Around this time last year my daughter Grace lost her iPhone. Grace is a 17 year old with a diagnosis of Autism and a severe speech delay. Some people would call her “non-verbal” but she can say a few words which most people would understand and if they don’t she shows them a picture. When Gracie was small, she used to have to carry a big book around to hold these pictures, but then the iPhone was invented and a very kind person gave us one to try. I was able to transfer all her pictures on to a folder on that phone and whenever we didn’t have a picture, we could take a photograph and add that to her collection.
Grace is considered to have an intellectual disability but she had no trouble navigating that iPhone, and she carried it around with her everywhere in a specially strong cover to protect against accidents. With the help of a young irish games developer called Steve Troughton-Smith, I was able to create an App to store and sort those pictures and in honour of my daughter, he called it Grace App. These days Gracie like many kids has an iPad in school, and we have one at home for games and videos. Her iPhone in its strong pink case with the shoulder strap is kept purely for communication when she is out and about. No games, no Youtube, no internet; just the App that she helped to create and still uses every day.
When she comes home from school, she hangs up her coat, takes off her shoes and puts away her school bag. Then she goes up stairs to get changed into her nightie (school clothes are ONLY for school) and hangs her iPhone on the door of the ensuite.
On the day she lost it, we were heading into a long weekend so I guess I just assumed she had brought it home. As I said she uses the iPad around the house so I didn’t notice it was missing until the night before school when I start sorting out lunches and schoolbags and in our house; charging iPhones. I looked everywhere in the house, tipped up washing baskets, dug through school bags and generally pulled the place apart with a rising feeling of anxiety. It was long flat so I couldn’t ring it and I couldn’t recall the last place I’d seen her with it. The next day I messaged her teacher to ask her to check but there was no sign of it anywhere in the classroom. She must have lost it somewhere over the weekend, but where?
So I took to social media, posting a photo of the phone in its lovely pink cover, the area it might have gone missing and a request to share. I simply couldn’t believe that someone had stolen it, but maybe someone, somewhere had picked it up and didn’t know whose it was.
The response was ENORMOUS! 15,000 shares on Facebook and countless retweets on Twitter. Everyone wanted Gracie to have her “voice” back. And then several lovely people got in touch to offer me their old iPhone. One guy when he realised that Gracie was “The” Grace” of the Grace App and I was it’s co-creator asked me if I knew of any other autistic kids could benefit as he actually had 4 phones to pass on. I sure do I said.
You see as a sideline to being a Mum to two teenagers with Autism and founder of Grace App I also collect old iPhones for people with Autism.
It’s not a charity as we don’t want cash, but a way to ensure that your old iPhone goes to a person with autism who really needs it.
With every new iPhone release, we keep an eye out for anyone talking about upgrading and encourage them to consider donating the old one, to us.
We’ve had about 30 old iPhones and 4 iPads donated in the last 6 years. I restore them to factory settings, put them into a strong all terrain case donated by our supporters, Otterbox Ireland, CompuB and Griffin Tech and then send them on.
|Staff at Saplings in Kill accepting an iPad donated by a Priest from Kerry!|
When I can, I try to go with the device to the school or centre and do a Grace App workshop. This is so that the community around the new user is able to support them and help develop their independent communication; which is the ultimate goal.
A request from an Autism class in Swords, Dublin lead to an iPad donated from a lady who lived around the corner!
There are a lot of people who can benefit from an iPhone but really cannot afford them. iPhones come with expensive contracts and it can be hard for some parents to imagine that their child could really use such a thing, until they have seen it for themselves.
Some like Gracie are non-speaking and could use it to communicate more independently with an App.
Some are like Lucy, who not only needs it to communicate but to keep her connected to her Mother, as Lucy has a tendency to wander.
|Lucy wears her iPhone on a special harness so it is always with her.|
Lucy has to have a good phone with a strong battery so her Mum can always see her on Find my iPhone – Find my iPhone allows you to send a loud signal to the device regardless of whether it is on silent or the user is wearing headphones. Very useful if your child goes out of your sight in a crowded place and you need to find them quickly.
And some are like Murray, a very verbal young adult with Autism.
Murray has great social skills and a good road sense but he still needs support in his education and attends a special school about a mile away from his house. When he turned 16 he held his Mum to a promise to let him walk home from school. His Mum decided to take a leap of faith and let him do it; but spent each day waiting and worrying from the time that school finished, to the moment when she would see him turn the corner into their cul-de-sac. I suggested that she set up “Find My iPhone” on her phone and watch him make his way home. She could text or call if he was taking too long, and teach him to text her back to reassure her. All she needed was an iPhone for Murray. Thanks to that kind donor we also had a device for Murray.
Murray is brilliant at keeping in touch with his Mum and even has an INSTAGRAM account which he updates, complete with hashtags all by himself.
The Phones don’t have to be perfect. They just need to be working and able to load iOS 6 or above. Last week I was contacted by a company who were updating all their staff phones and wanted to donate the old ones.
Now we have 6 perfectly working iPhone 5’s about to go into an Autism school, where the early learners are using pecs books. All the staff and parents will be able to get trained in using Grace App at the same time, and support the pupils as they transition to digital communication. It could open up a whole new world of independence and security for someone with autism and special needs. Now wouldn’t that feel good?