Saturday, September 26, 2009

Mobile phone use with special needs children – more lessons learned

Three months ago, as grade school ended, we let our 12yo son carry a T-Mobile PayGo phone (an old phone we had lying around, unlocked after its AT&T contract ended).

We did the usual thing with posting rules and so on – but they were soon forgotten. In fact, I only remember the rules because I reread my prior post!

So how did it go? Was our son able to handle the complexities of a semi-modern cell phone? (His Nokia is much harder to use, for example, than an iPhone)

It has gone well and he’s done well with the phone. I think having the phone connection to us has been terribly important during his first weeks in Junior High. It’s been a great self esteem boost – one of the few times he can resemble his neurotypical classmates. We had some concerns that he was pestering a former classmate, but we’ve checked into that and it’s good so far. He’s proud of his phone, and careful with it.

On the other hand, he burnt through the T-Mobile minutes pretty fast. I also discovered that, contrary to expectations, I couldn’t get any information from the T-Mobile site on what numbers he was calling. That made me nervous.

After he went through $10 in a week I gave up on the Pay-G plan sand moved his phone to our AT&T family plan ($10/month, $20-$30 or so fee for the new number).

I want him to text as a way to develop some basic communication and writing skills so I signed up for that great 21st century scam – the text plan (200 messages/month, but remember one pays to receive (grrrrrr) as well as send, so this is only about 3 messages sent a day).

I hated to pay for the text messaging, but if it helps him with written language it’s well worth much more. I also opted to try another $5/month service - “Smart Limits for Wireless”. It includes …

Text/IM Limits: I set to 100
Download Limits: I set to zero since he doesn’t have a data plan.
Browsing Limits: Also set to zero
Time of Day Restrictions: none yet
Allowed Numbers: these are numbers one can use even during restricted times. None yet.
Blocked Numbers: Useful if he’s harassing someone
Content Filters

I limited him to about 100 text messages, so with those he receives he might stay under 200. The big thing is the IM limits and the tracking. I’ll report back on how well it works.
I didn’t want to deal with Voice Mail, so I set the phone to forward to a Google Voice number that sends me transcriptions of any messages.
So far this has been a successful experiment. If it continues to go well I may get him a used iPhone with a data plan – so he can carry a much more powerful aide.

Update 10/6/09: Still very successful, and much more essential than I'd expected. Junior High School is somewhat unpredictable, and having a cell phone when soccer is canceled sure helps.

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