SILVER SPRING, Md., October 11, 2011 — There is a poster that hangs on the wall of a room in my house. The poster features the face of a young Bob Dylan with a harmonica around his neck. It is a striking image, but over the past few days, that isn’t what has drawn my attention.
What has drawn my attention is the small rainbow-striped apple in the top left-hand corner, above the words “Think different.”
I tracked down and bought that poster a long time ago. I bought it long before iPods and iPads. I bought it long before the iPhone. I bought it long before I had kids, and I bought it long before I had a child with autism.
Those words and the man behind the company that adopted them as a tagline have gained a lot of importance to me personally in the years between the day I bought that poster and now. Living in a neurodiverse family full of autism, ADHD and undiagnosed quirkiness, all we do is think different.
I tell my kids over and over that everybody’s brains work differently and that is a wonderful thing. Steve Jobs and Apple told us the same thing.
The world has mourned the loss of Steve Jobs since his far too young death from pancreatic cancer last Wednesday. For so many parents of kids with autism, however, it felt like we’d lost a champion.
Helping kids with autism wasn’t Jobs’ guiding principle, but the touch screen technology that Apple popularized under his reign changed the world for many of them.
Jobs didn’t foresee how Apple’s products would help people with special needs. As reported in a Wall Street Journal article from a year ago, Apple engineers didn’t envision the therapeutic uses of products such as the iPad.
“We take no credit for this, and that’s not our intention. Our intention is to say something is going on here,” said Jobs, adding that researchers should “take a look at this.”
For scores of people with autism, the iPad has changed a lot that is fundamental. Autism parents came out in droves after news of Jobs’ death broke last week to tell stories of how much Apple technology created under his leadership has changed the lives of their children.
The iPad in particular is revolutionary for many kids with autism. Its size and form are large enough for people with motor problems to navigate, yet it is still sleek and hip enough for children to use without standing out as obviously different.
AAC (augmentative and alternative communication) apps gave families a less-expensive alternative to clunkier or more expensive AAC devices.
The touch-screen interface was intuitive enough for children to manipulate without having to understand a computer mouse or to make the connection between hand movements and a cursor. For kids, like mine, who get overstimulated in loud, public places, the iPad and iPhone gave them a way to self-soothe, making outings far more successful.
Furthermore, these devices are fun. For kids who often struggle mightily in school and therapy, the iPad gives them a way to relax and enjoy life. It can also serve as a way to start a conversation or friendship. The iPad has created more socialization opportunities for my son than two years of social skills group.
It’s not that Jobs personally wired the iPad. It’s not that he was the first person to think of touch-screen technology—or even to create it. It isn’t just that he was a brilliant leader in the technology industry. It isn’t just that he helped people who badly needed help.
Under Jobs, Apple was the first to make this technology readily available to the people who needed it. What’s more, he saw us and knew that we mattered. He knew that thinking different was important, and that the people who thought that way are essential to society.
For a community that, on the most fundamental level, thinks different? That meant the world.
“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The trouble-makers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status-quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.” — Apple
Thank you, Steve Jobs.
Jean writes a personal blog at Stimeyland and an autism-events website for Montgomery County, Maryland, at AutMont. You can find her on Twitter as @Stimey. Read more of Jean’s work at Autism Unexpected in the Communities at the Washington Times. She wrote this on a Mac computer.
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