Bedtime is far from restful for parents of small children. For parents of kids with autism, the struggle is even more real.
As the mother of two sons with autism and as an autistic person herself, Eileen Lamb has a unique perspective. After years of research and tips from friends and social media, she turned to Alexa for help with her day-to-day life with Jude and Charlie.
Lamb lives in Austin, Texas, with the boys, her husband, Willy, and their newest addition, a daughter Billie, who was born in October. One of the primary ways she uses Alexa is to manage a step-by-step bedtime routine. Using the Alexa Skills Blueprints tool, she created a series of connected commands with the Alexa app to help Jude keep on track with his nighttime routine. She also set up a skill that has Alexa respond with the following when Jude asks if it is time for bed:
Jude, you have to take a bath, then brush your teeth, then put on your pajamas, and then you can read a book with mommy and daddy. Ready? Set? Go!
“It’s so sweet to watch,” Lamb wrote on her blog, The Autism Cafe. “And I’ll be damned if Jude doesn’t do every single one of those things Alexa asks him to do.”
Autism is a neurological developmental spectrum disability that manifests in many ways. It can impact many different facets of a person’s life, including how they interact, communicate, learn, and behave.
For example, Jude, 7, has an exceptionally active mind that leads him to talk and ask questions nonstop. His big brother, Charlie, 9, is nonspeaking and often experiences both under- and over-stimulation. Lamb said that Alexa provides support and joy to both boys.
Encouraging curiosity and fun
“Alexa quickly became Jude’s best friend, because he could ask questions we don’t know the answers to,” Lamb said. “And Alexa never gets frustrated.”
When Jude turned 3, Lamb set up a Trivia Skill Blueprint to help him connect with friends and family at his birthday party. Alexa asked trivia questions about the birthday boy—such as “What is Jude’s favorite color?” or “Would Jude rather be Daniel Tiger or Curious George?”—and Jude would report the correct answers. “We did a test at home with the four of us before the party, and it was great,” Lamb recalled.
Making daily routines easier
Bedtime is also a challenge with Charlie, who often fiddles with light switches and can be easily overwhelmed by brightness and noise. After discovering that Amazon Smart Plugs could enable regular devices to be voice controlled through their Echo Dot Kids smart speaker, Lamb paired Charlie’s favorite lava lamp and other lights in his room with Alexa to create a calming, multisensory space.
“Charlie cannot communicate his needs with words and is often in his own world, so it can be hard to connect with him,” she explained. “We’re always looking for ways to make things fun for him. And, since he is nonverbal, my husband and I can control the lights, which makes it easy for all of us.”
When Charlie was 2 years old, his parents tried to teach him to communicate using picture cards, via the Picture Exchange Communication System. “He never took to it, but as soon as the concept was introduced on a tablet, it clicked,” Lamb said. “The use of light and sound, through technology, is something Alexa also helps him with.”
Charlie and Jude also enjoy using Alexa to listen to stories, stream their favorite music, and play games with their family. Lamb loves the small moments of connection Alexa fosters, as well as help managing their busy household.
“I remember being pleasantly surprised that Alexa could understand my questions even in my French accent and from across [the] room,” said Lamb, who moved from her native France to Austin in 2011.
Helping others feel connected
In 2015, Lamb began to share her experiences raising Charlie on her personal Facebook page, primarily to stay connected to friends and family in France. A few of her posts went viral, leading her to create a dedicated Facebook page for her writing and later The Autism Cafe website and Instagram account. She built a devoted following practically overnight.
“When I could see there were people who could relate to what I was going through, I just kept going,” said Lamb, who often creates posts in response to reader questions. “At the time, I was seeing a lot of content about raising autistic children with lower support needs, but nothing about children like Charlie and his struggles. He couldn’t talk and was screaming a lot and putting himself in danger, so seeing those pages made me feel even more alone. It was important for me to create my own community and share this side of autism.”
In 2019, Lamb published a book of her essays and original photography titled All Across the Spectrum. She also published a curated shopping list on Amazon, which features educational toys and learning tools for kids with autism. Her mission, she said, is to share the ups and downs of raising autistic children and help readers better understand the many facets of autism.
“I create a lot of content for my own benefit, because it helps me to talk about it,” said Lamb, who was diagnosed with autism around the time Jude was born. “It feels really good, through all of the challenges I face, to enjoy the positivity of helping other families and to feel like I’m making a difference. Every message I get thanking me means so much.”
Learn more about how Alexa’s accessibility features may be useful to you. If you have a story of your own about how you use Alexa, we'd love to hear it, and we will continue sharing some of our favorite #AlexaStories. You can email us or tag us on Twitter or Instagram @alexa99 or #AlexaStories. Additionally, to learn more about how Alexa is helping people in different ways, you can watch Alexa Stories videos.