We try to limit TV in our house. We really do. I know all the statistics: how too much TV has been linked to obesity and attention problems -- particularly in autistic kids -- and violence in children in general. One of the biggest challenges with autistic kids is getting them out of their own worlds and interacting with people; clearly TV can be an obstacle to that.

We never have adult TV on while the kids are awake. And by "adult TV," I don't mean porn (though you can safely assume that we aren't watching porn with the kids in the room). I'm talking about anything that isn't on Nick Jr. or Disney or PBS Kids. We don't even watch the news with the kids, because with all the news tickers and quick cuts and crazy graphics and split screens, it starts to give me ADD after about 15 minutes.

So, on the advice of our occupational therapist, we try to limit the kids' TV to about 30 minutes a day. The exception is when they're sick and feverish. When Billy feels so rotten that he just wants to watch cartoons, I don't have the heart to tell him no.

He's been sick for almost a month, off and on, and we've watched “Finding Nemo” so many times that it has become an alternative language for us. You can find a line of dialogue in Nemo to fit almost any situation, as it turns out. We had an unsettling couple of days when Billy spoke almost exclusively in “whale,” but luckily, that phased out quickly.

We also now tell time in “Nemos:” a “full Nemo” is a 90-minute block, a “half-Nemo” is 45 minutes, and so on. It takes about a “quarter-Nemo” to get both kids dressed with shoes on.

Now that Billy's feeling better, I have written a script of my own: It's called “Losing Nemo” and it lasts for the rest of our lives.

So we're going to start this week newly healthy and going cold turkey on the TV-watching. Only educational TV and only for 30 minutes a day.

I will say this about TV, though: Billy can learn stuff he sees on a screen about 10 times faster than something he has to hear some other way. He pays attention when it's on a TV or computer screen.

I'm not just talking about memorizing dialog – though he does have a catalog of cartoons in his head that could rival the Netflix kids' section.

I'm talking about learning skills, even motor skills, by watching someone else complete the task: handwriting, bike riding, dancing, etc.

We've been working with a couple of handwriting programs this summer (not too consistently, because of the illness): TV Teacher and Handwriting Without Tears.

The TV Teacher program is based on the idea that certain autistic kids learn very well from video. The host of the program is an occupational therapist, and she noticed that one of her clients, a young boy, improved a lot after his sessions were videotaped and played back. He would watch them over and over. And they taught him shapes and letters this way before creating the DVD series and selling it to other parents.

It's been a big hit with Billy. We've mainly focused on shapes over the past month. As she teaches each shape, “Ms. Marnie” will show how the child can use the shape to draw something fun: a circle becomes a balloon, a triangle becomes a pizza, and a heart becomes a valentine.

A couple of days ago, Billy and I were drawing with crayons on his easel. He asked, “Draw a heart! Draw a heart!,” so I did. Then I walked away, talking to my parents about something.

Then my dad got a funny look on his face, staring at something just over my shoulder. I turned around and saw that Billy had written “Mom” in the center of the heart. It was slightly wonky but completely legible.

My jaw dropped. No one had asked him to write anything. He had never written “mom” before anywhere.

I picked up the paper from the easel and held it out to him, asking, “Billy what does this say?”

He smiled and pointed at each letter: “M-O-M ... MOM!”

I couldn't believe it. I know that he saw it on TV, but it has been almost a month of non-stop Nemo-thon since he's seen that program. And no one prompted him to write anything. I didn't even know he could spell “mom,” much less write it.

So don't tell me that TV is all bad for children. It may not be a popular opinion, but I think video can be a great way for some autistic kids to learn; I don't understand the science behind it, but I think there's something there. The key is picking the right programs and using this tool strategically.

I'd love to hear any of your suggestions about really good educational programming, either online or on TV/DVD. Or do you think exposing kids to any TV is a bad idea? How do you choose the stuff you'll let your kids watch? I'd love to hear opinions!

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We limit tv too.It's easy to do once you get used to it, especially since we don't have cable or satellite. =) I will agree with you somewhat about some children learning from the tv. My Morgan learned her ABCs from Barney in a couple of days. I had tried to teach her them for MONTHS, and something about what Barney did made sense.
Our favorite programs are Word Girl and Sid the Science Kid. Both awesome for learning and reading.

