Reasons Not To Buy An IPad For Your Kid With Autism

I really hate to do this.  I am a lifelong supporter of Apple, and this post isn’t really a knock on them.  It is aimed at the hype surrounding iPads and how much they can help kids with special needs.  In our case, it has caused more problems than helped.

I believed the hype.  I wanted my son to have a tool with access to fantastic apps that were designed especially for his disorder.  So when our old mac mini started slowing down due to age, limited ability to update, and the massive amount of files that The Boy likes to create and save, I decided to purchase an iPad that would be primarily his.  As a birthday present.  His only birthday present.  Maybe for a few years.  Some people will read this and remark how spoiled my child is.  In this day and age, a kid needs a computer.  Rather than buy him a new one outright, I lumped it in with his birthday.  I don’t think that’s so spoiled.

In any case, I prepped him for it.  No food or drinks while using the iPad.  It will be in a case at all times in case you drop it.  There will be rules attached to this thing, and you will follow them.  Yes, I will, he assured me.  And I did not make the fatal mistake of attaching a credit card to the account, thank goodness.  I would be up to my eyeballs in smurfberries, from what I hear.  No, we only used gift cards to purchase apps.  But in the meantime, The Boy loaded the device up with as may free apps as he could find.

1.  It is too easy to download apps.  While The Boy understands free, he does not understand that there is limited space for these apps. And he is not savvy enough to decide whether or not he will actually use the app. (“I like Chevy Sonics, because I like Sonic the Hedgehog, therefore I have to have the Chevrolet app!”)

2.  It is too portable.  The thing is so damned portable that The Boy insists on taking it everywhere, so even going to the grocery store has become a battle.  He does not understand where and when it is appropriate to use the iPad, and so it has added another level of confusion for one who is trying to figure out already complicated social rules.

3.  It is too easy to get stuck on it for an entire day.  There are days when he only comes out of his room when coaxed by promises of ice cream because he is stuck on the iPad watching endless youtube videos, and playing endless video games.  More work for me, as the special needs parent, making sure he doesn’t get sucked in.

4.  It is too easy to sneak after lights out.  The iPad has created a bedtime nightmare.  For a child that doesn’t get enough sleep as it is, this temptation is too great for him to simply comply with bedtime routines and rules.

Some of you may look at this list and think, “He is too spoiled.  You are giving him too much freedom.”  My response?  He is no longer a toddler.  He has entered 5th grade, and I value his independence.  Could I take it away?  Certainly, and have done.  But curbing these habits has created more work for me as a special needs parent, creating social stories about bedtime, with limited success, listening to the meltdowns because there isn’t anymore room to take pictures and videos when he won’t allow me to move them to make some room.

Are there benefits?  Sure.  He is writing a ton about his thoughts and feelings using Notes.  He gets very creative with videos.  There are a lot of benefits (and I’ll probably write another post highlighting them).  But there are also lots of different parameters I would set if I had it to do all over again.  And, realistically, if I had it to do all over again, it would be easiest to just not get one.

Have your experiences with the iPad and special needs been positive or negative?  Tell us about it.


24 thoughts on “Reasons Not To Buy An IPad For Your Kid With Autism

  1. Really interesting post. Our experience has been very positive but absolutely it has brought with it the need for extra rules and vigilance. Plus my son broke his nose with it last week!

    One of the things that has made my life easier is not allowing them to download any apps themselves. It’s password protected so they have to come to me if they want one. The free app thing was getting out of control so now we have App Day once a month. If they want a new app, they have to wait until that day to download it and they can only have ten new ones (between them). So they have to research it first and decide which will be on their list of ten. If there’s no space, they have to decide which ones will be deleted to make room. Super hard for them to do. But I figure it’s a part of their world now, and just one more skill they’re going to have to learn.

    • I told The Boy the same – decide what you want to keep and what you want to get rid of. He decided to keep everything and complain about how there’s no more room.

      Like I said, there are a million things I’d do differently, but feel it’s too late to go back and change the rules now.

      • I think part of the problem is that ‘space’ isn’t very tangible. It helped my kids a lot when I showed them the Settings, with the total amount of space and how much each thing was taking up. I got out a box and said imagine this is the storage space on the iPad, then I started filling the box with Wii games etc until it was full up. It helped them to have that visual.

  2. We have it set up under restrictions: no You Tube, no internet, no downloading apps or in app purchases. We just have to make sure they don’t have the restrictions code and so far so good. They have to ask for an app, and it is something they have to earn with good behavior. Ipads are plugged it at night and are taken away an hour before sleep time. It has worked so far, but now that I have written this they will find a way to foil my perfect set of rules.

  3. I find your blogs very interesting. I love reading about The Boy! This one was interesting because I see some of the same issues with my grandson when it comes to the addiction of iPad. Actually, I see it in me, too! If it’s not the iPad, it’s the iPhone that is usually in my hands or close by! You have a wonderful son, and you are doing a great job as his mom!
    Mary, (Laura’s mom)

    • Thanks, Mary! I know I am on my computer way too much, too. What makes it especially difficult is that computers are The Boy’s thing, and I don’t want to discourage it, because it may lead to career opportunities for him! He can already out-PowerPoint most adults I know!!

