Friday, January 9, 2015

Tate's iPad, Both a Blessing and a Curse

My son Tate is 13 years old. Tate has autism. When Tate was about nine years old my husband brought home our first ipad and our life was forever changed, in some ways for the better and in other ways…. not so much. That first ipad was something the whole family enjoyed and used. It is a mystery to me that Tate knew how to use it from day one. There was no learning curve or need to give him any instruction. I, the grown up, had no idea how to do anything with it, including turning it on. Yet Tate could take pictures and videos, get online, draw pictures, watch movies, and all kinds of amazing things from the beginning. Time with the ipad was coveted and the kids fought for their turn. About the same time we got our first ipad, those wonderful tablets began showing up in our children’s classrooms so Tate had the opportunity to use an ipad there occasionally. It was used both as a teaching tool and as a reward very successfully. Tate had been struggling to master two-digit addition for quite some time and he was making no progress. The day Tate’s paraprofessional pulled up a chalkboard on the ipad, and they wrote with their fingers on the ipad instead of using pencil and paper, was the day Tate caught on to double digit addition and regrouping. Math lessons were suddenly very interesting to Tate and he became motivated to learn. There were some great apps available for the ipad too. There were math games, spelling and vocabulary games, and even social skills lessons available. I loved that he was learning so much on the iPad!

Tate's ipad
So naturally, we bought Tate his own ipad. More time with the iPad could only result in more learning, right? After all, it is the going thing in the autism community now. Kids with autism need an ipad. The big drawback for us was how attached Tate got to it. If you know much about autism then you know that kids with autism often become attached to favorite objects or they can become obsessed with certain items or activities. Tate had to have his ipad under his arm at all times. He needed it right next to him every minute of the day; and at night… he slept with it. He lost sleep because he never wanted to turn it off. Taking it away from him meant he’d lose even more sleep due to anxiety and then be anxious and angry the next day too. Then there was the charger. Tate became obsessed with the charger. If the ipad charge fell much below one hundred percent then Tate insisted it was “low on battery” and needed to be plugged in. The charger and the iPad controlled Tate's anxiety and Tate's anxiety controls our home much of the time. 

And then... something even more detrimental ensued. Tate learned there were other kinds of games. You know, really fun games, the non-educational kind. Once Tate discovered those games, the educational games were no longer appreciated. And next came you-tube videos and the educational value of the ipad hit rock bottom.

But there is more. About a year after we got Tate his own iPad, I got a phone call from my credit card company. This experience is something we now refer to as the iTunes fiasco. You know those games that Tate had fallen in love with? The non-educational ones? I carefully monitored them, making sure they contained no foul language, were not violent, appropriate for his level of understanding, and above all else FREE for downloading. If I approved the game then I’d let him type in the iTunes password and download a new game quite often. Tate could not easily memorize his spelling words but he remembered that password, the placing of capital and lowercase letters, numbers, and all. It never occurred to me that my sweet and innocent ten-year old son would turn to a life of crime: identity theft. (Ha!) The customer service representative from Visa reported that they had seen some “unusual activity” on my account and they wanted to review some charges with me over the phone. Someone (guess who) had tried to purchase a game for $53.64 and Visa had denied it. In going over my credit card charges with me though, we discovered they had allowed dozens of smaller charges to be accumulated. Those charges added up to over $100.00. Tate has some savvy computer skills but is completely clueless in many areas. He does not understand the value of money. In Tate’s mind a one dollar bill or a one hundred dollar bill just mean he can buy a package of m&ms. And if you want money you just pull up to a bank and ask for it in the drive thru. So explaining credit cards to Tate would be like trying to explain how electricity works to someone like me…. You could try but it is not going to be possible. It was an expensive lesson but one I needed to learn I suppose. I had a talk with Tate about the password on iTunes. I explained that he could not use it without permission and all of those sorts of things. I thought he understood. He really seemed to understand and I think he did. Maybe. Sort of. He did not buy any additional games. He knew he did not have permission unless he asked and I okayed it. But did you know that some free games offer purchases within the game for things like adding more time to a mission or buying more accessories for your little avatars to use? Well, I did not and I certainly had not forbidden him from buying more time in a game or cute little decorations. He had no idea the money he was spending was not part of the game anyway. And although I felt like I was monitoring his games and spending an appropriate amount of time checking up on him and his iPad use, I did not really have a clue how things worked within those games. I had no idea that some games limit time and if you want to purchase more time then you can buy it: One. Dollar. At. A. Time. Tate did this over a three-day period: One. Thousand. Times. And I had no idea he was not just spending pretend money from the game to purchase things. 

