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After numerous requests – and despite reading this and this – I (along with my wife) agreed to allow my son to get an Instagram account. It seems I’m not alone in my debate on this issue. I’ve heard from many friends and family members with children about the same age and, generally speaking, the feedback is that only about half of the parents of tweens asked allow their child to use Instagram. Others noted that kids under 13 (or even 15) aren’t ready for this and there are numerous stories about the improper and inappropriate content/use by some (read the posts on the links above).

I know what you’re thinking – that I should know better. You’re not necessarily wrong. After weighing the pros and cons, I felt that, with specific rules and close supervision, it would be better to allow him to try Instagram vs. ‘suffer’ the social consequences of not being able to connect with his friends and classmates in this way. Social skills and making/keeping friends is hard enough for a child with Asperger’s, so I felt it would be better to give it a try. Also, there was a time when he was interested in photography (he even won two awards in a local photography show), so maybe this is a way to reignite that interest.

All this being said, I think any parent should think long/hard about letting their tween use Instagram or other social media platforms. A few things we’re doing that you might want to consider:

  • Policy – in this case, a “rules of engagement” contract that my son will sign. Break the rules, lose the device.
  • Administration – The account will be set to private (Instagram’s default setting is that all your photos are public. Go here to learn how to change that to private.) In addition, the name, user ID and avatar will be determined/approved by my wife or me.
  • Community – Only “known” personal friends will be allowed as connections. No brands, celebrities or “trying to get 100 friends” allowed.
  • Monitoring – we will regularly monitor his activity on Instagram. Any violation = lose the device.
  • Trial – this is a trial, not “indefinite use allowed.” If successful, use can continue.

Finally, if you’re a parent facing the same dilemma, you should also be aware of Versagram and the notes app on your child’s iTouch/iPhone. Versagram is an app that allows you to create text messages with graphical backgrounds. It, along with the notes app, are being used by kids to send text messages via Instagram.

What are you doing to keep you (and your kids) safe online?

If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you’ll know that my son has Asperger’s, and that I’m personally and professionally interested in seeing how technology can aid those on the spectrum (e.g., with socialization, reading emotion, showing empathy).

With that in mind, there are two developments taking shape in my house… the adoption of technologies that definitely aren’t trending on Techmeme.

Enter the age of email.

My wife and I recently set my son up with a Gmail account. We did so, initially, to allow him to share Flip videos with family.  He’s completely taken to it and has started to have email conversations with grandparents, cousins, and, most recently, friends from school. He loves to add emoticons to help express how he’s feeling.  The other day he came home with the email addresses of three friends and “HAD TO” send an email to one before going to the dentist.

Say what you want about email…to us, this is a clear way that technology is having a positive impact on our son.  He’s connecting with people, sharing information and emotion — and growing those relationships on/offline.  With many Aspies, interests can sometimes escalate into obsessions.  As long as we establish clear boundaries and internet safety, email communication removes all the vague “tone and irony” stuff from his interpersonal conversations. Win!

Hello Caller!

Although he’s been known to have longwinded, often one-directional phone conversations with family, it is just recently that my son has been making/receiving phone calls with friends from school.  To hear him have a 20 minute conversation with a friend (and let the other person talk!) brings a smile to my face.  This might not seem like a big deal, but, the phone, like email, is helping him socialize and that will pay dividends offline as well.

Ok, so no major tech breakthroughs here today folks.  Sometimes it’s the simple things that make a difference.

What do you think?  Should I spring for the iPad2 (check out this video from the iPad2 lauch re: autism education) or ride the email fad for a bit?

The holidays are over… the wrapping paper has been cleaned up, the decorations put away, and it’s been a couple of weeks since some new gadgets have found their way into my son’s hands. Although he was really hoping for an iPhone, we weren’t about to go there yet!  Among the gifts he did receive were two that we thought he’d really gravitate towards.

One was the uDraw for Wii. A very cool tablet that lets you draw/create “on screen”. You can then save, print, etc. Neat technology that my kids have compared to the smart boards used in their schools. On the downside, I think the pen/stylus is a bit clunky and I think my son would like it much more if the tablet were operational by touch.

Another gift he received this year was a Flip cam. This he absolutely LOVES. He has shot countless hours of clips in the last few weeks and has quickly mastered uploading the files from the camera and creating mini movies – complete with cleaver titles, music, etc. This was, by far, the big hit gift of the season. And while it’s fun for him, there may be a practical value here as well — I’ve mentioned before that it can be a challenge for my son to take pen to paper and write a creative story/paragraph for school. In the last few days, I’ve been thinking he might be able use his camera to create a story (thus helping him through his homework). An area to explore…

So the Flip was a hit, but, in retrospect, I wish we had considered an iPad as there are some terrific apps out there for people on the spectrum (for some great info on this, check out this post by Shannon Des Roches Rosa). On the plus side, as we heard out of CES this week, there are a bunch of new tablets coming out this year and that will surely lead to the development of even more apps targeted to those on the spectrum…. so a tablet may not be is not too far off for us.

