Knowing that I work with lots of families with autism, many people were interested in what I thought about the recent 60 Minutes segment, “Apps for Autism.”
That’s because at Brain Highways, we experience again and again how nonverbal kids (including those with autism) do speak and communicate their ideas after they’ve integrated retained primitive reflexes and developed their lower centers of the brain.
How’s that possible? Well, since it takes way, way, more highways to speak than to walk, speech (which takes place in the cortex) is going to be a luxury and inaccessible until the cortex is no longer preoccupied with compensating for underdeveloped lower parts of the brain. However, once that development is complete, the cortex is now “available” and, therefore, can focus on developing speech.
But the 60 Minutes story wasn’t about nonverbal kids learning to speak. Rather, it highlighted how some kids with autism were now able to communicate their thoughts by using an app on an iPad. So people were curious about my reaction to this.
I think many were surprised by my answer. I thought it was great.
Do I believe everyone would prefer if a child actually spoke his thoughts? Yes. But not everyone knows about brain organization or is willing to do the work.
So if something, in this case the iPad, proves what we’ve always known at Brain Highways— then it’s a great plus for everyone who interacts with nonverbal kids. Namely, just because a child cannot articulate his thoughts does not mean that he also doesn’t understand what’s being said. Yet, too often, that’s the assumption
In fact, that’s probably why the people in the segment seemed so surprised by what the kids were showing they knew once they began communicating via the iPad.
In short, I say anything that helps people get past a “disability” and makes it easy for them to see, for example, an incredible child who is full of all kinds of thoughts and ideas . . . then bring it on.
That also includes kids who are in programs organizing their brain. The apps for autism fall under what we call “building into the structure”—where we encourage parents to help kids compensate (in this case communicate their ideas) while they’re building highways.
The 60 Minutes segment also noted it was interesting that kids with autism were so attracted to the easy touch-and-swipe iPad screens. However, this too makes sense when we look at kids with underdeveloped brains. In such case, there is often a huge disconnect between what they’re thinking they want to do and what their body then actually does.
Yet with the iPad, it’s practically effortless to do just that. So, it’s really not surprising that such kids like using it.
We see the same reaction with our non-electronic “brain toys” at our site. With very little effort from these kids, such toys produce an immediate really cool visual and/or auditory effect. So, just like the iPad, kids are very attracted to them.
There was something else to glean from the 60 Minutes segment. Near the end, they showed a boy who did not seem very enthralled with the app. The teacher kept trying to redirect him to use the iPad to communicate, but he clearly wasn’t interested—until by mistake, he touched something, and a lion appeared and growled. That seemed to catch his attention and amuse him.
So what to learn from that part of the segment? Well, before we get down to business . . . (in this case: “This is how you will use this app to communicate.”), we need to allow all kids some time to first explore and play with whatever’s new. Not everything always has to be an instructional moment.
Bottom line: It’s positive when compensations make something easier for kids who are trying to function with a disorganized brain. But I also want parents to know we can help kids beyond that. We can actually help kids organize their brain so there are now an endless number of possibilities available to them.
And within that same process, such kids will be able to share their thoughts and ideas . . . even if an iPad or some other compensation is not around.