Minecraft + iPad Helps my Special Needs Son

My 6 year old son sure has come a long way over the last couple of years- with a lot of help and some technology. He was almost born on Halloween night back in 2008, but a grueling 17 hour labor for his mother pushed his birthday to November 1st. If we were superstitious, you could say we dodged a bullet, what with being born on the 31st and all.
We couldn’t go home with our first born baby boy until the 2nd of November, due to him being sent to the NICU (Newborn Intensive Care Unit) because of him making a weird grunting noise every few minutes.
Mommy was exhausted and I was panicking, worried sick about my newborn son being down the hall in an isolated area. He was so close, yet so far. Thankfully we did get to hold him for a bit before the nurses took him away.
My mother in law was keeping my wife company and made the suggestion to the doctor that maybe all our baby needed was a good poop. It turns out, she was right. He finally did his business in his teeny, tiny newborn diaper (those nappies are so cute, even when they’re filled with that alien like substance that has the thickness of tar on a cold winter’s day, and has the color of unrefined crude oil – the stuff all newborns take a few days to pass through their system), and his grunting stopped.
We were cleared to go home a few hours after that.
Back then, iPads didn’t exist, and more importantly Minecraft, but TV’s did. Our son wouldn’t go to sleep easily.
We were not the kind of parents that would drive our kid around in the car for an hour to get them to sleep. It didn’t make sense. Waste of gas. Waste of time. The kid gets used to the sensation of the car and ends up depending on it for all future sleeps. Plus, how do you get your child out of the car and into bed without waking them up?
We discovered that our son was mesmerized by the light and colors on our 60” TV. Luckily we found a channel specifically for children that had many educational cartoons, not to mention the occasional episode of Sesame Street (unfortunately the revamped series, and not the old-school episodes that you and I grew up watching – some of which are available on DVD, which of course I own, and weren’t necessarily purchased for our kids, but were for one giant kid – me).
I didn’t mean to take the easy way out and use our TV as a babysitter (I’m not referring to the actual disgusting parenting technique that Jim Carey’s Chip Douglas character’s mother in the movie The Cable Guy employed – she left him in front of the boob tube all by himself while she went out to the bar for a few hours). I’d use it as a pacifier.
He became addicted to TV and wouldn’t go to sleep without it. Maybe I should have driven him around in the car after all. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say.
His mommy and daddy both worked full-time (his Opa generously babysat for us any time we needed him – something he still does to this day, which I am eternally grateful for).
We were always exhausted from our jobs, and the TV made child rearing a little more bearable.
Fast forward to 2010 and we now had a baby daughter to add to the chaos. She has always been easy, so we’ll leave her story for a future post.
Our son was delayed with learning to go potty. Delayed with eating solid foods (he would only drink milk and would only eat certain kinds of baby food for at least the first 2 or 3 years of his life). Delayed with his ABC’s and counting numbers.
I initially blamed myself for him being behind, compared to other kids (which, honestly no one should do, because every kid learns and develops differently and at their own pace). To this day, I get very agitated at other parents that brag about what their kid is saying and doing, especially when it’s at an age that is younger than my son.
I feel they’re being condescending, when maybe they’re just proud of the child, and that’s all. The self blame comes from me insisting we go for one of those new at the time, expensive 3D Ultrasounds. I wanted to see our child in 3D. I thought it would be cooler than the standard (and free, mind you) black and white ones. The novelty wore off once I heard rumors that those fancier ones weren’t long term tested and could possibly cause future complications with your child’s development. I felt terrible, and still do to this day. But it cannot be undone. Our daughter, and our next son had the regular old fashioned Ultrasound.
I purchased a top of the line iPad right when they first came out. (The technophile in me always has to have the latest tech toys – something that rubbed off on me from one of my best friends, that is a technophile times a thousand!) It was the model that had 64gb of memory (a lot at that time for a tablet), and had 3G. They were as expensive as the were heavy.
My son took a liking to our new toy, so we found some educational Apps in the App Store. We purchased Endless ABC’s to help him learn his letter sounds, words they appear in, and the difference between upper and lower case. It really helped him grasp letters. (Not that we were lazy parents. We tried everything to help him. The expensive Your Baby Can Read DVD set. Flash cards. Heavy, annoying, battery operated toys from the likes of Fisher Price and Little Tykes. We tried it all.
The iPad Apps gave him instant gratification. Cheering when he got it right. Encouragement when he got it wrong. Our son didn’t go to Jr. Kindergarten due to us, as parents, feeling he wasn’t ready.
He skipped it, and went to Sr. Kindergarten the following year. His classmates had a head start as they learned all about the alphabet, numbers, arts and crafts, and sharing, from a professional, the year before. I just didn’t think his outbursts and lack of attention span would do him any good, so we delayed his first year of school, thinking he would get better by the following year.
He didn’t.
We had him tested by a pediatrician. He was diagnosed with A.D.H.D. Something I have, but didn’t have the screening for back when I was young. I always struggled with things growing up. I see myself in my son. We are getting him tested for other possible learning disabilities. He is not at the level his classmates are at. He barely graduated to grade 1 last year. (They don’t fail kids it seems, nowadays. That concept doesn’t really help them, but I’m glad he got to advance with his friends, rather than be left behind).
I’m not putting my son down. He’s bright in his own ways. Just not the way he’s expected to be at a school. Every child learns in their own way, as I said earlier. He is savant like when it comes to lining things up. Organizing by color and shape. His memory is long term, just like his daddy’s. We recently installed Minecraft on our newer iPad Air. Our son has been teaching himself how to play it. Originally watching YouTube videos of other, much older people playing it, he was always fascinated.
He has grasped its inventory system. He patiently gathers, harvests, and digs for material. He stockpiles dozens of variations of building supplies. He builds intricate above ground and underground dwellings, all while killing virtual pigs, cows, sheep, etc. for their meat. (Sorry to all our vegan readers out there. I didn’t mean to give you that awful visual. No disrespect!) – If it helps, my car has pleather (vinyl, convincing mock leather seats) and all my future cars will, too, if I can help it. Sorry, I got into the topic of cars again. Another hobby of mine. Anyways, my son actually sits still. Has full immersion. Concentrates. Creates. All at the touch of his fingertips. We’ve been looking at iPad holders for him too, so he’s more comfortable whilst he’s tapping away making structures. He also loves playing with Lego (as do I), but with the iPad, there’s no chance of his little brother dumping hundreds of those colorful bricks all over the floor like he seems to do at least three times a week! (Have you stepped on Lego lately? I swear those things leave “LEGO” imprinted on your feet for a good few minutes after the pain finally goes away).
I am aware that Minecraft can at times be violent. Cartoon violent, but still violent. I know there’s monsters and zombies in the game that may frighten the average 6 year old. He knows it’s not real. He doesn’t get scared. He doesn’t mimic the game in real life with the branches, pitchforks, and lit torches that are strewn around our real life neighborhood (what can I say, people throw the weirdest things out their car windows while driving by our house, sometimes).  In that respect, our son is very comfortable navigating a tablet. He is ahead of his classmates (at least most of them) when it comes to the future of entertainment. Having technophile parents in this ever evolving world means he’ll always be prepared for the day that all kids bring their own tablet to school, have their assignments emailed to them, and won’t ever have to worry about forgetting his pencils at home.

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