Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Autism - updating my thinking

This blog is about two very different people with atypical minds connected by family. One is now an adult, the other is almost there. I call them #1 and #2.

#1 wants to be independent. He does less with me now, and more on his own. That’s a sad thing for me, but I’m hardly the first father to miss time with an adult son. #2, at the moment, wants Dad time even as he takes on new things that test his limits. Things like joining a neurotypical high school mountain biking team [1].

Seeing him in that setting I have more insight into how his world looks. When he’s stressed I see him move into a mode where the world fades away to only two people — #2 and Dad.

It’s a kind of extreme focus, a tunnel vision. Even the environment fades away. In cold rain, on a muddy dirt road, surrounded by a team I’m responsible for, I need to stop and give him full attention for an extended discussion of my inadequacies. I see him enter ‘full aspie’ mode, then respond to a threat of decreased screen time by resuming motion, followed by the  beginning of a stereotypical dialog. The dialog begins with me accepting responsibility for my faults, then I provide a structured apology, then he performs an analysis of what went wrong, followed shortly by an often perceptive self-analysis, then a return to the world.

Over time the cycle seems to go more quickly. The progress is encouraging, even though the journey is longer than he yet realizes.

#1 carries the autism label. He meets criteria and it helps with services. Autistic is not a great description of him though. He’s more complex. Greene’s “Explosive child”, (see my 2007 reading list) might have the best description of #1.

For #2 autism is a helpful label, and books on “autism” feel relevant. Including one I first read in 2013; and recently reread (emphases mine) …

Autism, Inside and Out - Download The Universe (review and exposition by Steve Silberman of the NeuroTribes blog)

… Harmon … published “Autistic and Seeking a Place in an Adult World," an account of the search for employment by a young artist named Jason Canha. While dozens of news stories a week speculate about candidate genes, environmental factors, and other possible causes for the condition, Harmon zeroed in on the practical issue that all families face when their kid “ages out” of services: How are they supposed to support themselves and learn to live independently?…

… The controversy over the term mindblindness -- and its relationship to compassion and empathy -- is one of the most yawning abysses in autism discourse, and too deep to do justice to here. Suffice it to say that Baron-Cohen made things worse by muddying the distinction between an inability to parse social cues in real time — which seems to be the cognitive issue unifying all points on the spectrum — and empathy, which is more like a capacity to care about how another person is feeling...

… Anyone who has spent time with autistic people can tell you that they're intensely concerned with how other people are feeling, to the point of being overwhelmed. But they often can't piece those feelings together from the usual clues of facial expression, tone of voice, and body language. At the same time, however, autistics are often adept at reading each other’s emotional states from signs that would be opaque to their typical peers…

The thing missing from this short essay, a thing I see in #2, is how dynamic his autism state is. At peak performance he has low-normal perception of his surroundings including some social cues, under stress that falls away. There’s great variability. The essay does capture #2’s empathy and compassion for other people.

- fn -

[1] The mountain biking community has quite a few people on the spectrum. In retrospect that makes sense. There’s a rhythmic swing/bouncing motion to trail riding, especially on flow trails. There’s a social aspect of doing things together, but mostly one is riding the bike and managing the terrain. Conversation is limited and one can always talk about the bike. For #2 most exercise is excruciatingly boring, but mountain biking demands focus and attention. It’s a good spectrum sport.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Smartphones for all: Restriction apps update

I reviewed the world of Android and iPhone restrictions for my Smartphones for All book in May 2016:

Four months ago I settled on MMGuardian. I liked their price transparency and the feature set was a good match to the needs of Explorers.

I’m used to the lethargic pace of “parental control” products on Mac and Windows, so I figured I was done for a while. Recently a friend suggested Qustodio, and I found an encouraging review. The PC Magazine (still around!) review liked Kaspersky’s “Safe Kids” for iPhone (unlike Android devices iPhones have good built-in parental controls).

I’m going to take a look at both, beginning with Qustodio. There’s no free trial for the premium version (there is a money-back guarantee) so I’m going to first test the professional/educational market product. That comes with a 30 day trial.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Employment - not.

Two days ago, returning from a 1 week family holiday, he quit. Without notice.
He gave us no real warning, and, not atypically, disregarded our strenuous advice. In follow-up we hear he was doing the job well enough, his supervisor was surprised he quit. And annoyed he quit without notice.
#1 has had various explanations for why he left. I doubt he knows. The one he currently favors is that the work wasn’t interesting enough — he was doing grounds maintenance and he wanted to work with machinery.
In our own post-mortem we came up with 10 factors: 
  1. Social isolation, there was really nobody there he would be comfortable with, no other cognitively limited adults.
  2. There was no coaching, no support, no communication channels. It was an unsupported job.
  3. He had no concept of “giving notice”, wasn’t aware that was something one did.
  4. A special needs friend he admires spoke fondly of his (much less appealing, more difficult) job in food services at a sports center and advised #1 to apply.
  5. He was unhappy at not getting “time off for state fair”
  6. He was bored, the job wasn’t exciting any more, wanted to do more interesting things
  7. The holiday took him away from his routine. His memory is odd; after 3 days things seem less familiar. We needed to drive by his work on our return and anticipate reentry problems.
  8. The commute was hard and the novelty of going by bus had worn off.
  9. He has unrealistic work expectations (dream meme scam)
  10. He has a history of quitting sports teams after about 2-3 months, this fits a trend.

I think it all adds up to he got the job prematurely; he’s not ready for unsupervised and unsupported work. Maybe in 4-5 years he could do this work reliably and appreciate it, but he’s not there yet.

Now we have to twist his arm to get him back to his transition program (two years left). He now has no screen time at all before 5pm, so life at home is reading, bicycling, sleeping, and chores. That should make his screen heavy transition program time more appealing.

The dream job scam - schools are doing us no favors

Sometime in the past decade or two US schools were infected with a “you can do what you dream” meme.

This made some sense for cohorts oppressed by poverty and racism. It makes less sense for privileged whites where employment is constrained more by native abilities than environmental constraints. It makes no sense at all for the special needs cognitively disabled population. In fact, it’s malignant.

Throughout his school life #1’s IEP’s featured his “dream job”. Often this was K-9 training officer.  A job he did not have a snowball in hell chance of getting. My childhood dream job was to be an astronaut — that was way more feasible, at least before the Challenger disaster.

The reality for kids like #1, particularly given the current American fad for mainstreamed and relatively unsupported employment, is that he’ll  either be unemployed or do boring and unpleasant work cleaning, serving food, or, ideally, working in a (non-Amazon) warehouse. The “Do what you dream” scam just makes reality more disappointing. 

This isn’t so different, of course, from what work is like for the majority of Americans. I wonder how much alleged millennial work unhappiness has to do with the You can Dream meme.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Exercising with autism: working within the energy budget

A post about energy levels and autism activity reminded me how #2 has managed his mountain biking team participation.

He is one of the more consistent attendees of practices, but he doesn’t do a full practice. He started out doing about half a practice. Over time that’s edged up to perhaps 2/3 of a practice. He goes at a pace that feels very slow to a near 60yo father/coach — but he goes.

His consistency is remarkable. It’s the same with inline skating. He shows up. He goes at his own pace. He does it.

