A couple of weeks ago I wrote a post about iPads and screentime. Parents concerned about screen time will often state that they prefer their children to play with educational rather than purely ‘fun’ apps. I’m going to disagree with that a little, at least as far as my developmentally atypical children are concerned. With my children, I usually get a better outcome when I let them play with what they want to play with. I feel myself increasingly sympathetic towards the perspective of Penelope Trunk, who believes that when you trust your children to make good choices, they will. She has argued quite persuasively that restricting the time your child spends on games can end up being counter-productive.
An important lesson my autistic children have taught me is how many beneficial outcomes can arise when I watch and let them direct their own play. Years ago, when I did my first speech therapy course (this was before the boys’ ASD diagnosis), I had the concept of “OWLing” drilled into me. I learned to suppress every instinct I had to jump in and direct what my kids were doing and instead practiced getting face to face with my children to Observe, Wait and Listen.
Let’s be clear, I’m not saying that I give my kids free rein and they get to do whatever they want, whenever they want. We have rules, chores, routines and structure, not least because its beneficial for them to have those in place. But when it comes to play, although I will sometimes make suggestions, often the best things happen when I decide to just see what choices they make for themselves. Both boys love watching Mighty Machines and other shows on their iPads (via Netflix). They also enjoy using apps like Gube and ABC Go, which contain child-safe YouTube videos.
Over the last few months, Oliver has also increasingly enjoyed building things with Lego. He has a couple of Duplo sets at home and at IBI he has been working on copying pictures and diagrams and using increasingly smaller bricks to build structures like trains and houses. Needless to say, I’m going to get him some Lego sets for Christmas. Recently, he has been impressing me tremendously by using his Mega Bloks and Duplo to do some very creative things. He will build vehicles and animals and recreate scenes from books, apps and songs that he likes. His latest creations however quite literally had me floored (as in, on the floor with him, marvelling at what he had put together).
One of his favourite Mighty Machines episodes is of an airshow. He’s been watching it for as long as I can remember – before we even had iPads he would watch it on DVD. Just recently though he has been re-creating the planes in the airshow using Mega Bloks.
He’s not cavalier about it either – he tells me specifically which ones are the helicopter, the bi-plane, the sea-plane, the cargo plane, etc. – and his models share characteristics with the ones he’s seeing on the show. He’s not copying from a schematic, he’s looking at something on a tv show, planes that he sees for only a few seconds on the small screen of his iPad, and then he uses his imagination and formidable memory to recreate identifiable versions of those planes in Mega Blok form.
By letting Oliver watch something he finds genuinely fun and engaging rather than forcing him to play with an app that I consider more educational, I’m seeing him accomplish things he has never done before. Great outcomes, happy Oliver, very happy Mummy. I really don’t see a downside here.
P.S. Further validation, if it were needed, can be found in today’s CGregoryRun post, where Cynthia outlines all the amazing off-iPad things her son has accomplished since getting his iDevice.