Dipping a Toe in the Dark Side

(Off topic.  I originally posted this on The American Catholic.  I thought our Almost Chosen People readers might find it interesting.)

As faithful readers of this blog know, I am a devotee of the true faith.  I am not  referring here to Catholicism.  I am referring to the true computer faith, PCs.  I have been worshiping in the House of Gates since my bride and I purchased our first PC in 1988.  CGA graphics, no hard drive, one floppy disk drive: 1200 bucks, on sale.  You could heat a room with it after it was on for a few hours and it was only a little less loud than a vacumn cleaner.  Love at first sight.  Then of course there was the joy of learning the cryptic MS-DOS and all the arcane symbols to make the computer function, which would have made a medieval alchemist scream in frustration at the complexity.  A true man’s operating system, although my bride somehow mastered it first and imparted the secret knowledge of the PC Craft to me.

Over the years at my home and office I have owned so many PCs I long ago lost count, and we have followed them through all of their transmutations:  Windows 1.0, Windows 2.0, Windows 3.0, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows XP, Vista (Don spits) and Windows 7.

I will turn this over now to my bride of 29 years this coming December, who will explain why we have brought a Mac product into this PC home:

Here is the latest of several news articles Don & I have read extolling the benefits of iPads for autistic children and young adults, and the one which finally decided us to buy an iPad for our autistic teenage son.  Of course, there was the slight problem of last weekend being Launch Weekend for the iPad 2:

“But I thought the iPad 2 was released March 2nd!”

“No, dear, it was announced March 2nd, and the release date is Friday, March 11th.”

And, of course, if you weren’t in line at a brick & mortar store carrying the iPad 2 at 5:00PM on Friday, you weren’t going to get an iPad 2 this weekend.  (Those who ordered online from the Apple Store will get iPad 2s delivered with free shipping eventually, but it may take as long as 3 weeks, depending on when you ordered.)  This was the usual exchange at each of the stores we checked in Bloomington, IL on Saturday morning:

“Did you get iPad 2s yesterday?”  “Yes.”

“Are there any left?”  “No (Are you kidding?).”

“How soon will you get some more?”  “Don’t know . . . maybe next week?”

Best Buy was allowing dissapointed shoppers to reserve an iPad 2 from the next shipment for a $100 deposit; however, Don really wanted to get some kind of iPad that same day — so we got a 1st-generation iPad (AKA the “iPad 1”) instead.

We had made a brief list of apps we thought we’d like to download prior to setting out on our iPad shopping expedition, and started downloading them after installing iTunes on one of the desktop computers and following the brief instructions on the “quickstart” card to get the iPad set up.

(“Are you done downloading the apps, Cathy?”  “I’m getting to it, dear; I have to finish registering the iPad first — and then plug in the charger before it runs out of juice.”)

I’ve installed a couple of free apps for our son so far.  Tap to Talk turns the iPad into a communications board (but way “cooler” than the ones at school), where the child taps his or her way through a heirarchy of PECS pictures (if you have a kid in special ed, you know what they are), organized by subject, to get to the one that shows what the child wants — and the picture “talks” for the child.  (For example:  “Let’s go!”/”Let’s go out to eat!”/”I want to eat pizza.”)  Of course, the free part of Tap to Talk only gives you a few sample libraries of “talking PECS pictures,” and it costs $99/year to get additional libraries and the ability to customize — so we’ll see how much use our son gets from this as a free app before plunking down big bucks for the deluxe subscription version.

Another free app (simpler, yet more successful at our house so far) is AutismXpress, in which one taps an icon of a smiley face/angry face/etc., and the icon goes full-screen and animates, showing what “happy”/”angry”/”sad”/whatever looks like — something that autistic children typically have difficulty identifying.  Our son tapped his way through most of the icons, sort of (“Let him tap, Cathy!”  “He’s the one grabbing my finger and making my finger do the tapping for him, dear — that’s how he chose to do it.”); but was obviously too tired to continue for long.  (Don had just roused him from a nap to shave & take his anti-seizure medication before our own bedtime.)

This is supposed to be our son’s iPad, right?  But there’s so many cool game apps, too!  For the first time, Don can play “Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution” without kicking our daughter off the XBox, and play “SmallWorld” without clearing a corner of the living room and growling back at the dog if she gets too close.  (And, well, um, I can play interactive gamebooks like “Fabled Lands” and “Steve Jackson’s Sorcery!” that I remember from their paper versions in the 1980s & 1990s, now with gorgeous graphics (yay!) and automated dice-rolling (no re-rolling until I’m successful/cheating?  Rats!).)

We’ve only just started downloading apps, of course, and I’m sure Don will issue progress reports if we find some more apps that are especially helpful for our autistic son.  (Not just game apps for you & me, dear!)

Published in: on March 23, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Dipping a Toe in the Dark Side  
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