Autism Awareness Month: How Apps Opened New Possibilities for My Daughter

Shayla Hearn
By
Shayla Hearn, Toca Magazine Guest Writer
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One day I came into the room and found my daughter Finley curled up on a chair, completely intent on something in her hands.

When I realized she had my iPod I shouted in my mind, “Noooooo! Put that down. Screens are bad!” I didn’t take it from her, though, because she was so quietly focused.

You see, as a toddler, my daughter didn’t role-play with dolls. She just piled them up haphazardly with other stuff. Instead of putting puzzles together, she dumped them out on the floor and rolled around in the pieces.

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Learning new things made her anxious. Before attempting it herself, she preferred to see something done from start to finish, over and over again. She also found multistep processes difficult as a preschooler. Things like getting dressed, going potty or brushing her teeth were so overwhelming they became impossible.

My daughter Finley is autistic.

What would this mean for her future? At times, all I could see ahead were challenges, misunderstandings and disadvantages.

She continued to use the iPod after that day I panicked. I started to see how much she gained from its use. She sat still, engrossed in play. I watched her create her own world, building towns, designing clothes and people, and weaving together symphonies.

The girl who once swam through puzzle pieces on the floor now put them together electronically.

She repeatedly watched the steps in a cooking app, getting a complete picture of the entire process. And then attempt it, on her own, in real life. My daughter, the one who would freeze in fear at the idea of even retrieving a pair of socks (let alone put them on), made her own peanut butter sandwich.

All of this because of apps.

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There was something special about that gigantic, imaginative universe she held in her little hands.

While I learned to embrace the idea of electronics as play, she took it and ran with it.

She taught herself how to shoot and edit pictures with an iPad.

After seeing gaming tutorials online, she decided to post her own instructional vides on YouTube. She came up with a business name, designed a logo and learned how to put it all together on the computer.

So what do I see now?

I see opportunity, learning and success.

I see a little girl harnessing the power of play through technology.

My name is Shayla and I’m a sarcastic introvert intent on doing the nonsensical and parenting by the seat of my pants. I wear my geek cape proudly while stumbling head first through motherhood and autism, batting momtastrophes and dealing with life’s shenanigans and random hoopla. I can’t help but look for the funny in life, but there are serious moments too. And information. I’m compelled to seek good information (I married a librarian), and I will always share it. (The information, not the husband.) Even if it scares me to do so.

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