A Whale of a Tablet Tail

That parasite-looking attachment on the back of my Xoom tablet is a cool new product from Octa called the Tablet Tail. They sent me one to try out, and I do have to say: it is extremely nifty.

It suctions to the back of the tablet, then its flexible tail lets you prop the tablet in landscape or portrait mode. I use my Xoom primarily for watching Netscape videos or listening to podcasts while I grudgingly do housework, and the tail makes my tablet easy to prop up anywhere -- even on uneven surfaces (see below), which is not something cases with built-in stands are good at -- they tend to topple over.

The tail also makes a handle that's easy to grab (checking that the silver suction indicator tab is fully engaged first, of  course). I also tend to use the Xoom for social media pictures and video, and the tail doesn't get in the way.

I carry and use my Xoom all over the house, all day long. (We're a family of five. The housework is never-ending.) The Tablet Tail makes that all-day-long carrying-and-propping so much easier. I like the Tail. A lot.

There are caveats, of course. It needs a 3-4 inch diameter flat spot on the back of one's tablet to suck on to. This means it doesn't work with my son's iPad's current Trident Kraken protective case, as the back does not have any flat areas of sufficient diameter. But it works well on the back of tablets themselves, which is great for Xoom-users like me who rarely use cases, or iPad users with Smart Covers or any tablet user with flat-backed plastic or metal cases.

The other caveat is the price -- currently $49.99. I know there are gear heads for whom cost is a secondary consideration, and for you folks I say Go For It! I think it's also an excellent stand-case substitute for folks who only use their tablets at home, for reading, social media, and video-watching, and who either have no kids or are adept at keeping their tablets away from their kids. Or for families whose kids are unlikely to Hulk Smash! or drop their tablets. But the price is a bit of a surprise to me.

Still, I use my Tablet Tail all day long. It does exactly what it's designed to do, it does it well, it is one of those little adjustments that makes my life easier. It's a good product. If the price point is not a hurdle for you, then I recommend it.

Disclosure: Octa gifted me our Tablet Tail. However, I only write about the products I really like because honestly, who has the time?


Competence and Constant Vigilance

A persistent hindrance to increased independence for people like Leo is parents like me overlooking opportunities for self-care and competence. Sometimes this happens because we find it quicker and easier to take care of breakfast preparation or our kids' tooth brushing ourselves, sometimes because in our day-to-day rush we forget to check in and see if new skills have emerged. It takes effort and vigilance to give Leo the chances he needs to demonstrate competence.

Like yesterday, when Leo asked me for mango juice. I was about to pour it for him, but instead stepped back and asked if he wanted to pour it himself. Which he did! He even put the lid back on the carton (a twisting/screwing motion) with one hand while drinking his juice with the other. That's some serious bilateral coordination. Which I would have missed, had I not slowed down and handed over the reins.

I consider scenarios like this part of Autism Acceptance: being able to appreciate that it is totally fucking awesome for my nearly-12-year-old son to pour his own juice, without any bittersweet undertones. This is not denying Leo's reality, or mine. This is understanding what autism means for Leo, and adjusting to his natural patterns of rhythm and growth -- patterns which have nothing to do with most kids his age, but which are far from rare either currently or historically.

Part of the difficulty many people have with Autism Acceptance is understanding why it is not an attitude of surrender or denial, to which I can only respond with our own experiences:

I'm not only constantly vigilant about Leo's competence, but also his safety -- when he's excited or upset, he likes to whoop and gallop away from me without necessarily noticing dangers in his vicinity. Dude, I'm on that -- who wouldn't be? When we're out in public, we're a hand-holding duo; if he's in an excitable mood, we stay home and he can gallop all he wants. I accept that.

I'm constantly vigilant about his education and needs -- we're re-evaluating his ABA home program now that our state has mandated insurance coverage, and also pushing for an AAC evaluation. We're re-gauging his reading readiness. We've just finished setting up a special needs trust with the understanding that Leo's long-term educational and living needs will likely be different than many -- but not all -- people his age. I accept that.

The most important part of Autism Acceptance, however, is understanding that Leo is not an empty shell, or a changeling. There is not some alternate Leo trapped inside his body, waiting to escape. Leo is Leo. He is the person he was born to be. He is his own awesome self. I accept and adore him just as he is.


Apps & Autism: Presuming & Expressing Competence

I do my best strive to presume, cultivate, and recognize Leo's competence. To give him opportunities to access information and entertainment. To always consider what is possible, what he could do, how he might thrive -- and not worry about whether we see any kind of  "return on investment." That is why we listen to a variety of music, that is why we listen to books in the car, that is why I chuckle with admiration whenever he punks or outwits me, that is why I always try to give him a few extra beats to process and then act on input.

And that is one of the reasons I love watching him use his iPad, because it lets him explore and demonstrate such competence, whether he's reorganizing icons so his most-used apps are all in the same folder, realizing he can find songs in iTunes via their album art, or practicing typing via finding his favorite videos on YouTube. All independently initiated activities. All evidence of awesomeness.

Leo playing Thidwick the Big Hearted Moose
Awesomeness evidence is also why I get so excited about apps that let Leo express his competence. This is why I have always been such a fan of Oceanhouse Media's OMBooks, especially their Dr. Seuss series -- Leo can explore beloved books however he likes, whether he prefers to have the books read to him automatically, or "read" them himself by touching on each word individually. I've written about this before, many times.

