Last week, the New York Times reported that Apple has taken action against many of the top parental control and screen time management apps: 11 of the 17 most popular apps for managing screen time have either been removed from the App Store outright, or been forced to trim their features at Apple’s request. For parents who rely on those apps to manage their kids’ access to games and other distractions, the report was a shot across the bow. “@Apple you’ve made it much harder for me to control my daughter’s screen time, just so you can extend your profits. Shame on you!” one parent tweeted.
Apple’s crackdown is even more worrying for the parents of autistic children. Special needs kids often depend on their computers and phones as assistive devices for learning and communication. And as more and more special needs families turn to homeschooling, computers and mobile devices have become crucial tools for accessing online learning opportunities. Because these kids have needs Apple’s own screen controls don’t address, their parents often turn to third-party tools. Without these tools, both the children — and their parents — suddenly face a real, tangible loss.
As the mother of an autistic 12-year-old, I know the stakes all too well. I rely on a combination of five different parental control tools to manage my son’s tech usage. In addition to Apple’s own Screen Time feature, which I use to block access to the App Store, I turn to OurPact to schedule apps for specific times of day, Qustodio to turn off my son’s Mac at other times, Circle to manage his access to the internet on a site-by-site basis, and OpenDNS to block YouTube from our home network. Since my son is highly gifted as well as autistic, it takes that many tools to keep him away from the sites and activities that trigger anxiety and meltdowns. Our setup might be extreme, but our family is by no means unique — these tools are essential to the well-being of kids like ours. But now OurPact has been barred from the App Store, and Qustodio has filed a complaint with the European Union alleging that Apple has engaged in anti-competitive practices.