What is luxury to you?
A $300 purse?
A $25 manicure?
10 minutes alone in the bathroom?
A mom on social media smugly remarked that her daughter had never used an ipad or iphone. Well, good for you, rang in my head. See, an ipad might seem like a ridiculous toddler indulgence to her, and I agree it still can be (for sure), but the absence of an ipad is luxury to me.
I don’t know if I’ll ever forget the looks of shock Keith and I exchanged in our early days with the ipad. Just for fun, Keith bought one app and showed it to Henry. The next thing we knew, Henry was interacting with books and his fingers were flying through Memory games, the very same games he ignored unplugged. As he sped through the levels, we simply gaped. There was no turning back. Matching games, animals sound games, alphabet games, number games, drawing games, train-building games. You name it, he loved it.
And then there was the day I said, “Holy cow, is he… spelling?” Our little guy, who could barely put a sentence together with his mouth, was using the ipad and his fingers to spell.
As we were learning the value of pictures for the autistic brain, we were also struggling with bedtime. Keith created a simple visual schedule on the ipad with four pictures of Henry’s bathtub, toothbrush, books, and bed. That evening Keith showed Henry the pictures and clearly, firmly declared, “Bath. Brush. Books. Bed.” Bam. Henry was going up the stairs without complaint. We stared at each other. Could it really be that easy?
We’ve read and watched the beautiful stories of nonverbal folks who now speak with an ipad, unlocking what has been tucked within, in some cases, for many years. We’ve cried along with the parents who discovered their children’s personalities for the first time. For us the need for the ipad is not quite that dramatic. But here’s what it does for us: We no longer have to be terrified of dining out with friends and family.
We eat out very infrequently, turning down most invitations and choosing to cook at home or have take-out when it’s just the three of us. But, when we must, we don’t carry fear with us. We can pull out the ipad if the wait becomes too long and/or Henry’s sensory needs are exploding.
Many aspects of the device are a luxury. He doesn’t need to watch YouTube videos of the dude in New Zealand doing Thomas reviews. On the other hand, the ipad is an absolute necessity. Denying access to his ipad after 30 minutes waiting on food in a restaurant would be like taking away another kid’s crayons.
I didn’t plan this. In fact, I planned the opposite. I bought the handmade crayon roll, ready to whip out of the bag at a moment’s notice. I had the purse-sized coloring and activity books. I tucked the tiny Toy Story figures into his diaper bag so he could act out stories. Yes, I was the typical mom.
But I don’t have a typical kid, so I had to stop being a typical mom. My son would rather be ninja-kicked in the jaw than forced to color. And playing with little figures? Um, no.
Autism changed my definition of luxury, just as it changed everything else. And I do mean everything. An expensive piece of technology for a 3-year-old? No. My little guy spontaneously pulling out an activity other than trains or the ipad?
Please believe me when I say that technology addiction is a real challenge, but this truth does not negate the other truth: we would never enter a restaurant without it.
We’ve seen stares and heard ugly comments, to be sure. In their shoes, without any knowledge of the situation, I wonder if I would judge too. This is why I’m open about our struggle:
I want to help the judgers. I want to provide just the smallest glimpse into our lives so others can acquire understanding and empathy. How can they know if we don’t tell them? Judging is never acceptable, but I do understand how it happens; we’re all tempted to do it.
So, the next time you see a child with a device in public and start to blame the parents, just pause. Consider the fact that maybe there’s a reason. Maybe this is one of five times a year the family is served a meal in a restaurant. Maybe it’s not. Maybe the kid is a brat. But will your judgement change that?
Allow the pause to change you. Doesn’t empathy feel good?