He is almost always limited by his “emotional energy”, not his lungs and muscles. He loves to talk to me while he does things; if we talk on a topic he’s excited about he doesn’t get tired. If the activity is not exciting, or the conversation or audio isn’t engaging, he tires quickly. I think he does better with inline skating and mountain biking because they if one doesn’t focus they can be painful. During our winter walks he listens to the podcasts he loves, then talks about them with me.

It turns out that one can improve fitness even if one’s heart rate doesn’t peak and sweat is minimal. He is going further and faster, though never with great effort.

I’m impressed.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Tips for managing one Asperger's athlete

Both #1 and #2 are physically active. This is very much by design and lifelong persistence. #1 often enjoys team sports and personal bicycling, but these activities are also agitating, disturbing, and anxiety provoking. He’s very sensitive to criticism, very insensitive to advice and feedback, and by nature macho and blunt. That is a hard combination, but #2 is harder.  I think #2 may be more typical of the active Asperger’s athlete.

#2 does not like exercise. He does it because it helps him psychologically as well as physically and because he wants to please me. I encourage it because it’s critical to his mental health. He is poorly connected to body signals — so I have to remind him to drink water, to eat, and adjust clothing to temperature. He dislikes this advice and when he’s stressed he reacts badly — but he is learning to use “I don’t want water” as a signal that he’s moving into a difficult mood zone. He does best on a full stomach in cool or cold weather and poorly in hot conditions.

#2 dislikes some activities less than others. Special hockey works for historical reasons and because his brother does it. It helps that the ice is cool. Currently he least dislikes mountain biking, cross country skiing and inline skating. He has liked climbing in the past but climbing gyms are a poor location for a meltdown (which still happen). He does all these things at what I consider a novice pace; far slower than he could manage if a bear were after him. Only hockey triggers bursts of impressive speed. His pacing doesn’t change even when he becomes skillful; he handles inline skating terrain with aplomb, but always slowly.

Unsurprisingly I’m almost always his one-on-one coach. There can be other coaches around though; such as on the High School Mountain Biking team he rides with. I sometimes think about what tips I might give those that are interested in helping people on the spectrum. In order of decreasing confidence I came up with…

  1. Ask parents/guardians what works and what to avoid.
  2. He won’t remember your name or that of any other riders. He won’t recognize your or anyone else if you see him on the street. He won’t remember you without cues. If you see him in a social setting say “Hi, I’m X. I am one of your coaches. It is good to see you. See you at practice. ” That’s about right.
  3. His limits are psychic, not physical. He very rarely approaches any kind of physical limit, long before that he feels emotionally exhausted. At the very best he can do about half of what a novice can do.
  4. He thinks social interaction and manners are a very good thing. He also finds them exhausting. This frustrates him as he wishes he could do them. He likes a short greeting, but dislikes any questions. He is temperamentally unable to engage in typical social conversation; for him insincerity is a crime. (He’s very sympathetic to people in distress if he recognizes the distress. He loves counseling people by letting them vent.)
  5. Give intermittent low key positive feedback. Understated, brief, positive. “Nice climb ___” is good. Minimize enthusiasm.
  6. Avoid any criticism of the form “you’re doing x, you should do y”. He has a wildly exaggerated response to well intended criticism; he plunges into despair.
  7. Give feedback in the form of “It’s ___ I’m going to ___”. For example: “It’s hot - I’m taking off my jacket.”, “I’m thirsty, I’m going to drink water.”, “I’m going to go fast down this bit so I can quickly climb the other side."
  8. He can be unexpectedly talkative. Polite responses are good. You don’t need to contribute much, just occasional topic related verbal prompts.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Besides this blog: Facebook page for my book project

My posts are always intermittent, but they’re a bit less frequent as I’ve been posting on my book project in a Facebook Page: I’ll create some ‘check it out’ posts in future for people who don’t do Facebook, but if you’ve been assimilated there you might “Like” that Page.

Here are some recent posts of possible interest to people reading this blog. You don’t need to login to Facebook to read them, just dismiss the annoying dialogs that might appear:

Special needs urban bicycling - what streets are safe?

A few weeks ago I wrote about trying residential-urban (Saint Paul, MN) bicycle commute with #2. I realized he wasn’t ready, so we’re focusing on his mountain biking. He rides with a team I manage. It’s hard work for him, but he keeps persisting. I now do a scaled practice with him — about 50-70% of our novice rider practice routine. I got the scaling idea from my own CrossFit hobby — where I’m about 50% of the male athlete standard.

At that time I wrote that #1 was doing relatively well with his bike commuting. He has quite different cognitive traits; the two boys have complementary strengths. 

Then, on a family outing, #1 took off on a 4 lane (2 each way) 50mph+ roadway. I’m pretty sure he knew I would not approve, but he wasn’t just yanking my chain. He was also showing off how fast he is, specifically much faster than his father. (I already knew that!). I didn’t say anything at the time, but his bike was grounded when we got home.

It took a while to figure out a good approach to letting him ride streets again. I started out investigating local traffic skills classes; I thought I’d adopt that curriculum for him, maybe do a hands-on course together. I decided it was the wrong fit though. Many of the skills he already did well, some of the curriculum wasn’t relevant to real world commuting, and many of the topics were too abstract.

I realized we had two issues that were relatively unique to #1. One is long term hard. He has had words with people in bicycle trails/paths [1] and, as is typical when he experiences conflict, he now avoids all bicycle paths.[2]

The other is a simpler problem. He can’t easily classify roads into relatively safe vs. relatively dangerous. This isn’t obvious — try making up the rules! It took me a while to come up with a set of ‘safe riding places’. The current list with some familiar examples is:

It has a bike lane - like Fairview or Summit
It has a bike path - but you have to use the path (Shepherd bike path)
It is a "bike avenue" with bike pictures - like Jefferson
Speed limit is 35mph or less (NOT 45, 50, 55) AND has one lane (on each side if two way)

We’ve been over the list several times; he sometimes forgets the magic speed limit. It has helped to go over how few people survive being hit at 40mph (basically nobody, not that 35mph is so great). I put these rules, together with a checklist of essential ride items [3], into a note on his iPhone (using a browser interface to his iCloud account, as described in my Smartphones for All book).

Being as he is, it doesn’t work to get a simple agreement on these things. I keep his road bike locked, before I unlock it, he has to show he’s carrying the necessary gear, then he has to review the safe ride place rules (using is iPhone if needed). Only then do I unlock and wish him well.

He’s starting to transition to a routine. That’s a good sign; once he has a routine it tends to stick. 

Wish us luck.

- fn -

[1] I suspect this is mostly his fault, but addressing that is part of a long hard slog
[2] It is annoying to have pedestrians in the dedicated bike trails instead of the neighboring walking trail, but well tempered adults know to live and let live. #1 perseverates about these conflicts, I think they replay visually like a tape loop he can’t purge.
[3] He has quirks about carrying things. Nothing can be attached to his bike. He can’t explain why he dislikes taking his ID card or something with my number on it. His iPhone has his medical info, emergency contact and the like. I’m going to get that information written on back of his “must-carry” State ID. His iPhone shares his location using Apple Find Friends so we can track his long rides.
[4] As a teen and even as an middle-aged adult I’ve ridden more dangerous roads than the one he got grounded for. One of the unfair features of a monitored special needs adult is that you don’t get to do the stupid things your father did.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Ella enchanted: understanding ODD

#1 has more than a few features of oppositional defiant disorder. Especially before his meds kick-in.

