Some people report that their devices are so addictive that the iPhone has essentially become an extension of their own bodies. Their friends and family often pass judgement while denying that they themselves look down at their cellphones at least 12 times every minute to see what photos are flooding their own social media feeds. Parents fear that children have forgotten how to enjoy the great outdoors, and that teenagers often seem to believe that an experience has only taken place if they’ve posted about it (and, better yet, been validated by “likes”!). The word “addiction” surrounds pretty much every conversation about this relatively new smartphone phenomenon. And I get it. I totally do.
But for special needs moms like me, technology is not an addiction to worry about - or some kind of opportunity to study society’s response to a shifting paradigm. It’s a welcome advancement.
For one thing, these little devices allow me to be (almost) ever-present to the needs of my child with Autism.
When you love someone who has unique needs and challenges, you already live in a state of hypervigilance. You worry constantly. And, if you’re like our family, you have had to make the heartbreaking decision to entrust others to help support your child’s needs. Our son is now a full-time residential student at Anderson Center for Autism. This space is designed to meet the needs of individuals just like him, and although it was painful beyond measure when we enrolled him, he has made tremendous progress because of high-level programs and services that we couldn’t provide at home. And while we know he’s thriving at Anderson, we want to be connected, plugged in, and ready to chat with one of his wonderful caregivers, therapists, teachers, or service providers at any given moment of the day or night. While I would often like to leave my phone at home, I know that things come up, and the only way to respond swiftly is to be completely available.
Yes, parents like us are “on call” at all times, in a different way from most parents. And it’s only because of this technology that we CAN be.
Recently, while out at a dinner event, I missed a phone call from Anderson. In fact, when the evening had wrapped and I looked at the screen, my heart broke as I saw multiple “missed call” alerts. My son had a seizure and they wanted to get in touch right away. I hadn’t heard the phone ring. We went straight to the hospital, of course - and thankfully, all was okay. But it was quite a wake-up call. It made me realize that this phone is truly my connection to my child. I want this phone in my life. I need this phone in my life!
So, instead of scrutinizing the evolving role technology has in our lives, I embrace it with open arms.
Not only has modern-day technology helped me feel completely connected to my son and everyone at his school through my smartphone, but there’s more. For example, my husband’s company tracks positive health information. Now that I have a Fitbit, I can get text messages and phone calls to help me stay motivated and on track - especially important when you are raising a child with Autism and simultaneously navigating the challenges of caring for aging parents.
And, of course, the competitive side of me loves one-upping my husband when I look at his daily steps taken compared to mine!
The connections I feel to community have also been strengthened as a result of technology. Email lists for our local Autism Society have gone a long way in collecting important information and making connections with other people who might be strangers, but are sharing in our journey. It is so comforting to experience that sense of community after years of feeling isolated by Autism.
I also love exploring the online world to learn about a variety of topics. I have encountered doctors who specialize in Autism and not only have the patience to support our population, but have the expertise to help us get the best for our kids. I have been able to easily gather information about school districts, speech therapists, and occupational therapists.
On social media channels, I connect with people from all over the world who struggle with the realities of Autism but have revealed the many ways they are able to enjoy high quality of life. There are groups on Facebook where families share ideas of activities that work well, movies that were a hit for their kids, and museums that are most accommodating for people with special needs. The resources are extraordinary and the people on these threads shine a light on the darker days.
Technology has connected me to an amazing community of understanding individuals and families. They have inspired me, and in return, I do all I can to show compassion and support as well. There is a synergy among all of us - and in most cases, we may never meet in person. But we are sharing our lives in some way, and it’s gratifying to be connected to them.
And when I need to be alone, my meditation app helps me breathe, restore, relax, and renew my spirit. I am then better able to respond to those incoming phone calls or group Facebook threads with an open heart, peace of mind, and a deep sense that making connections - especially with those caring for my son and those who are also impacted by Autism - is only possible because of technology.
So for the smartphone, social media, email, the Fitbit, and everything else out there - I am truly grateful.
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