Beyond the iPad/tablet love in the air, what other new technologies are you aware of/would you like to see explored to help people on the spectrum?

First off, it’s been a while since I’ve posted, so sorry for that.

Lately I’ve been thinking… should I write a snarky post about 2010 social media predictions that haven’t come through?  Maybe a post about the potential impact of mid-term elections on the likelihood of FDA guidance on social media anytime soon?  Whatever happened to Augmented Reality?

I pushed that noise aside and realized that what I really wanted to write about was the utilization and integration of technology for those on the Autism Spectrum – including those with Asperger’s Syndrome.

You may have seen that I wrote about this last February (well, at least I hope you did) as I started to connect the dots between my work and life.  As noted then, my son was diagnosed in 2009 with Asperger’s Syndrome.  What I’ve come to appreciate more and more since then: I think he gravitates towards technology.   He loves to use and explore computers and mobile devices and adapts quickly.  He now has his own Nano and Shuffle.  Given my own interest in technology, I see this as a great way to connect with him.

Recently, I think we came across a real breakthrough.  After struggling through a writing assignment (the physical act of writing may be challenging for someone on the spectrum) and later discussing this with my son’s teacher, we learned that the school has Fusion portable word processors that he’d be able to use for some assignments.  My son took to this quickly and wrote (typed) a wonderful story about owls last week.  His reaction and willingness to complete the assignment was completely different.  How cool is that?  Granted, he’s not in “hands on home keys” mode, but I noticed the other day that his typing was faster than a week ago.

Ok, so enough about me and mine.  The point is I strongly believe that technology has an important role in helping kids on the spectrum.  Heck, when I wrote about this in February, the iPad had just been announced — now there are even more great apps out there to help these kids. 

I had previously mentioned a free Model Me Kids app, but this time wanted to point out this video.  There are some great visuals in here – and it’s so cool to see this little guy exploring the iPad.  The video (made by his mom) shows a few of the apps they recommend and they’ve got other reviews here.  

As I said before, I often see how “normal” social interactions can be a challenge for my son.  But I also see how technology/ online social tools allow people to connect in a way that maybe less threatening.   

What are your thoughts?  What technologies do you think are untapped for those on the spectrum?  Or, how are you/would you use social media to help people with Asperger’s (and their caregivers)?

Last August two important changes happened in my life and work.  Professionally, after many years in “traditional” healthcare communications, both at PR agencies and working at Bayer HealthCare, I had taken on a new focus in social media.  Coincidentally, that same month, my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome.  So here I was, discussing with clients how to better listen and participate with stakeholders through social media and, at the same time, coping with/trying to support a child for whom social skills can be such a challenge.

The convergence link wasn’t obvious.  Sure, I’ve been following #aspergers and #autism on twitter, have been reading emotional, inspiring posts such as those on Life With Aspergers , Wrong Planet , and Cutest Kid Ever — but not until recently had I started to connect the dots.

Then, last week, a parent of an Aspie mentioned that The Sims helped her child better understand/read personal expressions.  That got me thinking…

Social media is widely used by Aspies and, in many cases, their caregivers.  So how can we better leverage these technologies to help people with Asperger’s socialize?  Here’s a few starters:

Dr. Gary B. wrote an interesting post on Wellsphere about some of his patients using Facebook – that’s awesome!

My son loves to play with computers and with my iPhone.  Model Me Kids (which also runs a social network) recently introduced a new app to help kids navigate challenging everyday situations.  It’s free and complements their video-based programming.  There’s also the iPrompts app, which uses visual prompting tools to help transition from activity to activity.   Both great ideas and I hope to see more of the same.

iPods – yet another example from the Fraser Child & Family Center (Minneapolis), who are using iPods to help kids by providing an “inner voice” on what’s appropriate behavior.

And wouldn’t it be cool to see an augmented reality app that could help kids better read facial expressions or social cues?

Every day I see how “normal” social interactions can be a challenge for my son.  But I also see every day how online social tools allow people to connect in a way that is (maybe) less threatening.  I’m hopeful that these technologies can help my son and others, and I look forward to exploring them further.

What are your opinions on this?  How would you use social media to help people with Asperger’s (and their caregivers)?  Please share your thoughts, along with any similar experiences, in the comments box.