It occurred to us today that it's the opposite of the heroine's curse in "Ella Enchanted". Instead of saying yes to everything he must oppose it, even if he has no particular objection.

There is something comforting about the struggle.

Saturday, June 18, 2016


“Pride goeth before the fall” doesn’t mean first you lose your pride then you fail.

It means “the famine goeth before the plague” or “the herald goeth before the king”. Get cocky, hit the wall. The sin of Hubris.

Did that one this weekend. Asked too much of my guys. 

It could have been worse. Ended up being a lot of driving for me and a lot of stress and yelling for #1, but there was nobody around but his brother. I could have handled my own frustration better, but I think we all survived with minimal scars. The car didn’t crash. Nobody rode their bike over a cliff.

The morning after I did my retrospective. What was I thinking?! I should have done the math. On an event that combined a new setting and not one but two novel and high stress activities all of which were weather dependent… what were the odds it would work out? Maybe 1/5.

That’s hubris. We’d had a string of successful adventures and I got cocky.

I should have had more contingency plans and I should have had at most one novel and stressful challenge to meet.

I get to try again this weekend …

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Atypical minds and developmental support: we haven't learned much in 15 years

I wrote the first ‘best you can be’ post almost 12 years ago. #1 was 7 then, #2 was 5. E and I already had years of experience with cognitive disabilities, autism spectrum, and atypical minds. We already understood how worthless the classifications we’d studied in medical school were. Autism, ADHD, Asperger’s (defunct now) — very rough labels that are primarily useful for obtaining services and perhaps for initial medication selection.

We thought there would be progress. 

There really hasn’t been much that we’ve seen. We still have most of the original classifications (frozen in DSM V) and I haven’t seen any useful research emerge. We’re going nowhere.

If someone were to drop a few million dollars on me I’d start by defining 5-8 axes of thinking/feeling — measures of things like external-word vs. internal-world orientation, spatial processing, impulsivity, short-term memory, etc. Things that can be tested and measured. 

I’d mine the existing literature for axes to study, but otherwise I’d toss out most of it. Test a few thousand late teens/early adults and plot them on a “spider graph”. Run the analysis to see if there are any useful clusters. If there are useful clusters, then name them. Use that as the basis for future research.

Basically, start over.

Special needs bike commuting -- it's cognitively demanding

This is probably more obvious to most people than it was to me. My judgment is distorted by a lifetime of urban bicycling.

It was very difficult to teach #1 and #2 to ride a bicycle (it would be easier today - we know more). Almost as hard as teaching them to swim. They did well in the end though. #1 competed in high school mountain biking and I think he is a relatively safe urban cyclist. His impulsivity and rigidity are balanced by native caution and seemingly strong visual processing. 

#2 has a substantially higher IQ than #1, but he’s a weaker bicyclist. We did a trial bike ride to school today; he did well with guidance but he was exhausted. I think the relatively simple ride was cognitively draining. #2 is closer to the classic Asperger’s pattern — persistent attention to the external world is very difficult. He may never be able to bicycle commute safely, though he does well mountain biking (and inline skating - remarkable balance there).

In retrospect I’m not sure urban bicycle commuting is cognitively less demanding than urban driving. There’s more time to plan actions, but there’s a lot more judgment involved. By comparison car driving is more rule-bound.

Special needs mountain/gravel biking, or bicycling on separated trails, works for #2. Bicycling on city streets - not so much.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Beware passport process post-guardianship

We’re renewing #1’s passport. Should be routine, but he is now in guardianship.

The post-guardianship passport process is currently undocumented. Our local passport office didn’t know the process. We’re now told we need not only the letter of guardianship but also the court order. All certified. The letters we’ve received on this have been misleading or incomplete.

It is an amazing mess going on for 2-3 months now. Our next stop will be to contact the office of our local Senator.

Be warned.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Universal data access for all Americans - what would it look like?

The NYT has another “digital divide” article, this time using Detroit. I think they might be doing a series on this topic.

The problem of net access isn’t unique to Detroit, it applies to every low income American, which includes pretty much every special needs adult. A smartphone (net phone?) isn’t an option, it’s a necessity for modern life [1]. That’s one the reasons I’m writing my book on smartphones for special needs teens and adults.

It’s not hard to give everyone a smartphone. We’ll be drowning in cheap Android devices soon. The problem is data access. Home WiFi, which is notoriously unreliable and complex, costs at least $35/month in most markets. Home WiFi is too complex for most people to maintain anyway. Cellular data costs about the same per month, but it’s tricky to meter and it’s per-person, not per-family. For a family of five we’re looking at $175 a month — too much for a low income family.

So we need some universal mobile data access that everyone gets. Something around 1GB a month. That’s enough to support essential interactions, but not enough for streaming video. 

I’m thinking we’ll either end up with something that’s funded by advertising (Facebook, Google) [2] or a public mandate. It might be a good idea to do both. Either way it will need to incorporate some kind of intelligent data use and filtering.

Whatever happens supporters of special needs adults should be engaged.

[1] Many government programs still have ancient web sites that don’t work well on a smartphone browser. The good news is that hackers are tearing those web sites apart, so they’ll need to be upgraded. In time we may need to bring ADA suits against government web sites that are not smartphone accessible.

[2] Low income advertising, best seen on daytime TV, is often predatory. That is, it’s advertising for services and products that are largely harmful scams. That will be a problem.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

MMGuardian - Review of an iPhone parental control and usage monitoring service

Yesterday I wrote about using MMGuardian with an Android device. Today I’m continuing research for my book project and my upcoming local (St Paul, MN) presentation on May 25th by reviewing MMGuardian on an iPhone.

Google and Apple have taken very different approaches to remote restrictions on mobile devices. Google has almost no built in restriction capabilities, but third party products like MMGuardian or Screen Time can dig deep into the operating system. They can monitor and disable SMS or phone services and they can lock the phone on a schedule. I haven’t used MMGuardian enough to know if this affects battery life or Android stability; that probably depends on how much support Google has built into Android.

For a parent, or a Guide working with an adult or teen with a cognitive disability, the iPhone restrictions are a big improvement on what Android provides. On the other hand, if you pay the $35-$60 a year for a 3rd party service, Android pulls ahead.

So how does an iPhone plus a third party service compare?

The short answer is that Android plus a third party service is better than an iPhone plus a third party service. At least if the service is MMGuardian, but as I’ll explain below I think it’s the same for all vendors. Compare this iPhone screenshot on the control portal ( to the one I did for Android yesterday:


MM Guardian


MMGuardian Android

MMGuardian provides identical web filtering options for both platforms, but on Android phones MMGuardian provides fine grained control of app behavior. Individual apps can be turned on or off including apps that access media. For iPhones the only option is to disable access to video (movie and TV but not music video) and any apps purchased from the App Store [1]. Apple’s native apps, including Music, are not affected; a different control allows remote disabling of Safari, FaceTime and the camera. 

I’m sure MMGuardian’s iPhone limitations are actually Apple’s limitations. I’ll go over that in a technical appendix, but I did find one problem that belongs to MMGuardian:

MMGuardian Disable Issue

Both of these drop downs have the same options. So what do you do if you want to undo a Disable action? When I clicked Disable a 2nd time I got an error message saying the phone could not be reached. That’s a bug of some kind.

