Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Using a PDA for help with Asperger's

For the past many school years one of MJ's biggest challenges was organization. It wasn't that he was so disorganized, but that he couldn't remember where he put things, or rather the bigger problem was that he could never remember to turn things in or bring homework home.

Part of his 504 Accommodation Plan had listed that he needed to write down all his assignments in a planner and then his teacher needed to review it with him at the end of every day and make sure he was getting everything needed into his backpack.

Now, this really wasn't working. Yeah, maybe the teacher would make sure and check off his planner, but then he would still get home from school day after day not having the book or worksheet that he needed to do. Plus, if he did bring it home and completed his homework, who was to know if he actually remembered to turn it in in the morning? It was so frustrating! I was going back to putting duct tape across his shirt that he couldn't remove until he put the assignment in his back pack or turned in something to his teacher.

Now, I wasn't frustrated at the teacher. I mean, I was asking a lot to have her have to give MJ extra attention to make sure he was taking home and turning in assignments, checking a planner, etc. I was more frustrated because it wasn't going to solve anything for MJ. Was this going to be his whole life? I didn't want him to have to rely on other people to get him to remember stuff for the rest of his life. Plus, it put a lot of burden on a school teacher who already has 25 other kids in a classroom. And, on top of that, what would happen next year when MJ goes to Junior High and has 7 different teachers? Would they all have to have special instruction to help MJ?

We are all about self management and independence, and so we began to think....what could we do? For my husband, also with Asperger's, he had the same problems with remembering things as MJ. I swear he could not remember to do anything if it weren't for his smart phone that he had programmed to beep at him and alert him whenever something needed to be done.

Well, that was it then! OK, so the school systems don't allow cell phones so how would we make this work?

Years ago before all the fancy phones came out, my husband bought a PDA for himself. For those of you who don't know what that is, it is basically a personal hand held little computer that can do anything from have the internet to be an alarm clock, play music, be an organizer, and more. We actually still had it and thought it would be awesome for MJ to use this to cue him during the day.

Now, how about incorporating it into the school? He didn't need it to play songs, have the internet, or play games, and for sure the school was not going to allow that. All we really wanted was it to have a way for MJ to enter in important information like homework assignments, when things are due, but then most important--a way for it to remind him when he needed to do something at school. The problem still would be if he would actually remember to program it or read the to do list.

Well, we decided to set up a sort of alarm system that would beep at him and he would have to take it out, read it and then turn it off. It couldn't be loud, and we didn't want it to distract the class often, so we set up 3 specific times to beep:

--Morning right after school starts--remind him to turn in all assignments

--Right before lunch---remind him to go the bathroom (Yes, I know this seems dumb, but seriously sometimes MJ is so involved that he can't even remember to go the bathroom and that makes for big problems later.)

--And finally, right before the end of school bell rings---remind him to get all assignments into backpack (He enters more specific when he knows what they are.) and then certain days when he has after school activities it will alert him when he is to stay at school instead of walk home.

We had presented the idea already with the Principal and the new 6th grade teacher, and they were OK of the idea so we sent him off to school to see if it would work.

Well, win some and lose some---there were some days when the battery was too low, or other days when he forgot to program something, some days he would forget to take it to school all together and we joked that he needed a PDA to remind him to remember the PDA! Overall though, I think it was helping. Some days it was frustrating that he would lose points on assignments because he had not remembered to bring something home, but it was because we weren't aware of it to program it in the PDA.
Over time I think he began learning when he needed to enter in new assignments or daily reminders based on what he needed to have done every week.

So, maybe this was going to work. No, a PDA is not fool proof, but it's something that can help gain independence for someone with Asperger's. It's maybe sad to think that he may have to rely on some computer to tell him when to take a shower, go to school, do an assignment, go here or there, but is it any different from anybody else that has a to do list, a personal planner, or something else to remind them?

I guess with Asperger's the difference is that a regular person would see the need for the basic stuff---like the need to take a shower, to go the bathroom, to eat, to clean up, when a person with Asperger's may not always realize the need until it is pretty far messy, stinky, or now they will have to rush to the bathroom. Not everyone is like this with Asperger's. I'm pretty sure my husband is a pretty clean person and takes daily showers and eats, and goes to work and yeah, he will clean up about the time he can't see the floor anymore or do some laundry when he doesn't have any more clean underwear! I figure he is very scheduled with most of his things though. There has to be a time for everything.