YouTube and My Sister's Wedding

Don't know if I told you, but my youngest sister in DC became engaged last month and is getting married in late October (actually, it is the same day as our wedding anniversary!). She wants EJ to be her ringbearer and I said yes initially, but of course, after giving it some thought, I am having anxiety attacks over the idea. I have worked out the general plan to get him through a one and half hour high Mass (can you say Grandma's iPhone??), but I am still stressed over the idea of him not really "getting it" when it comes showtime, never mind how in the world are we going to get him to button a top button around his neck and then wear a tie.

We tried a "practice" run yesterday. I gave him a small pillow and then walked about 20 feet away from him; then I said, "OK, bring the pillow to me with a BIG smile!!". Well, he did fine the first time, but by the second time, he had decided that it was MUCH more fun to stop 1/2 way and then THROW the pillow to me. We did this a few more times, but I was afraid the throwing would become reinforced, so we quit.

Enter YouTube. I love YouTube for many reasons, but the main one is that you can always find at least one video of some neurotypical kid doing exactly what you want your kid to do (e.g. using the potty, brushing teeth, using utensils when eating, hitting a baseball, etc.). I thought, "I'll be there is a wedding video out there somewhere that he can watch and model the ringbearer.". I found one that was shot fairly close up of the kid (who had a huge smile on his face), so I showed it to EJ.

He watched it all the way through (about 1 minute) and then asked to watch it again. As the kid in the video started walking down the aisle, I said, "what is he doing?".

EJ: "He is being a ringbearer for Tia Tini and PJ's wedding."

Me: "What is he carrying on the little pillow?"

EJ: "He is carrying the rings."

Me: "Is he smiling?"

EJ: "Yes."

Me: "Why is he smiling?"

EJ: "Because he is about to throw the pillow."

MOM -- awesome!

Hey Sis, it's nice to know Billy has you in his heart!

By the way, JD in TLH, the pillow story is awesome, too. I needed a chuckle this afternoon and you provided it!

From Amanda Broadfoot

Oh man, that pillow story made me laugh so hard I fell off that couch! So great!

We do the same thing with YouTube -- finding neurotypical kids to model -- because Billy does seem to pay attention so much more to video. But he always surprises me by what will stick with him. It's not always what I have in mind.

Good luck with the wedding. Dave's brother had asked Billy to be ringbearer at his wedding and we were too chicken to try. Of course, that also required a transatlantic flight -- something we haven't tried with Billy since he was two.

Can't wait to see you guys again. We're just done with a bout of viral pink-eye so we're almost ready for public exposure again!

mom <3

Wow that's incredible. and the "losing nemo" line -- lol.

we try to limit tv too but I can't help but think that it can be beneficial in small doses.

From Amanda Broadfoot

Absolutely agree with you. My hat's off to those moms who firmly adhere to a strict "NO TV AT ALL" rule for their kids. However, I need a few minutes to take a shower sometimes, and I don't think a few minutes of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse is going to screw them up too badly :-)

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We're still sick. And I say "we," because when one of us is sick, we all suffer. Our family is a strategically balanced machine, and when one cog isn't functioning, the whole works grinds to a halt.


I used to hate it when books like this turned up at story time.

I was reticent to share our latest round of illness for fear that people would start thinking I had that Baron Munchausen disease or whatever its called. You know, that psycho disease that you see on episodes of Medium or Law and Order or all those Lifetime movies where the moms keep making their kids sick so that they can take them to the hospital for ... some reason. Maybe they like old magazines or mechanical beds.

Then I realized that anyone who'd laid eyes on me recently would be well aware that I wasn't enjoying myself in the slightest and considering I haven't washed my hair or slept in a week, I'm clearly avoiding drawing attention to myself.

So yep, we're still sick. The third virus.

This one is apparently called “Hand-Foot-Mouth Disease.” I seriously thought that was something that happened to cattle. So after a month of battling respiratory flu and stomach flu, my kids have now apparently got a livestock plague.

But no: It turns out there's no relation to “Hoof and Mouth Disease,” the one cows get. So I guess they could still catch that one.

Hand-Foot-Mouth is a highly contagious (but not dangerous) virus that shows up first, usually, as an unexplained fever. Then it's followed by a rash on the – you guessed it – hands, feet and in the mouth. The whole life of the virus can last two or three weeks apparently. It occurs most commonly in children and also is spread most often in the summer months. Most adults have antibodies to fight it off.