When I clicked Enable for 30 minutes everything returned — but what happens when the 30 minutes expire? Does it return to disabled? (It stays enabled — this is just a poorly structured UI. The options shown in this screen should change based on the Time Limits screen.)

MMGuardian for iPhone costs $20/year and there’s no family plan. MMGuardian for Android costs $35/year but there’s a $70/year family plan. I think MMGuardian (or something like it) is a necessity for an Explorer’s Android, but for an iPhone Explorer it’s not as simple. Most of what MMGuardian does, except for the web filtering, can be managed through the iPhone’s native restrictions.

Even so, I would have said MMGuardian is worth it for many Explorers — but I give the vendor two demerits for failing to document the uninstall procedure! This is particularly odd because it is well documented for Android devices.

Perhaps it is not documented because, unlike Android phones, there’s nothing to stop the restricted user from doing the uninstall themselves. In Settings:General Scroll down to find a Profile or Managed phone setting. Tap on it until you get the remove icon, then remove the profile. Now delete the MMGuardian app. Deleting the Profile will cause MMGuardian to send a notice to the Guide’s email address.

Once you’ve done this (but not before), you can go to Settings and Delete the number from the MMGuardian account.

I get that MMGuardian doesn’t want to admit that device management can be so easily circumvented, but hiding the documentation is doing them no favors. It’s not something they can fix by the way, Apple has historically required ‘the consent of the governed’ for Mobile Device Management (they are changing that for schools, where, shockingly, the governed are rather rebellious).

In practice, for the Guide/Explorer relationship, “consent of the governed” isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Even in the parent/child setting, the removal of this kind of protection can lead to a productive conversation on the relative merits of a $50 flip phone.

Beyond the missing uninstall documentation it’s frustrating to be unable to block access only to iTunes movies and TV shows (blame Apple!), but it’s very helpful to be able to manage restrictions without physical control of the iPhone. The web filtering and reporting options, which (as with Android) require use of the MMGuardian browser, are a big improvement on Apple’s built-in controls. What we really need, of course, is for Apple to provider more options for MMGuardian and others to use.

The Technical Addendum

I’m going to get more technical here than I usually do in a Best You Can Be post. I mentioned that Apple is responsible for the gap between what MMGuardian can do on an iPhone vs. an Android phone, here I’ll explain why that is.

Apple and Google took very different approaches to phone design. Apple’s focused on security, privacy, reliability, usability and control, including directing phone revenues and services through Apple.  Google has focused on maximizing advertising revenue and extracting behavior data while minimizing overhead.

These different approaches have produced quite different devices. Apple’s approach means there’s effectively no malware on Apple iPhones, but developers can only do what Apple allows. Internal security is strong and developer violations are punished. Google’s approach means Android malware is now common, but developers have a lot of freedom for good as well as evil.

In the case of remote restriction what Apple allows is determined not by the needs of Guides and parents, but by the needs of corporations and, to a lesser extent, schools. The smartphone industry, including Apple, calls this set of capabilities “Mobile Device Management” or MDM. To a large extend Apple’s Mobile Device Management options for remote management use the same software infrastructure as the iPhone Restriction settings.

Apple provides Mobile Device Management through an application called Profile Manager that runs on their low OS X server software or through Configuration Profiles managed by Apple Configurator. Other vendors do similar things (and usually manage Android phones too), including JAMF Software’s Casper Suite, Cisco’s Meraki Systems Manager, and Mobile Iron’s Enterprise Mobility Management.

MMGuardian is providing a simplified from of MDM for Guides and Parents, and they’re adding in some custom built web filtering (which also works on Android). Unfortunately, like everyone else in this iPhone space, they’re limited to what Apple supports. Apple, so far, has been mostly supporting what corporations are asking for, not what we might want.

- fn -

[1] After writing this I learned that one can disable TV, Movies or Apps separately in manual restrictions. I thought one could only set age limits. I would like MMGuardian to provide separate controls, not an all or none setting.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

MMGuardian - review of an Android parental control and usage monitoring application

One of the last pieces of my book project, and a part of my upcoming local presentation on May 25th, is a discussion of smartphone restrictions and controls. 

I’m familiar with iPhone on-device restrictions, but Google didn’t build anything like that into Android for phones. Android users need to find a 3rd party solution.

Finding that solution isn’t easy. This isn’t the 1990s; most of the journalists that used to write about these things are out of business. I used geek-power to narrow my options to two products - Screen Time and MMGuardian. This post has my initial impression of MMGuardian, I’ll do another one on their iPhone product then I’ll try Screen Time for Android.

MMGuardian is easy to setup. You start by installing their app on the target Android phone (typically an Explorer or teen’s phone); you can find it on Google’s Play Store or from the MMGuardian web site. The app is called “MMGuardian Parental Control”, not to be confused with a different app that can be installed on a Guide’s phone for remote management. 

There’s a free two week trial, and for once you don’t start by entering a credit card. To enroll you launch MMGuardian Parental Control and complete a short form. After initial launch a second app will be installed called MMG Browser. That’s what an Explorer will use in place of Chrome; MMG works with MM Guardian’s Web Filter service. (I assume MMG Browser is a wrapper over Chromium, Google’s web browser platform.)

I used the online web interface to do remote management of my Android test phone. Go to and enter the credentials you setup earlier using MMGuardian Parental The “user name” is your email address. 

There’s a good range of controls …

MM Guardian

In my early testing the commands send from MM Guardian’s acted within a few seconds, only the very first message failed.

App Management is quite different from iOS. iPhone apps can only be installed from Apple’s store, so it’s easy to disable installation. Android apps can be installed from any source, there doesn’t seem to be a simple way for developers to block all installations. Instead MMGuardian creates a list of apps that are allowed or blocked based on what is on the Explorer’s phone; new apps are blocked until review.

MM Guardian is looking pretty good so far. It’s $35 a year for a single phone, or $70 a year for up to five Android phones.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

How might Individual Retirement Account savings impact future disability related income support?

Unexpectedly, #1 is working 20hrs a week in an unsupported employment situation. Not enough to live on, but it makes qualifying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) as disabled more difficult. Not to mention health insurance. Or financial planning beyond my grave, such as supplemental needs trusts and 529 Able plans.

Life with a cognitive disability is much trickier than it was just a few years ago.

So now he’s paying social security taxes and he could put money in a personal IRA. But how would that impact any future SSI payments? The maximal bank balance on SSI is $2000, but does that include IRA assets?

The best explanation I found online is from the SSA, I think this is the key line: “…anything else you own which could be changed to cash and used for food or shelter …”. Since disability allows early withdrawals from an IRA any savings therein would not be sheltered.

So he probably shouldn’t start an IRA. Looking at the list of things that don’t count as material assets the main exclusions are either a vehicle (he doesn’t drive) or a home that one lives in (talk about a benefit that goes to the relatively wealthy) …

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Passport for adults with guardians -- similar to procedure for passport for minor

We’re redoing #1’s passport renewal — because we followed the adult procedure, not the children’s procedure I wrote about in 2007. We were told since we are #1’s legal guardians we have to repeat the procedure with both of us present. (I’m not sure if we pay again, I wouldn’t be surprised.)

Even knowing about this requirement I’m unable to find anything online about it. I wonder if it’s a recent change.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Google - Accessibility isn't only about vision and touch, cognitive disabilities are neglected.

