Monday, August 09, 2010

Adolescent computing - the iPhone and iOS solution

I've written over 30 posts about computer use and the low IQ special needs child. Now I'm dealing with computer use and the low IQ ADHD/Explosive special needs adolescent. This has some special concerns.

One is vulnerability. Most special needs adolescents are vulnerable netizens, susceptible to abuse, fraud, and manipulation. This is also true, incidentally, of many neurotypical adults and most elderly adults.

Another issue is judgment and self-control. This is an issue for any adolescent (was for me, anyway), but for the "explosive child" external restrictions are particularly important. Unfortunately recent changes in net technology (https, multiple data streams, etc) have broken a lot of parental control software. OS X parental controls, in particular, are utterly broken.

Even as one computing platform wanes, however, another waxes. The iOS (iPhone, iPad, iPad Touch) platform is a better match to the needs of many special needs children and adolescents. You can read about one iPhone setup through this post and related links.

The first steps are to active iOS "restrictions", including disabling Safari, YouTube and App installation. The next steps are to add apps that further the parental agenda, while engaging your special needs child. These are some of the apps we use (note despite his disabilities my son has a knack for software, not all persons of similar IQ will use the same apps):

  1. Calendaring: His iPhone Calendar app shows our family calendar, school calendar, and his calendar as well as birthdays and holidays. He is very anxious when he doesn't know his schedule. The calendar anchors him. He can edit it, he can see what's coming up. All calendars synchronize to Google Calendar feeds. (See setup link, above).
  2. Contacts: I edit them for him on our Google App domain. They help him remember people. I will show him how to add pictures to them.
  3. Notes: He likes to make notes in the basic app. I will introduce Dragon Dictate soon to make note taking even easier.
  4. iPod: His music of course, but also all loaded with ultra-high quality educational documentaries such as BBC's 2001 documentary "The Blue Planet" ($6.40 for 8 hours). When he's dying of boredom he can now watch TV even without a data connection. Some TV, that is. (Cue evil parental laughter.)
  5. Camera: He loves to take pictures. I do need to monitor this. Not all his pictures are equally appropriate.
  6. Maps: Learning his environment.
  7. Google Earth: obviously
  8. Weather, Clock (timer is valuable), Light, Calculator, Voice Memos -- all frequently used.
  9. NYTimes - he reads the sports (follows the Mets).
  10. Public Radio - so far he hasn't used it.
  11. SkyVoyager and Star Walk: wishful thinking. He won't use these without some thought from me.
  12. Games -- all serving some educational end - Checkers, tChess Lite, UNO, Solitaire, Virtuoso (piano), Matches (memory), MemoryMtrx (short term memory), Mental Maths and Math Drills.
  13. Wolfram Alpha and Wikipanion: Homework aid without Google search.
  14. MobileMe iPhone location: we know where his phone is, anyway.
In future posts I'll update and revise the list of helpful apps.

Update 8/10: I received a comment praising the use of a browser product, "mobicip" that claims to substitute for Safari on the iPhone.

Unfortunately there are two reasons to be concerned about this product.

The first is that comment was fraudulently submitted. It purported to be from a user, but "DrJim" was a link to the vendor site. The comment appeared to be machine generated. These techniques violate Google's terms of service, and they are a good marker for a fraudulent enterprise.

The second reason is that mobicip's pricing is deceptive. In addition to the product purchase you must sign up for an annual subscription to get the "whitelist" functionality you truly need.

A NYT times bits post has the best available information on this topic from a source I trust. In addition to mobicip they mention:

If I had to choose one I'd look first at iWonder Surf.

Update: In the space of a week this $@! kid of mine has found two loopholes in the security I set up. He discovered that Google Earth has a wikipedia layer, and that clicking on those links triggers an embedded browser than runs when Safari is disabled. He eventually found ways to navigate to places he's not allowed to go. Then he found that a suite of utilities included, for no good reason, the ability to run iGoogle within the app.

Sometimes I wonder about quite low IQ test results.

Thus far he's been so delighted in his discoveries that he shares them with me. I reward him with for the invention, but then delete the app. (Good-bye Google Earth.)

Update 8/28/10: Wikipanion bit the dust. He found some interesting topic pages and pictures. Too bad there's no World Book app. A surprisingly large number of apps have embedded WebKit browsers that are not disabled when Safari is disabled. Apple needs to provide parental controls for disabling WebKit use. I wish Apple would hire me to run their parental controls effort.

Update 9/20/10: #$#$%! Public has a $#$@ embedded web browser. Forget the thesis of this post, Apple's iPhone parental controls are as broken as can be. The good news is my son delights in showing them to me. When you have a sub 5th percentile measured IQ, and read 3 grade levels behind, it's a real confidence builder to show your Dad you've outfoxed his security.

Update 10/31/10: Today he was caught again. This time he'd learned to use the New York search function, then to click on a hyperlink, then to escape to full web search. I've stripped every non-Apple app from the phone. This really is a serious problem.

Update 9/20/2013: Many years later, iOS 7 finally fixes the webkit hole.

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