The doctor says that it requires physical human-to-human contact, so most of our friends are in luck. Billy isn't big on going around touching people, so it's unlikely that he's rubbed the cow rash on your children.
I'd never heard of Hand-Foot-Mouth before now (though it's apparently pretty common), so I wanted to get the word out about what to look for: strange, unexplained fever, rash appearing on the feet, hands or mouth and a lack of desire for food.

As soon as we're past this round of illness, I'm going to see a local nutritionist to see if there's anything we can do to boost Billy's immunity. Maybe I'm just paranoid and he's ill no more often than other kids who start school, but it seems as though we've spent the past year doing little more than wiping noses and butts and finding new ways to hide Children's Tylenol in beverages.

We've gone through so much kids' flu meds in the past year that we're thinking of hosting tastings. We can tell you all about the best pairings: Generic ibuprofen and V-8 Fusion, for instance, has a very nice finish. But you don't wanna chase a shot of acetaminophen with rice milk. Recipe for disaster. Children's amoxycillin, however, dissolves nicely in milk.

Anyone have any ideas about boosting immunity? Both kids get a daily multi-vitamin. Our house is not over-run with vermin, and it stays reasonably disinfected, thanks to our long-suffering cleaner.

I've heard something about probiotics helping with immunity, but I have no idea what that is. In fact, when I first heard the term, I thought they were talking about robots.

I could use a robot. Particularly one who could be trained to mix up a V-8/ibuprofen cocktail at 4 a.m. so that I could stay asleep. It would be awesome if it were one of those Tranformers that could also turn into a Hummer and drive us around town and fight crime and stuff.

Sigh. But a robot probably wouldn't be very good at “cuckles” (Willow's word for “cuddles”), and I doubt the Probot5000 would know what to make of Billy's midnight recitation of “It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.”

So until the technology improves, they're stuck with me and Dave.

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A parent's day is full of perfectly ordinary moments. For us, we were relaxed on the couch on a Sunday afternoon. My three-year-old son, Billy, kept demanding that we blow on his tummy, a favorite game. Then suddenly, he requested, “Blow on Mama's tummy!”

I dutifully pulled my shirt up a few inches to expose my abs – or where they used to be before two children. Delighted, he blew on my stomach a couple of seconds ... then stopped. He stood up, pulled my shirt back into place and shook his head. He explained sadly, “This tummy is too big,” before slowly walking away.

Did I get on the phone and call my mom? Record this moment in my son's baby book? Well, eventually. But thanks to a new website,, I can share this instantly classic piece of family history with a wide network of appreciative moms and dads.

SquirtBlurt is the brainchild of co-founder Sundy Aimee Visbal, a mom of two young children, and her two friends, Jeremy Self and John Malloy. “The idea came to us because our kids are at that age when they say really funny, precious things, and we wanted a place where we can share what our children are saying and read what others had to share,” said Visbal.

Visbal points out that while almost everyone has Facebook and Twitter accounts, those networks aren't always the appropriate place to chuckle over your kids' gutbustingly funny turns of phrase. Are the single co-workers in your Facebook network really going to appreciate what your son had to say about potty training? Will old college chums “get it” when you post your three-year-old's hilarious versions of nursery rhymes?

“My kids will say something really funny and then five minutes later I’ve forgotten what it was they said,” she explained. “ is a unique site that focuses on those cute and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny things children say.”

The process is simple: Create a free user profile -- a process that takes about a minute. Within another minute, you'll be “blurting,” typing in your favorite anecdotes and sharing them with SquirtBlurt's network of fellow parents. Once your blurt is live, others on the network can vote on its hilarity, mark it as a favorite, or make a comment.

“Hot blurts” make it to a highlighted spot on the home page, and parents with the funniest blurts can find themselves on the “Monthly” or “Daily Leaders” board. If you decide you do want to share your blurts with your Facebook friends or Twitter tweeps, a built-in click-and-share button makes the process seamless.