Google got some good press recently for a $20 million dollar accessibility project developer grant. It’s a good initiative, but Google’s Accessibility site doesn’t consider cognitive issues.

That’s a shame, because there’s a lot Google could do. They could, for example, read my book (not published yet, but I’ll provide preprints). Of course Google isn’t alone, neither Apple nor Microsoft nor Facebook have built in support for teens and adults with cognitive disabilities. Depending on how one defines cognitive disability this is a much larger population than adults with visual and mother disorders.

There’s a lot Google could do, and there are good commercial reasons to address this need. Just as wheelchair sidewalk curb cuts have been a boon to strollers and elder walkers, cognitive adaptations also apply to many elderly and most children.

What kind of adaptations?

The obvious adaptations are scalable interfaces, such as simplified versions of Google Mail or Google Calendar. There are other angles to consider though. In Smartphones for All - Using iPhone and Android to build independence for atypical minds I write about the role of Explorer and Guide. Google, Facebook and Apple could explicitly support the role of the Guide, including delegation of identity. The Big Three could provide a formal way to apply restrictions designed for under 18 to over 18 adults with guardians or delegated Guides.

Some of these adaptations take more work than others, but in many cases we’re more than half-way there. Web services that work with both smartphone apps and a Chrome browser with Profile support enable the Guide role today, they can be extended and formalized.

The first step is for Google, Apple and Facebook to put cognitive disabilities on their roadmap. I like to think they just haven’t known how to start. All they need to do is read this blog post…

Monday, April 11, 2016

Hockey as a guide to behavioral interventions

#1 and I made our first trip to the yearly USA Hockey Disabled Hockey Festival, special hockey division.

Watching two of his hockey issues I realized they mapped well onto behavioral issues.

He’s a strong player, but very weak at passing. He also over-responds to aggression or even accidents, rapidly escalating. (Sometimes, to his credit, the emotional response is so strong he removes himself from play. Which isn’t a great response, but not the worst. Fortunately this is special hockey, a more forgiving place.)

I think both of these match onto more global issues.

Passing is cognitively hard and, unless one has skilled teammates, often unrewarding. Instead of scoring a goal, the puck goes to the opposing team. The only reason a strong player passes to a weaker player is because of social pressure and social rewards. Turn-taking type behavior in other words. #1 is weak at this kind of interaction; he doesn’t “feel” the social pressure.

Handling escalation is also tricky. #1’s sister can set him off with a look. (If she’s in a bad mood this works well to spread the feeling.) He is unable to respond with an equal or lesser action; in part because he mis-remembers the initial provocation. In his memory it is far bigger than it was; though in hockey the aggression is often flagrant*.

Both of these issues will factor into our summer behavioral program goals. Special hockey will give us a concrete way to manage progress. If he passes the puck, and returns an elbow with no more than an elbow, then we’ll have made real progress.

* Parenthetically, we have a bit of a referee problem in special hockey. If they come from regular hockey they overlook the routine illegal roughness that is hard for even neurotypical players to handle (fights!) and is well beyond what special hockey players can manage. Conversely, if they are used to less competitive special hockey they are unprepared to see elbows thrown and sticks slashed. It’s a hard job.

Friday, April 01, 2016

Employment - an unexpected direction for #1

Our #1 has always straddled the borderline between (legal) disability and non-college employment. Much as he has been on the borderline between participating in conventional sports (rec hockey, adult hockey) and assisted sports (special hockey). 

That trend continues. During a work rotation through the first year of his ‘transition program’ he was offered part-time (50%) conventional employment doing warehouse work. Not enough to live on, but perhaps a problem for qualifying for disability, supplemental needs trusts, 529 ABLE plans, housing support, medicaid and more.

He is, of course, quite excited. We have, of course, mixed feelings. We haven’t focused on managed savings, budget training, debit cards and the like. That seemed years away, and likely to involve only trace amounts of money. What happens now to his transition program? Do we now get him his (deferred during transition program as is the peculiar norm) high school diploma? Do we divert his income into “room and board” that we can in turn invest in an S&P index fund for him?

What about transportation? He hasn’t completed transit training and it’s a difficult 1 hr bus ride to his job site. We are fortunate he is a strong cyclist, the weather is decent, and there’s a safe 30 minute route to work.

I suspect he will tire of employment once the novelty wears off. That has been a common pattern with other activities on the far side of disability. He is older though, and we see signs of more executive function. Flexible we remain…

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Smartphone for All: Facebook risks - predators and porn

The Facebook chapter of Smartphone for All keeps growing. I think I’m over the worst of it. I’m hopeful it will be particularly helpful, it’s going to feature in a May presentation I’m doing in the Twin Cities.

 One of the tricky sections was figuring out what to say about Facebook pornography. Here’s my current draft, I may move the “why Facebook anyway” part to a different section …

Social media is risky for everyone. Many professionals either abstain from Facebook, use a pseudonym, or read but never interact. So why am I writing a chapter about Facebook use?

I’m writing about Facebook because many teens and adults want to use Facebook, and it’s much easier to help navigate than, say, Snapchat. Facebook is hard to avoid; it’s the primary way many of us learn about community news, events, and social activities. For many users Facebook is a primary news source.

Facebook is also a social experience. For most neurotypical users it’s only one of many social experiences, but many Explorers have limited social options. For them the social connections is particularly powerful.

Facebook can also be an opportunity to learn about social interactions with a Guide’s help. Especially if an Explorer uses a pseudonym (see below) there’s an opportunity to make social mistakes that a Guide can help with. Many Explorers only learn through experience.

Assuming an Explorer is going to use Facebook, what are the risks to watch for in addition to the social mistakes that every Facebook user experiences?

I know of two related risks that can be a special problem for Explorers and and other vulnerable users: sexual predators and pornography.

I’ve been unable to find any academic or police data on sexual predator activity on Facebook. A 2012 Reuters article⁠1 tells us have read that Facebook uses AI type software to detect predator activity and that “The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children processed 3,638 reports of online "enticement" of children by adults last year, down from 4,053 in 2010 and 5,759 in 2009.” Although only a fraction of incidents are likely reported the downward trend is encouraging. Facebook is probably relatively risky territory for predators, though even one can do a lot of damage⁠2. Every Guide will need to measure this risk for both male and female Explorers, but as social networks go Facebook is likely safer and easier to monitor than most.

Pornography is a more complex problem. Facebook’s March 2016 terms of service⁠3 say “You will not post content that: is hate speech, threatening, or pornographic; incites violence; or contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence.” In practice Facebook relies entirely on investigating complaints, it doesn’t actively seek exceptions. I’ve seen Facebook investigators decline to act on (closed) Group content that flagrantly violated the terms of service.

Whatever Facebook may claim, as of 2016 anyone actively seeking pornography on Facebook will find it, either by information exchanged at school or through Facebook itself. Of course most teens and adults won’t bother to look, if they have unrestricted web access they will find a vast array of pornography elsewhere. Facebook pornography is really only a problem for users with Facebook access but restricted web access, including children and many Explorers.

Some Guides will, because of personal values or Explorer issues, want to monitor and block extended access to Facebook pornography regardless of related problems (there’s no way to prevent initial access). Other Guides and Explorers may not be concerned by pornography alone. Unfortunately there are two related problems that favor monitoring and restriction.