Did you know there is a three-day delay sometimes between making an iTunes charge and you getting an email alert? Did you know that it sometimes takes three days for a charge to appear on your credit card?  By the time I got the call and all the alerts started pinging me. I was over twelve hundred dollars in debt to Visa for iTunes charges. My credit card company told me that I would be responsible for every single dollar and they would make no exception. I thought I was stuck. I called iTunes. It is hard to find but there is a phone number for iTunes. I explained my dilemma to the nice young man on the other end of the line and he ran off to find a supervisor. It seems I was not the first mother from the autism community they had ever heard from. They backed every single charge off my credit card but it had to be done one transaction at a time while I was on the phone line. Keep in mind most of those charges were for $1.00. It was a very long phone call and a very long evening. Before we hung up the phone, that nice young man walked me through rigging Tate’s ipad so he could no longer make “in app” purchases. This was a very good thing because the young man’s supervisor had warned me that they would not forgive charges like this a second time. In the future we would be responsible for those. For even doing this for us once, I would have hugged that guy right through the phone if I could have.

You think that is the happy ending to the story? Think again. We changed our iTunes password to make sure that there would not be an issue again. Not knowing the password stressed Tate for six months. SIX MONTHS! And stressed is not a strong enough word. It did not just upset him a little bit. It ruled his days and nights for six months. Six whole months. He talked about it constantly. He complained about it. He asked about it. He tried to guess it. He asked other people to ask me for it. He tried to trick me into giving it to him. He prayed about it in our bedtime prayers. He begged me for it. He lost sleep over it. No amount of explaining, talking, or even consoling Tate helped. It took about six months before he could come to terms with the fact that he would no longer know the password for iTunes.

Yes, he even uses it upside down
So, this is why I see Tate's iPad as both a blessing and a curse. We can’t live without it at this point. Oh we could survive but that six month spell of anxiety over the password would look like a walk in the park compared to losing the iPad. I recently suggested to Tate that he will someday need a new iPad because all his memory is used up on this one. He cannot find anything at all he wants to delete to free up some memory either. His battery is shot, probably from being plugged in sixteen hours a day while he obsesses about keeping the charge up. When I made the suggestion that we think about a new iPad, Tate went into panic mode. He does NOT want a new iPad even if it means he could have two. Honestly, if I could roll back the clock I’m not sure if we would have gotten Tate his own iPad. There are huge benefits, yes, but there are so many drawbacks. Before the messages start pouring in giving me all kinds of advice about how to limit Tate’s time with the iPad, I seriously doubt you have any ideas we have not tried. We’ve been there and done that. This ain’t our first rodeo. (Insert any other cliché you want to add here.) We have taken things away from Tate before. Read about his Blue’s Clues notebook phase: Unusual Attachments Of course if the battle (scratch that- I mean war) were worth fighting then we would fight it and not back down. Remember I did not cave on the new iTunes’ password. But at this time we are not choosing to make any changes. And if you have a young child with autism who has a history of becoming attached to things... learn from my mistakes. haha


  1. This sounds just like my son and his tablet... :)

  2. You do realise that you've effectively CONDITIONED Tate to behave like this?

    His obsessive need to be right next to his iPad at all times? Is. Your. Own. Doing.

    You could've taken it away. You could've given it to him for an hour at a time. You reap what you sow.

    1. Suzanne!!! I'm so glad you are back to give me more parenting advice. I know that you are the expert on autism that has all the right answers and I have wondered where you had disappeared to. I was hoping all that snow in NYC had not cut your internet connection off. I have missed you and so have my other readers. Thanks for all the encouraging words!! You are such a blessing to me.

    2. Oh Suzanne, thank goodness you're here! I finally found a blog that speaks to me about the true nature of autism (difficult, inspiring and VERY CASE SPECIFIC) and here you are to add so much with your valued and kind opinion. Bless your heart. May your day be as wonderful and positive as you are!

      Lisa- thank you, thank you, thank you for writing and sharing. You're doing great :)

  3. Lisa,
    It is so great that Tate is receiving that kindness award. It. Is. Your. Own. Doing. and you did great!!!

    1. Ha! Like I said in my "Kindness and Mistletoe" post, I never thought about putting Tate and kindness in the same sentence before he was nominated for that award. I sure do now. He is a very kind guy and he deserves some acknowledgment, even if he does not fully understand all the hoopla. Thanks Robyn

  4. So true! Things like that they get really attached to. Parker only has a tabletop at school and or family computer at home. He is obsessed with me taking pictures on my phone and looking at them. He used to be obsessed with YouTube.
    Nice work on replying to the "expert"!!