There was a story in People magazine two days ago referencing the Apple Watch’s heath features that really caught my eye. These kinds of stories are nothing new, as the Watch is now capable of monitoring and tracking all sorts of different variables and has been credited with saving many lives. However, this particular story is different.
This time the Apple Watch didn’t save a life, but it definitely enhanced it. It didn’t assist in detecting a life-threatening disease, but it did help a young man deal with struggles that he lives with every day. This story is about Sam Bennett, who has autism, and his father Scott.
I won’t go into great detail on the article, but I highly encourage you to go read it. I will simply summarize it by saying that Sam struggles with speaking too loudly, which is related to his autism. It is difficult for him to remember to keep his voice down because of struggles with focus, which is also very common with people diagnosed on the autism spectrum.
This may seem like a small thing to an outside observer, but Sam is 21 and trying to live an independent life and find his way in the working world. In this context, learning to control your speaking voice is not a trivial thing. His father Sam gives a bit of insight into this struggle and how discovering the new sound monitoring capability included in watchOS changed things for his son.
You see, I can relate to this story because I also have a son with autism. He is diagnosed as “high functioning,” but he certainly has plenty of challenges. If you just met him, you probably wouldn’t assume there is anything different about him. A few minutes of conversation might start to change your mind. He has the obsessive tendencies often associated with Asperger’s Syndrome, but he doesn’t completely fit that mold, either.
My son struggles pretty badly with focus. That makes school a lot of fun, let me tell you. He doesn’t really have a filter when speaking to others or understand social cues, which leads to laughs both funny and embarasing. However, like Sam Bennett, he is also quite outgoing, which is something that people don’t often associate with autism. However, as Scott Bennett nicely sums up here, the autism spectrum is board and includes all kinds of people with their own unique challenges:
“There’s 5 million of these folks [with special needs] out there, and every one of them is different, and has different issues and needs. And it’s really hard to make use of all the technology that’s out there,” Scott says. “I’m sure there’s other things out there that my son could benefit from, it’s just, who has the time to go through them and sort through all these things? I just happened to see one thing and it really made a difference for me, and I’m excited enough to want to share with other people.”
My son has different challenges than Sam Bennett and that is the nature of autism. If you know or meet someone on the spectrum, don’t expect that anyone else you meet will share the same differences or struggles. In my son’s case, I may have to ask him to lower his voice on occasion, but this really isn’t the same kind of struggle for him that it is for Sam. Focus is our biggest issue.
The amount of effort it takes my kid to stay focused at school takes a toll that most “normal” people can’t relate to. I have ADHD myself, so I used to deal with the same thing in school myself, but I can see that my son has a much tougher go of it than I ever did. In this, I can absolutely relate to what Sam Bennett talks about. These struggles and symptoms that come with autism can be an endless source of personal frustration, but we as parents also sympathize and can sometime empathize with our children. We are always looking for ways to help our kids learn to better live with and adjust to their struggles. Maybe, just maybe, they can even overcome some of them.
Unfortunately, an Apple Watch really isn’t the answer for my kid, as his struggles are quite different. In fact, I think it would actually be a problem for him at his age and currently maturity level, as it would be a constant distraction. However, we did just buy a digital band that is iOS compatible that gives our son basic vibration reminders during the day to focus and for some chores and basic tasks. It doesn’t have anything extra that can be serve as a distraction, which has made it an ideal device for him. He does like tech and is a big gamer, so this device has been a good fit for him, so far.
While the Apple Watch may not be the right digital tool for my son right now, I love that it is helping Sam Bennett with one of his daily autism struggles today. It’s yet another way that the Watch is filling a personal need for someone in a new and unique way. When Tim Cook took the stage and first announced this device, he called it Apple’s most personal device yet. While the device was later refocused around health and fitness, that defining statement was still right on the money. The Bennett’s story is just more evidence of that.