One problem is that Facebook shares a lot of data among Friends, including an Explorer’s Friends, Groups⁠4, and Likes — not to mention their posts and comments. An Explorer may unwittingly share Facebook pornography with grandparents, siblings and friends.

Another problem is that nobody creates pornography as a charitable enterprise. Facebook pornography has to make money, and since it’s technically banned it can’t rely on the usual advertising or game revenue. Facebook pornography has only a few ways to make money, including inducing Explorers to install ransomware⁠5 and other forms of malware.

Until an Explorer advances to unrestricted web access, it’s probably a good idea to monitor for pornography delivered through Facebook Groups, Friends, and Pages and to work with an Explorer to remove the offending items. A Guide may choose to report issues to Facebook, but the results can be disappointing.






4 In theory only Public Groups. In practice information on closed groups can leak out as well.

5 Ransomware encrypts a user’s storage device and demands cash to make user data available. As of 2016 it’s a very profitable business.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Managing Explorer credentials with iOS 9.3 and Android alternatives

An updated chapter from my smartphone book, revised with yesterday’s release of iOS 9.3

An Explorer starts out with a smartphone unlock password (or PIN) and at least one username and password for their Apple iCloud account or their Google account. We call these usernames, passwords and other account information. “credentials”. Over time an Explorer will need credentials for everything from bank accounts to utility bills to social networks. Even if a Guide is conservative about adding new Explorer services it’s not hard to end up with 50 or more sets of credentials to manage.

For each Explorer credential a Guide needs to know the “username” (sometimes it’s your Explorer’s email address), password, site name, and site address. Unfortunately for many sites today you’ll also need to write down what “secret question” responses you provided when registering. This is even more important if you are very careful about security, and treat each secret question response as yet another unique password.

You could make this easier by reusing the same password for every site. Many people do that, but when hackers steal credentials from any site they try them on every site. You really don’t want to use the same password for a local newspaper and for a Guide’s bank account.

Guides need to create “strong” passwords for Explorer email accounts, bank accounts, Amazon accounts and the like. One way to create a strong password is to combine two randomly selected words form a dictionary, capitalize one or two letters, and mix in some numbers and a symbol like $#&:;. Avoid letters and numbers that can be confused with one another, like l and I or O and 0.

There’s no way any of us can keep secure credential information in in our heads. We have to write it down, and, because you really don’t want to lose password information, you need to have two copies.

The two copies also need to be in different places. Why two places? Well, imagine that you’re storing your passwords on your phone. One day you need to unlock your phone, but you don’t remember the phone password. If the passwords are only on your phone you won’t be able to get to them. Even if your phone is backed up the backup won’t help you, because you won’t be able to restore it without the phone password.

There are two approaches to credential management that work on both Apple iPhones and on Android smartphones. One approach is to write them by hand on paper and make a copy of the paper. This approach is approved by security experts, but it’s tedious to keep the list updated and to carry a copy in your wallet. (A Guide can do similar things with a document on a secure computer, but that’s beyond the scope of this book.)

A second, more complicated, approach is to use secure password management smartphone software, like You can optionally have 1Password data stored “in the cloud” and available through a web browser; most security experts avoid that however. I strongly recommend you print out your 1Password credentials periodically, if you’re phone is lost or destroyed you don’t want to rely on Apple’s backup software. Make sure you print out your 1Password password too!

1Password is too complex for most Guides and Explorers though. What about just keeping credentials in a Note on your smartphone?

If a Guide is using and Android smartphone this can be a risky option. As of early 2015 many lower cost Android smartphones are not truly secure. Google’s Note application,, doesn’t support Note encryption. So on an Android device I’d recommend using or one of its competitors — unless you are confident the Android device uses strong encryption and it is secured with a strong password.

If a Guide is using an iPhone with iOS 9.3 or later Apple’s is a good, simple way to store an Explorer’s credentials. The iPhone itself has quite good security, and you can create an additional password and use it to lock one or more individual Notes. iPhones that support TouchID (fingerprint unlock) make it easy to access locked notes. Just be sure to add the password to your document and to print out the Note when it changes.

This approach is simple and secure, and it’s safe as long as a Guide keeps printed copies. It’s easy to accidentally delete critical information when editing a Note, and of course phones get lost and broken. Paper backups are reliable.

There’s another advantage to the use of secure Notes on an iPhone; many Explorers will learn this technique and in time independently maintain their own credentials. In this case the Guide’s role is to be sure that there’s a printed backup!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Dating and relationships on the spectrum: AUSM presentation and reading list

#2 and I attended the first of a planned series of Autism Society of Minnesota (AUSM) presentations: Dating and Relationships: How Does This Work?

It was awesome.

There were two parallel tracks. A track for spectrum teens 12-19 was led by Jeannie Uhlenkamp, author of  The Guide to Dating for Teenagers with Asperger Syndrome. A session for professionals and parents was led by Sara Pahl and Dawn Brasch. The teen track would have been challenging given the variety of interests and learning features. My track is best summarized as “so we’re not the only ones”; between #1 and #2 I could have spoken to every topic. (And suggested a bunch of additional topics for a future “advanced” track.)

The frank discussion of the legal aspects of spectrum sexuality and choices was particularly appreciated.

This needs to be turned into a video series for wider use. I understand the AUSM has plans in that direction.

For now, here is a reading list from today’s session:

Friday, March 04, 2016

Managed identity for the special needs Explorer: iCloud makes aliasing easy

From Smartphone for all …

When you first begin supporting your Explorer a single address for them to send and receive email is fine. You may find, however, that you want another, secret, address for your Explorer. You might not want to expose their private email address when signing up for Facebook for example. You may not want them to be able to reset their bank account password. With experience you’ll find many occasions where want to use an email address for an Explorer that sends email to a Guide.

There are three ways to create this kind of email address for an Explorer, depending on what the Guide is familiar with.

If the Guide is using iCloud things are very simple. iCloud email has elegant support for up to 3 “aliases”. A guide can create an “alias” for an Explorer; that email becomes the Explorer’s “managed identity”. Here’s an example of an alias created for a famous Explorer - Meriwether Lewis of Lewis and Clark fame:

Meriwether Lewis alias.png

If Meriwether were my Explorer and I configured this alias on my iCloud email then I would receive email sent to (careful, someone is sure to create this email address, I don’t use it!). I might do this so I can monitor Facebook activity and control password resets for example. (see Facebook Social and Facebook Messenger). See Apple’s support note for more information:

If a Guide is using regular Gmail they can’t create an alias. They can, however, open a new Gmail account for the Explorer and set it to forward email. This is awkward and requires yet another password to manage, but it only has to be done once.

Lastly, technically oriented Guides will know of other email redirect options that are beyond the scope of this book. (I don’t recommend using a free redirect service however, there are too many security risks.)

All of these approaches will work to create this extra, secondary, email address. This secondary address doesn’t get entered into your Explorer’s phone, it’s just for use by a Guide, typically though a web browser like Chrome. 

You don’t need to add this second, Guide-use only Explorer email at first, but keep it in mind as you gain more Guide experience.

Why "Smartphone for all" needs to be written (and read) - special needs adults need a pocket AI too.

After reading Everyone needs an AI in their pocket I updated the “why you should read this” introduction to “Smartphones for all”

You’re reading this because your Explorer is seeking independence in a world of ubiquitous technology, technology that’s currently packaged in an Android (Google) or iOS (Apple) smartphone.  We’re growing accustomed to smartphones as our companion computers, but if you step back a bit they should inspire genuine awe, as well as some concern. The personal computer and the internet both had large impacts on society, but the smartphone, an ever present emerging artificial intelligence companion, is kicking everything up a notch. 

