Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Special Needs and the Magic Kingdom

Article first published as Special Needs and the Magic Kingdom on Technorati.

Family picture with EyoreSeveral parents have talked about their experiences taking their child with autism to Disneyland. Some parents have shared their experiences and advice which I have always found helpful. In fact, I've posted about this previously myself. But I really wanted to share my recent experience.

Last weekend we went to Disneyland and California Adventures with extended family. On the last day for the extended family, we went to Cars Land. While their kids were in (a very long) line to have their pictures taken with Lightning McQueen, we went around the corner from the Cozy Cone to have our son's picture taken with Red, the fire engine.

While in line, witnessed something amazing that sort of outlines why we go to Disneyland every year. A young lady with special needs, all dressed up, went right up to red and gave him a hug (at least as best as she could). The character assistant had a huge smile, the cameraman was snapping pictures like crazy. I started to tear up. She took a good 5 minutes or so to interact with Red, and Red responded back (I'm still not sure how they do that, I think their might be someone inside the vehicles). It was awesome.

Disney, with their theme parks, cast members, hotels, vacations, etc. seem to have this policy that every experience with Disney needs to be magical for everyone. It doesn't matter who you are or what your abilities are, they treat everyone as special guests. And it's infectious, as many guests try to keep that same tenor that makes Disneyland the happiest place on Earth.

My own experience comes from hearing my sons' excited squeals as we go from place to place. They both dance for joy, run to the characters they love so well from countless shorts, and give each one a hug. And the characters even play with them! It's heartwarming to know there is always one place they can just be themselves, and enjoy such a crowded, public place.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Wandering and Autism: A Parent's Perspective

Article first published as Wandering and Autism: A Parent's Perspective on Technorati.
Boy wandering at SeaWorld.The morning after we moved into our town home in San Diego, we started unpacking. The kids were playing both upstairs and down stairs, exploring the new home. After a few minutes, I looked up and asked my wife where our youngest was. We started looking in all the rooms, but he was no where to be seen.

Now frantic, I ran outside in my bare feet and checked the fire exit, and it was open. Our youngest had squeezed through the small opening at the fire escape, and climbed down the stairs. I ran up and down the back side of the complex, but couldn't find him. Then a police officer drove up and asked if I was looking for a child. They had found him down the street, walking in the middle of the road (thank goodness it was early on a Sunday morning!).

While both our boys have bolted before, this was the first time our youngest had bolted without our knowing. It was particularly frightening because we didn't know anyone in the area, our son didn't know the area, and it happened when we were certain that the town home was secured. We have since fixed the issue, but it remains a fear.

USA Today reported a study conducted by the Interactive Autism Network Project and published in the journal Pediatrics that finds 46% of children with autism have wandered, bolted, or eloped, and 49% had done it at least once after age 4 when bolting is no longer supposed to be that common.

Wandering is a very dangerous problem that threatens those on the autism spectrum because they often have close calls with traffic or come in danger of drowning. It's frightening for parents, frightening for the children, and you get some very interesting questions from the police when you don't carry your ID in your pajama pocket.

Ways to resolve bolting include double lock deadbolts, so a key is required to enter and leave the house. This works great, until your child figures out the right key, where it is, and how to get it. Alarms are also very common, both on the doors and on your children. The doors are more common, though if you have people coming in and out regularly, it defeats the purpose. Proximity alarms on your child work well, assuming they are willing to keep their transmitter on their person (my son is quick to find those things and take them off).

There are a things you can do as a parent, but it really helps to have the community behind you. I was very grateful for three officers in San Diego that Sunday morning that helped me locate my son and bring him home. Once I told them he had Autism, they then understood why he was so feisty (their word), and why he was unable to tell them who he was and where we were. And it served as a very dramatic reminder to us how important it is to make sure all avenues have been properly accounted.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Living in San Diego: Two Week Milestone

It is now two weeks since we have moved the entire family to San Diego, and I thought I would report on the progress so far.

First, the town home in which we have moved is now put together, and feels like a home. Pictures are up, boxes have been sent to recycling, and furniture has been placed. The boys are very familiar with every inch of our town home, and have settled in nicely.

Because of space restrictions, the boys have a bunk bed, with our youngest sleeping on the top bunk. Both boys like their bed, and have spent quite a bit of time playing in their room (though not as much as I would like). Their room is small, but big enough for their needs, as it also means we needed to trim back on the toys they had.

Crookshanks, our cat, hasn't been so relaxed in years. She loves every bit of the town home, including the neighbor's parakeets across the courtyard. She has a couple favorite spots to sit, the most common being on the landing between the two flights to the top floor.

The boys are loving school. Jonathan will come home from school (he gets out at 2:00), and after being home for a while will grab his backpack and wants to head out again. He doesn't want to stay home when he has his school so close. Luckily, if it gets urgent, the public library is just around the corner.

Scotty loves his preschool class. In fact, he loves it so much he doesn't fuss when Kristal drops him off anymore. He did for a little bit at first, but he has gotten better since. Both boys have to get used to getting out of school early (or not going to school for Scott) on Wednesdays instead of Fridays.

Kristal is settling in well so far without having to go to work. She put the house together within 2 weeks of moving everything in, so efficiently in fact that I was surprised she was able to get everything in. She also has a number of other projects to keep her attention, and she is finally has time to read.

