Thursday, October 06, 2011

Steve Jobs: Thinking different, changing lives

I have to admit, I'm surprised by the intensity of my reaction to the news of death of Steve Jobs. I'm devastated. I'm stunned. But, of course, I know that his death really wasn't a surprise. We all knew that it was coming, right? What was I expecting? Did I think he would show up unannounced at the next shareholders meeting with "one more thing," as he pulled the cure for cancer out of his back pocket?

No, I didn't expect that. Not really.

But, damn. He was Steve Jobs. If anyone could have pulled that off, it would have been him.

But it wasn't. And now it never will be. And I'm really, really sad.

It wasn't just that Steve was a genius disguised as an Everyman - like he was just cool Uncle Steve, always showing up for holiday dinners with the hottest new toys. It wasn't even that he singlehandedly made it cool to be a geek, raising the market value for so many of us as we make our way in this world.

It was that Steve Jobs changed my son's life.

Where would Bud be right now if Bill Gates had not had Steve Jobs to engage him in the continual battle of one-upsmanship that made home computing what it is today? Where would he be without the point-and-click technology that Jobs pioneered - the technology that works in absolute congruence with his non-typical brain? For Bud, computers are the one intuitive thing he has in a world that is otherwise almost entirely counter-intuitive. Bud has been computing since he was a toddler, and in all that time, computers have not just given him a sense of competence. They have given him a sense of mastery. They are the arena in which he knows that he is not just on par with his peers; he surpasses them.

And it was Steve Jobs who brought us the iPad, the device that has been transformative for so many children with autism - the device that has given them independence and helped them find their voices. While the iPad has not been quite as life-changing for Bud, it's clear that we have only begun to recognize the possibilities that it holds for him as an educational tool. For now, though, it is the ultimate imagination machine, which Bud uses to experiment with multimedia, casting himself as designer, producer, narrator, and foley artist of his own creations. And where will his iPad take him from here? It will be fascinating to find out.

And the iPod - the single most powerful tool in Bud's arsenal. The iPod is Bud's armor in battle, his passport in interaction, and his solace in times of stress. A quick glance through the pages of this blog would reveal how often the iPod makes an appearance here. A look through our (digital - thanks, Steve) photo albums would show you that the iPod is Bud's personal American Express - he won't leave home without it. Would Bud ever have become the model patient at the pediatric dentist if he hadn't had his iPod to help him self-regulate through those early years of visits? Would he ever have conquered his fear of thunderstorms without his iPod to temper the fury? It is hard to imagine.

Without Steve Jobs's iPod, Bud would probably spend most of his time in the public arena with his fingers in his ears or with sound-blocking headphones standing between him and the rest of the world. From a distance, he would look, to strangers and peers, a little different, a little odd, a little "other." But now, with his iPod in hand and his earphones in place? He just looks like the cool kid that he is.

The iPod is his conversation starter ("Hey, Bud - what are you listening to?"). It is his shelter from the storm. It is his socially acceptable and entirely private way to restore local coherence when the world gets overwhelming, allowing him to replay brief snippets of songs or sound bites, over, and over, and over again, as he reclaims control when his world is too unpredictable, as he restores his own sense of internal order when his external environment seems in chaos. For Bud, it's a life-saver - and a gift that only Steve Jobs could give.

Perhaps most importantly, though, it was Steve Jobs who framed a cultural philosophy that makes the world a safer place for my son to be himself, because it was Steve who challenged us to "think different." And for a child whose brain is designed to think different, that celebration of difference, that trumpeting of both the value and the importance of difference - well... it's everything.

We will miss you, Uncle Steve. The holiday dinner table just won't be the same without you. But, truly, your legacy will continue in ways that even you might never have imagined were possible - and, as we all know, that's really saying something.

And, oh yeah, one more thing: Thank you - from the bottom of my heart.


Alysia said...

a beautiful tribute to Uncle Steve and his impact on your life. I was struggling to figure out why I was still so sad, and you hit it. It's like a family member is gone. Weird for someone I've never met. But it's like he's been a part of our family for years now.
Thank you for making things so clear for me with your amazing words, as usual.

*m* said...

Beautifully said. What an amazing legacy he leaves behind.

Terri Mauro said...

Lovely. I've added this to my round-up of posts about Steve Jobs from special-needs bloggers at

Solitary Diner (Also Known as The Frugalish Physician) said...

A beautiful post. Reading all the tributes to Steve Jobs, it's amazing the impact that he had on so many people.

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps most importantly, though, it was Steve Jobs who framed a cultural philosophy that makes the world a safer place for my son to be himself, because it was Steve who challenged us to "think different." And for a child whose brain is designed to think different, that celebration of difference, that trumpeting of both the value and the importance of difference - well... it's everything."

Yes. It is everything. Beautiful post.

Niksmom said...

I was surprised, too, at how strongly I reacted to the news. As you know, Nik's iPad has changed his life in so many ways!

Boy Wonder's Mom said...

yes it's changed so much for our kids. In ways we wanted and in ways we never expected.


kristina said...

Too well said, as always.

I am late! Happy birthday, Bud. Teenager-hood is indeed different (and full of many a challenge), but things do keep getting better.

Anonymous said...

The story of your son's image being changed through the appearance of the 'cool' iPod earbuds in the place of bulky sound-canceling earphones is breathtaking. It clearly shows how Jobs led a paradigm shift for the entire world.

Thank you for sharing this post, reminding us that those who think differently can have a profound impact on the rest of us.

Electronic Medical Records said...

Sue his contributed is irrefutable and we will remember him through the good work that he has left for us and the world.

Darius said...

So true. When I treat the autistic children, the ipad makes them able to sit still so that I can actually do something. But I never thought about it the way you wrote it. God bless Steve Jobs!

Unknown said...

If your son was a true computer geek he would realize how much of a crook, thief, and immoral person steve jobs was. Think different? Is every product locked into an interface with no freedom considered different? Different should be customization and open source. The ipad is the greatest joke to befall computing. Any one of the cheaper competitors has it beat. My toshiba thrive tablet is much better. Apple over prices everything they make and calls it new. Tablets have been around for 10 years. Apple did the ipod right? It was based off of the mp3 players of the time. Itunes is a terrible music experience which locks you into the ipod/itunes interface. I have autism/aspergers. I am going to say straight up i am anti anything apple. I'm a windows guy. Bill gates has aspergers. He has donated billions to charity. Steve jobs stopped all charity when he became ceo of apple.