It’s already hard to function without a smartphone, but in time it will become almost impossible. In March of 2016 a Washington Post article⁠1 was titled Transit systems are growing too complex for the human mind. That sounds bad, but on the same day Google published an article⁠2 about the latest improvements to the “AI” (artificial intelligence) engine that provides its transit advice. Want to get around London or Manhattan or Minneapolis? No problem, just ask Google.

Everyone will needs an AI in their pocket, including the teen or adult you’re guiding. Since smartphones aren’t made to serve our Explorers I’ve written this book on how you can help them succeed. The goal of this work is to support independent living and mitigate harm that can come to a vulnerable population living with a tool of amazing, sometimes frightening, power and versatility.




Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Smartphone for all: Promoting independence with home video monitoring

I’ve rewritten my chapter on Nest Cam use: Special needs smartphone: draft sample sub-chapter on Google Nest Cam use. In the new version I go into more detail on how video monitoring can be used to support independence. Use may be transient…

For Explorers with life-threatening medical disorders home video monitoring may be a longterm aide. For this use the Nest Cam (or other) video-active light would be active. That is, the Explorer knows when they are on video. The Nest Cam may be setup in a kitchen or living room. This kind of use is very similar to using video monitoring for elderly parents.

For many other Explorers, however, video monitoring may be a temporary aide to independent living. An Explorer may become dependent on  having a Guide nearby, when left alone they may become anxious, particularly anxious about meeting expected behavior standards. Anxiety can translate into problem behaviors, such as harassing siblings or arguing with roommates. In this case a home video monitor can be a transitional aide, a step between having a Guide at hand and going solo.

In this case the Nest Cam video on light may be either enabled or disabled; Guide and Explorer can experiment with both methods. A Guide may leave a home and observe remotely, then decrease observations and increase time away as both Guide and Explorer gain confidence. After initial use the monitor may be used very infrequently and eventually removed.

In another situation there might be a concern about what time of day an Explorer living on their own leaves for work or school. A guide might use the techniques in the Tracking Location chapter to check in this, but either an on-demand, or more conveniently, a stored video record could help. Once the concern is managed the stored video feature an be discontinued or the camera can be removed. Stored video may also help with reviewing home visitors if there are concerns about exploitation of a vulnerable Explorer.

In many cases a Nest Cam or similar video monitor may be used for a limited time, you can remove your account information and another person can use it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Smartphone for All: Working with a budget

I’m still working on a Smartphone for all chapter about how to manage smartphone costs within the typical $92/month SSI disability managed residence personal spending budgets and the rules around external support, but I do have first drafts for introduction and carrier selection…

In the United States the least expensive useable and reliable smartphone mobile plans cost about $30 a month. A reliable low cost smartphone, with typical tax and shipping, costs between $120 for Android and $285 for an iPhone. That means a cost of about $840 over the typical two year lifespan of a low end Android device, or $1,000 for a refurbished iPhone (but the iPhone will last longer).

This cost is high for an Explorer on a typical low fixed income, but without careful shopping the price can be much higher. With a deluxe iPhone and a premium mobile plan total costs could exceed $2,770 over two years! Mobile carriers are good at getting consumers to pay these very high prices, but this would be disastrous for most Explorers. Even a yearly average cost of $840 to $1000 is going to require careful budgeting and control of data use, it helps that a smartphone replaces a $250 landline.


It used to be quite hard to know what it really cost to buy a smartphone and buy carrier services. It’s easier than it used to be, but sorting out costs can still be confusing.

The best approach for a Guide to start by choosing a mobile service provider or “carrier” that works for your Explorer. All US carriers support both iPhone and Android, and once you choose a carrier you will have more options for choosing a device. More importantly the cost of mobile service over a two year interval will usually exceed the cost of an appropriate smartphone.

Unless an Explorer can be added to a “family plan” at an affordable rate, carriers like AT&T and Verizon are too expensive. Instead begin with a look at T-Mobile or small carriers that resell big carrier services. The latter includes Republic Wireless, Consumer Cellular and Ting Wireless. 

Ting Wireless is a good reference point. Their web site is a marvel of clarity. With Ting customers purchase base capacity and overage fees are relatively affordable. Ting allows alerts and usage caps to help users stay within their budget — those are big features for low income users.

A typical Explorer may use less than 60 minutes of “talk time” a month, less than 100 SMS messages (ex: Facebook Messenger is free), and 500 MB of data no video. At Ting Wireless those services will cost $24 a month plus “regulatory fees/taxes” (likely @ $30).

Ting, like many of these low cost no contract carriers, sells low cost devices including refurbished used smartphones. This is a cost-effective and relatively trouble-free way to purchase a smartphone. As of Feb 2016 a refurbished iPhone 5c sells for $237 and a new Samsung Galaxy sells for $110.

In some cases an Explorer will have a used device, possibly from a family member. Ting will confirm if the device works with their service.

Whichever option you choose watch for hidden fees. Some carriers have hidden “activation” fees and all carriers exclude “regulatory fees and taxes” from their list prices. T-Mobile often hides its best deals, Google will help find them. Even if you don’t end up using Ting Wireless, their prices make a good comparison.

In terms of supported smartphone use I wonder how often families “loan” a device…

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Smartphone for all: "Parental" controls and managing messaging abuse

It’s hard to get good information on managing smartphone use for a vulnerable person — aka “parental controls”. Especially for Smartphones.

Vendors sites often promise more than they can deliver and provide little information on how they work. Vendors are also understandably reluctant to discuss side-effects and problems. The tech resources I trust tend to dislike the whole idea of parental controls (writers are too young!), and Google search results are dominated by vendor sites, spam blogs, and under-resourced newspaper columns. Parents and “Guides” (supporters of vulnerable users, aka “Explorers”) are truly at sea.

Ok, so “At sea” is a bit polite. Screwed is probably more accurate. The next time your TV tells you that that it’s “easy to monitor your child’s smartphone use” you have my permission to put a brick through the screen.

It’s hard to get reliable information, but I need to cover this topic in my smartphone for all book. So in this post I’m going to share my current impressions — I’d love to get comments here or elsewhere. My impressions are certain to change as a I learn more. For insight on Android solutions I need to credit a review by Brian Hall [1]; just ignore anything he says about iOS and iPhones. For example, he is impressed by the ability of third party Android apps to track location or limit app installation — but those capabilities have long been part of every iPhone. I don’t blame Brian, it’s hard to know both Android and iOS [2] and content farm writing is hard work.

