The Good Life: What A Difference An iPad Can Make

The smartphones in our family have been hiccupping with rings and hang-up calls for weeks, and Greg is grinning.

My son Greg, now age 41, has Down syndrome. He now lives in a group home in Warren, preceded by 10 years in DuBois. I live outside Brookville. Greg’s brothers and sisters are scattered throughout Pennsylvania, Ohio and Virginia.

Usually, I call him once a week. Siblings also call, perhaps weekly, perhaps less often, as we all tend to our own busy lives. If Greg wanted to call any of us via phone, he needed the aid of a group home staff member.

That all changed a month ago.

We got Greg an IPad for his 41st birthday.

The IPad lets Greg make video-and-audio calls without using a telephone. Instead, he just goes to Skype (for Android-using siblings) or Face Time (for IPhone users). We put contact lists inside each app, complete with photos. Greg does not need to memorize numbers or read lists; he just looks for photos, and then pushes a “call” button.

Now, Greg can see us as well as hear us – and we can see Greg after a fashion. Sometimes he holds his IPad so we see his entire face via its built-in camera. At other times, the image is of his forehead, hairline and one ear, but even that is unmistakably Greg.

I continue to be surprised by his unanticipated abilities to learn new and different things, in his (there is no other word for it) screwy own way.

Chris, Greg’s oldest brother, received 16 calls, mostly hang-up, in the first days after Greg got his IPad.

Chris had set the device up originally, and put his name and telephone number first on the list of contacts for Skype.

“R-rr-ing!” “Click!” “R-rr-ing!” “Click!”

Greg would merrily push each contact again and again, until he got to the person he was seeking.

Greg has only a nodding acquaintance with how lists work. He can sight-read, e.g., “Men’s Room,” “Stop,” Hello!” But he does not read sentences or for comprehension. Confronted with a list, he starts at the top. That left Chris chuckling and shaking his head at those Skype calls.

But Greg moved on – in his own fashion. Matt, Greg’s No. 3 brother, was listed first on the Face Time app for IPhone users.

Yep. He got “the treatment.”

“R-rr-ing!” “Click!” “R-rr-ing!” “Click!” “R-rr-ing!” “Click!”

He got about 20 calls during the first week.

Natalie, Greg’s sister in Virginia, gets to see his grinning face as well as hear his voice. In return, Greg gets to see Natalie’s children, Cody and Emily, ages 6 and 2. They get to see him as well.

That interchange helps as each growing grandchild becomes aware that Greg is “different.” That difference produces hesitancy and a bit of fear. It wears off quickly enough when the youngsters experience Greg’s grin, his sense of humor and his smiling face. None of those come through very well via telephone. All come through via the IPad-smartphone video link.

This guy, whose genetic abnormality was once thought to cap his learning ability at the kindergarten level, is becoming adept at computer/information age technology.

You folks made that possible. You paid the taxes that produce the classes and programs that give those of us who have special needs the needed special care.

So instead of Greg being stuck away in a jail-like institution, as happened to some people with Down syndrome a half-century ago, he is connected to extended family via his IPad, sharing his grins and gestures via images.

Progress comes to Greg differently, sometimes slowly, but always with his own surprising touches.

Two weeks ago, I turned my own IPhone around to show him familiar images of my desk, our kitchen, our dogs, etc.

“Now you do it,” I said. “Show me your bed.”

Greg dutifully turned his IPad to show me the bed in his room.

“Greg!” I shouted in mock disapproval. “You did not make your bed! You were LAZY! Tomorrow, make your bed!”

Greg’s lips would form a square, his regular version of “Yuck!”

He would agree, reluctantly.

But “disability” does not mean “stupid.”

Last week, I tried again.

“Greg,” I said, “show me your bed.”

His mouth did not go all square. Instead, a grin spread widely, nearly ear-to-ear.

“No!” he said, chuckling.

He is an independent adult, in his own room, 41 years old. He is not obliged to give his father another excuse to tease or belittle him. And he loves being able to relate to his father as one adult to another, even being smart-alecky.

That is what happens when we treat the least-gifted among us with extra assistance, paid for via taxes or donations.

They grow up, and tell Old Dad, “No!”

Thank you for having given the Gregs of our communities that ability.

Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: denny2319@windstream.net

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