Work has been exciting and new for me. Currently I'm working on video and audio recordings to produce and release online training for an Introduction to the Macintosh class. It's been an interesting exercise trying to find a quiet place to record audio in a call center, but I've managed to find one training room that is quiet enough. The work has been rewarding, challenging, and exciting.

So that's the progress so far. The beach has been fun, the weather different, and all and all it's been a great experience. I'm excited to see what comes in the future. For now, I'm just going to enjoy being with my family.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Motorola Xoom Tablet with Android 4.1.1 Jellybean: A Weekend Review

Motorola Xoom (below) and first generation iPad (top)This last week I checked out the Motorola Xoom from my office. I did so to get familiar with the Android tablet environment. I took it home over the weekend, and with some time on it and the help of my kids, I think I have a better understanding of how the Xoom works. Here are my impressions, though please note that I do have a clear bias toward the iPad, having owned one since they first came out.

First, the hardware design. The Xoom is smaller than the iPad, in that it's narrower though just as long. It's also significantly thicker, feeling more substantial than the iPad. It's definitely designed to be used in landscape mode, as noted by the positioning of the volume controls. But the thing that is most puzzling to me is the location of the power button. It's on the back, instead of around the side. With it flat on the table, you can't turn it on. Cases need to have an extra wide hole on the back to make it accessible. This is an unnecessary inconvenience, in my opinion.

Powering it on isn't very intuitive either: you have to hold the power button down to get it on. To put it to sleep, you have to tap the power button. Hold it down too long, and it asks you if you want to turn it off. I actually had to look up a way to power it up when I had turned the thing off. Not a very good design, in my opinion.

The battery life is curious. It seems shorter than the iPad's, as it spent a lot of time sleeping, and after a weekend was down to 45%. Based on the estimate from when I had fully charged it, and it's use it got over the weekend, it would have about 5 days worth of life. That same usage and sleep time on the iPad would last me at least 8 days. I'm not sure if this is because of the apps running in the background, or what. Still, for a tablet, it's respectable.

Once I get it on, The Android OS works well. I'm running 4.1.1 Jellybean, and it's very responsive. The only things I don't like are more, well, bare-bones functional. The keyboard is frustrating to use, more so than the iPad. As I start typing, if I go too fast it starts throwing smiley faces in my text. So that makes it very frustrating when trying to write anything from the screen. I also don't like the separation from my Gmail account and my Exchange account for work. I really don't like having to go to two different mail apps just to manage all my mail.

That ends my gripes. Let's talk about those things that were different. It takes some getting used to the Android tablet platform if you have used the iPad. The most notable thing was the virtual home button. It's no longer a way to wake the thing up, that being relegated to the power button. But once you get used to it's location it becomes comfortable. Not good, not bad, just different. And different in and of itself is a good thing.

It's very different to have widgets on the desktop, and then have to go to another screen to get to all your apps. It's about like having a hybrid of your Dock and Dashboard, with a Launchpad for all the apps. Not good, not bad, just different. Once you get used to it, it's not that difficult to work through.

That ends my adjustments. It was actually less than I thought I would need to adjust. Other than that, working through the features were pretty simple, and finding settings were pretty easy. Though I have to say that setting up an Exchange account would not be an easy task for someone not familiar with AD Directories. Is that possible, you may ask? My answer would then be in the form of a question: have you ever worked for a hospital that uses AD? So far my experience has been that most people who have other expertise's than computers tend to equate their email password to Email only, have no idea what Active Directory is, and don't know what the domain means. So while the email process is not intuitive, it just requires a little extra hand-holding for support to get it up and running.

So now the things that I liked. Frankly, the integration with my Google account is amazing. This is, well, much like iCloud for Apple. It's seamless, allowing me to access all my materials in Google without any hassle. Perhaps the only problem is the apparent lack of a Google Docs app (at least I couldn't find one so far in the Google Play marketplace). Other than that, everything is pretty clean and easy to use. Add a Bluetooth keyboard and this would easily be a replacement for a laptop, much like the iPad. I had all the basic apps necessary to do the job.

So my overall impression? If not for the non-software driven gripes that I had, I would have put it on par with the iPad easily as far as experience and functionality. The Android OS definitely has that same feel, though I would have to say iOS is more user-friendly. Of course, Android is geared more to those who are tech-savvy, so that's not a bad thing. But I will tell you my kids run to the iPad more often than the Android device after taking the Xoom through it's paces. I can't wait to see what other tablets may have in store (like the Samsung Galaxy Tab) with a different hardware design. Android is definitely a solid OS that brings a lot to the mobile OS table, and reinforces the idea that we are in a post-PC world.

Could I switch to Android? Possibly, but I don't think I would. Is it because of any deficiency in Android? No, it's purely because I have already invested so much into the iOS platform as far as apps that the switch would be painful. Do I think I'm missing out on much by not switching? Not really. The real strength that I can see in Android in usage is it's tie to the Google Gmail account, from which I am slowly weaning myself. I try to use it less than the past because of functionality changes that Google has made to their site (the loss of iGoogle was the tipping point). That having been said, I can see why someone would feel the same devotion to Android that I do for iOS, particularly if you have invested a lot into the platform.