But the reason I appreciate Oceanhouse Media's work so much is that, even while producing a constant avalanche of apps -- they just released another Leo favorite,  Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose --
Leo & Oceanhouse Media president Michel Kripalani
They also constantly strive to make their existing apps better and more useful. So now apps like Dr. Seuss's ABC, Green Eggs and Ham, and the Cat in the Hat allow users to record their own voiceover. Which means that Leo -- who knows nearly every Dr. Seuss book by heart -- will be motivated to practice reading out loud. He'll then have evidence of his competence, his abilities -- which I love seeing, even though I neither expect nor demand that evidence. He gets to feel proud and happy, and have fun doing what he loves.

We'll also be able to record favorite people reading his favorite books, so he can feel like his grandparents or uncles or aunties are still here, even when they're far away. We'll be able to share those recordings with friends and families who have the same apps. We could -- if we so chose, and assuming it would be within the boundaries of fair use -- play the Dr. Seuss audiobooks we've spent years listening to in the car, and record them right into the app, so Leo can have all of his Dr. Seuss worlds (Green Eggs & Ham and Dr. Seuss's ABC read by Jason Alexander! The Cat in the Hat read by Kelsey Grammer!) finally fold into each other for ultimate happiness. Because that's the kind of experience that motivates him. That's the kind of feature that keeps him pushing and learning. And allowing pushing and learning and demonstrating competence to happen -- keeping apps evolving to better serve kids like Leo -- is something for which both Leo and I are both profoundly grateful.

This is how all apps should be.


Disclosure: I requested and was gifted a copy of the Thidwick app. However, I am not affiliated with or compensated by Oceanhouse Media in any other way -- as always, I only write about apps I think really make a difference.


Analysis of an Autism Parenting Fail

*Not* from the team photo shoot.
Yesterday was Leo's soccer team's photo day, but Leo ended up not participating in that photo shoot. Instead, we ended up leaving -- with me in tears, and Leo frantically upset. All due to bad decisions or not being observant enough on my part, and so all of which could all could have been avoided. Let me wallow in hindsight and tell you why.

1) Leo hasn't been sleeping well lately, often getting up at 3 AM then staying awake all day until his usual bedtime. This means both he and we (Seymour and I alternate hanging out with Leo in the mornings) are sleep-deprived and so not at our best, decision-making-wise. I should have put more thought into whether Leo would be able to tolerate an activity as chaotic and demanding as a team photo shoot.

2) Leo usually has a Sunday respite session with Therapist V, his former linebacker best buddy ever (V is strong enough to pick Leo up and sling our boy over his shoulders; Leo adores roughhousing), but yesterday their session was cancelled due to matters beyond anyone's control. So that made things harder for Leo as well -- the reliable, soothing, predictable structure of his Sunday was doubly compromised, first by V's absence, then by the photo shoot.

3) Putting on his uniform after already playing on Saturday and then not going to the usual soccer field (the shoot took place at a park nearby) was very confusing, and possibly a trigger for Leo. I should have taken more time, made more materials, explained better what the photo shoot was about, how it was going to be different from a game day. But, because I was tired, I didn't take the time to prepare him sufficiently. That is on me.

4) Anything scheduled during lunch is bad. Leo lives for lunch. Since he'd been up so long, he'd already had two breakfasts by the time we left for the photo shoot -- one breakfast rather late in the morning -- and I figured I could push Leo's lunch back accordingly. Bad idea. Lunch is at noon, no matter how many breakfasts a boy has had. That lack-of-lunch was the breaking point for Leo. I understand this now.

It was only after we'd already arrived at the park and Leo started making his displeasure known (slapping the picnic tables, yelling) that I realized my son was approaching a perfect storm of Hell No. But, as he's also maturing, I tried to encourage him to power through, to see if he could take a picture anyhow.

No. He was having none of it, and became increasingly vocally and physically agitated. I brought out various things that usually calm him -- iPad, fruit leathers, music -- but he was very much All Done.
Then one of the other parents then told him he needed to calm down and behave, which I get from an It Takes a Village perspective but which is of absolutely no use with mid-meltdown autistic kids like Leo. That's the point at which I lost it.

I already knew I'd failed Leo, was already berating myself for setting him up to fail in public -- but having a semi-stranger then judge him for being out of control was more than I could take (if you don't know me IRL, even small-scale in-person confrontations makes me cry, unless I'm righteously furious). I put on my sunglasses to cover my streaming eyes, told the coach we were leaving, and we left.

We hit In-N-Out on the way home, shared French fries and a shake, and went home. Leo changed his clothes and headed straight into our pool. And then happiness reigned. His day had normalized. He was in control. Lunch had happened. Things were as they should be.

I'm writing this down because I think it's important to show lessons learned in [autism] parenting, even if they make me look bad. Because even though I know and understand so much of what it takes to help Leo get through his day, I need to stay mindful of when and how things can be harder for him. Being off schedule in any way is confusing and stressful, as is sleep deprivation. And when I'm feeling stressed or overwhelmed, that is when I need to be extra-vigilant about ensuring that Leo has proper supports. He depends on me. As capable as he has become, and as well as he has been doing in so many stressful scenarios, it is my job to smooth the path in front of him. He deserves better than being dragged into a public meltdown.

He failed because I failed. And it made us both miserable. I wish I hadn't had to re-learn what I already know, and at my son's expense, but I hope our lesson can help other folks avoid such clusterfucks.

Leo, I love you, and I'm so sorry.


The only bright spot in the morning: I got to see and hug my dear friend MB, whom I've not seen in person for years. xo, Lady.