  4. I wouldn’t say he’s spoiled at all, you sound like you’re doing a great job of monitoring it. Our kids are all under 5 so we haven’t bought them any gaming/computer devices yet, though they’re already asking for DS’s, iPads and iPods. Too young! But when they borrow Daddy’s iPod they will sit there for hours playing games. That’s the one reason I won’t buy them one, they shouldn’t be sitting playing computer games all day, toddlers should play!

  5. We have a special needs almost 14 yr old and we love iPad! Our daughter is not as aware or as capable as your son, however, i.e. searching for apps and downloading on her own, for example. She functions at a 2-5 yr level so needs assistance. We like the fact that is is so mobile and that we can take it to DR. visits and such. Any way, I’m visiting from Kate says Stuff and I don’t think that your son is at all spoiled. We face that inference from people also!

    • It is very handy to have sometimes! And I have seen all of the amazing apps out there for nonverbal kids, etc. It is an amazing tool for lots of families. For my boy, it has its downsides, though.

  6. These are really great points and something prospective buyers may not think about. I totally get the whole – making your own job harder. It has to work for all of you. I like the ipad for my son, not that he’s so great at using it, but these are all issues he doesn’t have because of his limited mobility. I’d go bonkers giving myself another hassle. Thanks for sharing these points.

  7. My autistic son loves to use the computer(He does not have an ipad,) we have a very restricted time allowed (Weekends for 1 hour each day only)Still it is a constant battle to keep him off it outside of his time. After seeing the horrors of our other 13 year old son on an ipad, i will never buy him one.
    Mother of 6

  8. Interesting post. I think it’s funny because my daughter is 10 now and has been using an iPad since age 3. She has autism. It has helped her tremendously to learn language and music and be creative. Recently however we hit a plateau where now the apps she is downloading just make noise and is more of a deterrent than a learning tool. We’ve tried limiting things like YouTube and Internet access but frankly she’s smart and she has found ways to “get around” these issues. What we found more troubling was the physical signs we began to see in her- inability to sleep, waking in the middle of the night to get the iPad, and eye strain and redness in both eyes. At one point she was getting eye twitching that frankly scared me. So, a week ago we took all the portable electronics- iPads, handheld video games, etc and put them away. The only screen she now has available to her is a large screen tv in the living room. I even put my computer away so she cannot access it. She also is not able to use my phone to play games. Here’s what I’ve discovered- she sleeps better. By better I mean she falls asleep easier and is sleeping longer with fewer wake ups. Her eyes immediately improved- redness and strain is gone. She talks more, is more interactive, and searches out ways to be creative with toys and dolls, not electronics. Before she could speak I could rationalize this iPad use but now she is able to speak and read fairly well. I don’t think the iPad can do anything else for her at this point. I’m sharing this because I understand how it feels to have something like the iPad available for my child and then choose not to use it any longer. The physical effects of the screen time are simply not worth the benefit. For us the best way was to stop her using the iPad and electronics all at once. She’s asked for them and I usually reply, they are gone or iPads are for babies and you’re a big kid! I’d like to see her play outside more, make up new games and reach for books, dolls and toys. As hard as it was I think it is the best decision for her and she is adapting. I don’t regret using the iPads but I should have limited it to 1 hour a day and stopped it once she could verbally communicate and read. (Age 6 or so). Hindsight is 20/20 I suppose!

  9. Hi my name is Tami .
    I’m not sure if this account is even open or
    If I will reach anyone but I’m pretty desperate at this point. My son is 8 and is autistic. He is completely obsessed with the iPad. I am looking for any insight on how to take it away from him. It has totally taken over our lives! At least if I can take the iPad away for a few hours at a time that would be a huge start. The minute he wakes up to the time he gets out of the car for school, to the time we get home from school, to bedtime he HAS to have it . I keep saying “he will grow out of it” or “he will want to do something other then play on the iPad” well it’s been over 3 years now and it’s the same iPad obsession. He is really bright, smart and loving. He is like two different kids. While in school he pays attention, reads, writes, and interacts. And when at home he takes the iPad upstairs or in the play room and won’t do anything or bother anyone unless he is hungry. Please help me… if you figured out how to limit the iPad or take it away period. Please leave me some tips. I am sick to my stomach thinking he will never get anywhere in life from sitting on a iPad. I want him to pay attention and learn and prosper in life. And I feel if he sat on that iPad for the next
    10 years he would be happy as can be. I know this iPad is stopping his social skills development, his communication and interacting with us or his sister. Please help!!!! Thank you for your time 🙂

    • Hi, Tami! You can start by instituting breaks. As short as one minute, and gradually increase them. During that break, find a “replacement” for the iPad – something fun that he would enjoy, so he associates the breaks with something good. A trip to the dollar store so he can spend a dollar or two, or his favorite treat, playing a game with you, or even some tickles. It will be work, but you can definitely get him there. Also realize that he works really hard at school all day to be so engaged, so he deserves some time in his own little world when he gets home. But it’s good you’re thinking about pushing him out of his comfort zone now. Good luck, and shoot me an email at to let me know how it goes!

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