The Right Tool?

Full disclosure time: I love computers and new technology. I also like tinkering.

My grandfather was a farmer and repurposed everything. My father could build or fix anything. My brother was a whiz with cars. If I have inherited some form of their fixing gene then it finds its expression in working with computers.

People regularly seek my advice about computers and it’s not just with respect to fixing them—yes, I do build my own—but in using them as tools. None of this makes me special or unique, although I have coaxed 2 near-dead computers back to life and one of these is my favourite HP touchscreen tablet. It’s my long-winded (because I don’t know any other kind) way of saying that I love technology. It’s one of the many cool things that make me go “Hmmmm” but having said all that I should point out I am also not easily seduced by it.

My HP tablet for instance has been replaced by a newer one, which I actually use less often than the old one. The old was dropped on a train platform and the screen cracked making the touchscreen more difficult to use. Not impossible to use, just more interesting. It also survivedbeing fully immersed in water and works reliably.

There are two reasons I am talking about my old superhero tablet: firstly, my son loves it and secondly, I have been thinking about parents with asd kids who are trying to get iPads.

Daniel learned to draw pictures and words using Microsoft Paint on the old tablet. That has now given way to the new tablet which is less frustrating for him to use. Reducing frustration for our kids with autism is good. I am thinking about what to get next for Daniel. There are a host of augmentative communication devices that could assist Daniel, but I am drawn to the HP Slate because I like HP and they have good experience with touchscreens.

Enter the iPad. Apple is kind of like a Chevy and I am probably a Ford person. I’ve used Macs before, but never liked them much. As soon as the iPad was announced and knowing that Apple’s biggest home run was the iTunes store, I knew I was probably going to want one for Daniel. I’ve seen him go through a friend’s Macbook and select only the Motown tunes on her playlist. But considering how poorly the ex and I use PECS, an iPad seemed like an unnecessary step for him. I also worry about what happens when the iPad doesn’t work properly, the battery runs down, inexplicable computer problems, etc., etc., ad infinitum.

I am also a skeptic about technology in classrooms. If you want my entire argument on that, please take me for beer and you pay.

Seeing organizations like (on Twitter @ipads4autism) has made me rethink my view somewhat.  (Geeky fundraising awe points go to iPads4autism because they had a cool “totaliser” on their website that completes a puzzle as more iPads are bought for asd families.) A few weeks ago I started following @OMum22 on Twitter ( and she shared with me her desire to raise money to get iPads for her 5 year old twins, Oliver and Owen, who are both on the spectrum. She has created a clever Chipin site ( to raise funds for the devices and has explained there thaty they are not only good augmentative devices, but can also help with fine motor skill development and have other benefits. She does also admit she might play Angry Birds on one when the kids are in bed.

When Steve Jobs told us all to buckle up because iPad2 was coming, I started to wonder what the owners of first generation iPads would do with their still useful, but suddenly-less-new toy. I am still working through how to do this, but could it really be that hard to get first gen iPads into the hands of families with kids on the autism spectrum? This question is propelling me toward my dream to create a non-profit that could get tools and money into the hands of parents with asd kids.

Going back to fundraising for iPads for a moment–while writing this blog, @Ihave7monsters ( dropped me a line about another blogger who has compiled a list of a lot of sites dedicated to getting iPads into our kids’ hands. Here’s the link:

Parents of kids on the spectrum organize because we need to. Insurers and government programs can only do so much (although we all know we want them to do more). We have to do it ourselves. Individual efforts like @OMum22 are the most basic form of fundraising because it is about 2 little boys that you can relate to. Others are pulling together a broader base of support because @OMum22’s story is repeated over and over again and needs some coordinating resources.

In a later blog, I will share my ideas about creating a non-profit to coordinate funding requests from parents who can’t get any support for IBI. It’s a cool story involving a calendar and 8-12 redheaded moms to start with. We’ll call it Red Hot Mamas for Autism for now.

In the meantime, let’s just get some iPads into the hands of parents who have kids that could really use them. Perhaps starting by checking out


One thought on “The Right Tool?

  1. Hi Jim,
    As a MAC person (I have an iBook and iPhone 4) I didn’t run out and get the iPad mainly because of cost that and it was just like a bigger iPhone except you can’t call or text anyone. For reading, I got a Kobo. I’ve been using MACS for almost ten years, that is before there was an Apple store and only a handful of authorized MAC sellers exsisted in Toronto. My first MAC was an eMac – big clunky machine. My family has converted to MACS based on the zero trouble I have had with them. No security problems, no need for anti virus software, sure it may freeze once in awhile but no major problems that required a teckie to fix. My mom who has no formal training or uses a computer in her day job uses the MAC and loves it. My sister has an iPad and she loves it. They are great tools and as with any technology another, better version is always just around the corner. Once the iPad 2 is released, I’m sure the cost of the iPad will go down. I’m not anit-PC but I always seem to have problems with my Dell at work and always say, we should use MACS.


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