actually think Lily would've liked the whole thing, her favorite part was the "yell" at the very beginning.  So she would select the song, listen to the yell, then touch the screen, and restart it to hear the yell again.  About 17 times in a row.

And if I would reach over and block her from touching the screen, well... let's just say that if I could understand what she was saying, I have a feeling she would've been in trouble.

Her behavior became quite erratic.  She was overly emotional or totally wired.  She would have the iPad for some free time and then all of sudden, she would just jump up and start running around the house.  Or be just plain grumpy. I began watching for triggers - events that happened immediately before the unusual behaviors.

Taking the iPad away from her started to cause ugly scenes around the house.  And I noticed in the daily notes from Lily's school that some ugly scenes were happening there as well.  Her transitions to new tasks after having the iPad were becoming more difficult.

The Bird was officially The Beast now.

Then one night, I was laying in bed reading a new book called The Anti-Romantic Child by Priscilla Gilman.  It's the story of a family of academics whose first child was diagnosed with hyperlexia and Asperger's, a form of autism.

One sentence leaped off the page at me - "It just kills me to see him anguished by worry or tuned out in a dull haze of perseveration or revved up by a tormenting obsession." (emphasis mine)

Call me slow but that's when it hit me - Lily is revved up by a tormenting obsession.  She is quite literally addicted to the iPad.  It's all she wants to do all the time.  And I believe it's what she thinks about when she can't have it.  And I also believe when she does have it for a chunk of time, it's totally getting her revved up - almost like she's high.  And her erratic behavior is almost like drug withdrawls.

That sounds a little dramatic, I know.  But I think you special needs parents can understand what I'm saying.  Our kiddos can get so fixated on something that it becomes a problem rather than simply a favorite thing.  Something that is actually good can sometimes turn into something not so good for our children.

So now we're in the process of drastically reducing the time Lily uses the iPad, even for educational purposes.  It'll give me an opportunity to see if some of what she's been learning on the iPad is transferring to other tasks.  I just bought some of those large magnetic alphabet letters and I'm anxious to see if she can put them in alphabetical order like she does electronically.

We're also trying to find fun replacements for the iPad that she will hopefully grow to love as well.

For example, to get her motivated to curl up and look at a book with me, I'm bribing her with a favorite snack.  Right now, the sheer pleasure of reading is not the reason she'll sit with me.  M&M's are.  But combining an activity I want her to engage in (reading) with an activity she wants to engage in (eating candy) is the first step.  So what if she associates reading with candy right now?  

The iPad is still a wonderful device, don't get me wrong.  (especially if Mr. Steve Jobs is reading this and wants to donate one - or several - to me!)

But kind of like children who play too many video games must take a break, go outside, breathe some fresh air and rejoin the "real world", so must we with Lily.  We'll reintroduce the iPad in controlled settings and free time with it will be more limited with fewer choices of activities available.

If we don't make some changes now, one day you may see her on the TV show "My Strange Addiction", right next to the lady who eats laundry detergent and the woman addicted to ventriloquism.



  1. Glad you are picking up on that with the Ipad. I had never thought about it with Lily, but certainly there are many children out there addicted to the video games, xbox, ipad, whatever! I think these things are great as long as they are monitored. I think they can be harmful because it takes away from real imagination and sears their conscience in some cases of knowing right/wrong in real life. This probably doesn't make any sense to you, but again, it is only my opinion. I think you, as a mother, are doing an excellent job picking up on these little triggers in monitoring Lily's behavior. Keep up the good work!

  2. Sometimes when a reinforcer becomes super potent, it can almost be an addiction and may cause withdrawal behaviors when taken away or when it is time to transition to something else. It is time, unfortunately, to take the IPad away for a little while and present other reinforcers, as you have already realized. Don't worry about matching the same skills in the IPad as replacements, just think about what other items may really motivate her. Maybe an old reinforcer that she hasn't touched in a while? Sometimes rekindling an old flame helps to replace a withdrawal.

    Hopefully, (after some time) you can slowly bring back the IPad under extreme limitations like only at a certain time of day, built into her routine (before dinner or after her bath, etc.) and only for a set time limit. It should not be offered all day throughout the day or have free access. Hope this helps!


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