My impressions:

  • Brian’s article focuses on filtering and restricting rather than monitoring. For a vulnerable adult I think monitoring is just as important — but it’s harder to do.
  • iOS (iPhone) has far better built-in restriction options than Android, but it needs better texting/messaging controls and it needs time limits [3]. If you want to restrict or eliminate Text Messaging on a stock iPhone you need to both disable iMessage [4] and have a mobile carrier that allows restriction or monitoring of SMS texting (typically for a non-trivial monthly fee).  A parent or Guide may consider something like Facebook Messenger ( [5]. Messenger’s web client makes it easier to monitor than SMS or iMessage — assuming one has control of an Explorer’s credentials. It can be used separately from Facebook.
  • It’s easier to extend Android than iOS, so Android plus a separate app and service has some advantages over iOS. This may be particularly true for texting controls. I don’t know how these impact device reliability or usability, I read that some of them are difficult to install. From Hall’s review I’d say Norton Family Premier is the only solution worth looking at, but it has weak texting/messaging controls
  • This party solutions for iOS leverage the tools Apple built for corporate iPhones. These tools are limited but they are well tested. The main strength is web filtering and monitoring, but that’s less useful in the Facebook age when, for many “Explorers”, browsers can be disabled with little impact. (Disabling the browser is easy to do on iOS, but requires a third party product on Android.)
  • Social networks (Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, etc) can only be monitored by using a user’s credentials; that is, by assuming their identity. This probably violates the Terms of Service of these businesses and it’s too complex for many Guides or Parents to take on. I do discuss it in my book though.
My primary surprise is how hard it is to support safe use of old school SMS/Messaging. It seems to have never occurred to Apple that this would be a good option to provide, and, of course, Android defers all of those concerns to third party developers.
- fn -

[1] Published on a content-farm site with a name suspiciously reminiscent of Tom’s Hardware, a famous geek resource. Such is the state of the 2016 web. Once BYTE would have done a fabulous review, but it died long ago. I think we pay a price for that kind of absence.

[2] So have sympathy for me!

[3] Time limits are usually more important for children than for independent adults with cognitive disabilities. Lack of texting/messaging controls are annoying though.

[4] Log out of iMessage in Settings, then lock accounts in restrictions.

[5] Yes, Facebook, famed invader of privacy and exploiter of customers is now the “safer” option. For now!

Monday, February 01, 2016

Smartphone for All: Examples of using Apple or Google to extend memory and independence

A Smartphone for All: book excerpt, from a chapter on using Notes. 

This post has been updated with some excellent additions by Deb T. In addition to being a part of the book, it also illustrates how complex a special needs adults independent living really is.


Whether an Explorer is following the Apple Way or the Google Way their notes will look very similar. They’ll typically start with a handful of Notes created by a Guide, but the number will grow over time. Some Explorers will add their own Notes. 

Most Explorers will prefer to browse Notes rather than search for them. Typically Notes will be ordered by the date they were last changed with the most recently changed Notes at the top. The first line of a Note will typically show as the Note title, so make it descriptive.

If an Explorer is using the Search ability they are probably also creating and editing their own Notes. When using this function it’s helpful to put likely search terms in the note, perhaps as a list of words at the button of a Note.

Notes can be organized into named collections called “Folders” in Apple or organized by “Labels” in Google This adds complexity however and should only be considered if an Explorer has more than 50 notes and really dislikes using Search.

There are many ways to use Notes to extend an Explorer’s memory. The following table gives a few examples taken from real world experience; this table also shows how complicated an Explorer’s routine can be.

Many of these Notes hold non-sensitive or public information, but some require that both the Explorer’s smartphone and Cloud information are truly secure. We reviewed this in Setting up an Explorer’s Smartphone including an encrypted smartphone, long letter-number smartphone unlock codes, fingerprint identification, a responsible Explorer, short timeout auto-lock, and a strong Cloud password.  Some low end Android phones may not be encrypted, don’t put confidential information into Google Keep on those devices. In the table below items that require a secure device are italicized.


Note Title

What’s in the Note

Banking information

Bank account information, how to make deposits or withdraw money or find balance, ATM PIN code if Explorer has difficulty remembering it, numbers to call for a lost or stolen credit card.


Bike maintenance advice, serial numbers, what to do if lost or stolen.


Notes about when bills are due, how to pay, wise limited on spending.

Church, Temple, etc

Names of religious leadership, times of services, people who are part of religious life, social events coming up.

Clothing sizes

Sizes for clothes, boots, shoes.

Combination locks, PINs and passcodes

We all have too many of these. A single Note is a good way to hold them all, but of course this requires a secure smartphone and a secure Cloud.


Important dates, such as birthdays and anniversaries. (Duplicates what’s on the Calendar, but often useful to have separately.)

Emergency Information

Who to contact in case of an emergency. This is not the Emergency information that’s part of Apple Health.

Family photos 

How to view family photo shares.

Financial worker

For many Explorers the Financial Worker (benefits admistration) is separate from the Social Worker and there are different procedures to follow. Some Explorers will want Notes combined, others will like separate notes.

Fun stuff

Notes to support local recreation, leisure and fun activities; a helpful resource for independent time scheduling. An Explorer or Guide may use this Note when working on the Calendar. For example: movie theater, pizza and sub delivery, church, etc. Gym information might go here instead of the Gym Note.

Gym information

Open hours, class schedule


Apartment/group home details including contact numbers (also in Contacts), look out procedure, how to request maintenance, how to work with the rental office.

Library information

Schedule, library card number, WiFi procedure.

Medical history, dental and health insurance numbers

To share with caregivers, particularly in an emergency. Includes major medical problems, current medication, providers, people to contact, insurance numbers.


Names and addresses of neighbors, particularly for Explorers who have difficulty remembering names or matching names to people. This may duplicate what’s in (address book) but is helpful to have separately.

Passwords and credentials

Username, passwords, web site address (URL), “Secret questions” with the answers used.

Relatives and special people

Names and birthdays of extended family and special family friends. May be combined with Neighbors.

Residential program manager/staff contacts

Some of these will also be in Contacts, but this is important information for many Explorers. It deserves a separate Note.

Smartphone tips and how to

Basic smartphone tips. If appropriate for Explorer a reminder of how to find the smartphone manual (example: iBooks).

Social worker

Name of social worker and how to work with them, particularly around bus and transit services. The Transit Note might refer here, and the Social worker information might also be in Contacts.

Social Security and Disability Information

Contacts and details, spending limits and reporting requirements.  Date of next follow-up (this would also go in the Calendar).

Sports teams and social group

For each sports teams and social group useful information such as link to team calendar, names and numbers of coaches and players.

Staff and aides

Names of support staff and contact information. This will also be in


Guides to transit including bus pass information if applicable. Reminder of how to use a transit app to get bus information. 

Travel and packing

Packing and travel advice for a short trip.

Web addresses

Generally web addresses will be part of other Notes or they’ll show up on the Credentials page, but in some cases it’s useful to have a short separate list.

WiFi locations and WiFi passwords

Explorers need WiFi to backup their smartphones or download new apps, but they may not have WiFi at home. In some cases it may be useful to list locations and passwords, such as Coffee shops or the Apple Store. Library WiFi information may go here or in the Library Note.

Work and work training program.

Supervisor and care manager and any work requirements or procedures including transportation arrangements.


This is a long list, but the the more independent an Explorer is the more their Notes collection will grow. A Guide should start with 4-5 Notes then work with an Explorer to build out the Notes collection.  Many Notes may begin as information sent in an Email; very few Explorers will search email for reference information.

Some Note content overlaps with Calendar and Contacts. A moderate amount of duplication is needed, but too much becomes a maintenance burden. The appropriate location will vary by Explorer, but the Calendar is particularly important.

Most Explorers will learn to update and manage their Notes; that is a great life skill to encourage. Managing Notes includes deleting obsolete Notes, a Guide will want to make Notes review, including deleting obsolete Notes, a part of their scheduled weekly Explorer support time.