I should warn you, though: SquirtBlurt is highly addictive. I log on to share my kids' blurts, and find myself unable to stop reading others. Yasmin, age four, describes Little Miss Muffet, sitting on her tuffet, “eating her curtains away...” Mateo, age 7, tells his mom: “I'm a god.” Three-year-old Elizabeth informs her parents that she's “having a rough day” at 8 o'clock in the morning.

Our kids grow up too quickly. In a world that's frequently too cynical and jaded, lets us freeze those priceless moments of kid wisdom and for a few minutes look at the world through the innocent eyes of a child.

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There's an apparently incredible new documentary out about autism, “Loving Lampposts,” directed by Todd Drezner, the father of an autistic son. Of course, it hasn't come to Tallahassee yet, and in the event that I ever get a minute of free time, I'm going to petition somebody somewhere to bring it here.


The documentary is about the ongoing debate in the autism community: Is autism a sickness that we need to cure? Or is it a variation in the human brain and simply an alternative way to think?

The “recovery movement” is made up of those individuals – doctors, parents, therapists – who believe that there is an “epidemic,” which may have been caused by toxic vaccines, insecticides, or other environmental toxins. They look at autism as a sickness that needs to be cured or healed or recovered from.

The “neurodiversity movement,” by contrast, preaches against focus on cures and treatments, pushing instead for greater acceptance and support. Many autistic adults find themselves in this group, apparently, rejecting the idea that they are sick and need to be cured. That doesn't mean they don't recognize the challenge of living with autism in this world, but they would rather see more attention on embracing people with differences, rather than trying to “fix” them.

On most days now, I'm happy to consider myself a member of this second group. I do believe that autism is a fundamental part of who my son is. While the condition is to blame for many of his challenges in life, such as his communication difficulties and troubles with coordination, it is also, I believe, responsible for many of his remarkable gifts: He can easily memorize complete books, movies, TV shows. He sings pitch-perfectly and has a perfect memory for tune. He has an amazing sense of rhythm. I don't want to cure him of who he is.

But occasionally I experience what St. John of the Cross described as “the dark night of the soul.” These hours seem to last an eternity, and most frequently occur when I wake up in the middle of the night – maybe Willow needs a diaper change or, more often these days, Billy wakes us up over the baby monitor with a startlingly sudden verbatim rendition of the dance party sequence in “Charlie Brown Christmas” – and I find it nigh unto impossible to get back to sleep. During those creeping hours between about two and five a.m., I wonder, “Couldn't we just cure a couple of things? How can I recover his ability to sleep?”

And then I start planning out the next day, thinking about all the ways I can use every single moment to teach him something new. Every single moment. I'm petrified by the sense that time is slipping away from me, that a “teaching moment” might slip through my fingers, and it'll be lost forever. As though he has one moment on a Tuesday afternoon to learn how to spell “cat” and after that, the moment is gone.
It's the middle of the night. I get a little crazy.

Case in point: We've just come off a week of “stay-cation.” That's what it's called when you stay at home and act like a tourist in your hometown.

We had a great week. We went to the Mary Brogan Museum, the park, the movies, the bowling alley. We tried to find “teaching moments” everywhere we went.

At the bowling alley, I showed Billy that his ball had the number 8 on it, and mine had a number 15. Each time the balls came out, he would find the number 8 or help me find my ball or Daddy's ball. It was great.

A couple of nights later, it's 3 a.m. and I'm thinking about the bowling trip. And I'm thinking about ways I could have made it more educational.

“The shoes!” I think. “There were numbers on the shoes!”

I couldn't believe I had missed that. I could have taught him his shoe size. It was printed right there on the back of his shoes. We could have talked about how Daddy's size was bigger because his feet were bigger. We could have learned sizes and “big, bigger, biggest” and which number is larger ... I could have kicked myself for missing it.

Like I said, it's 3 a.m., and things get a little out of perspective.


“I have to remember the sizes next time!” I tell myself. “How will I remember?” And it occurs to me that I have to leave myself a note. Otherwise, I won't remember by the morning, much less by the next time we go bowling.

So I sneak out of bed and downstairs at 3 a.m. to write myself a note.

And that's how I came to find Dave, the next morning, standing in front of the fridge with a puzzled expression on his face, holding a carton of milk in one hand and a Post-it note urging him, “DON'T FORGET: NUMBERS ARE ON SHOES!!!!!!!” in the other.

He doesn't even ask. He just sticks it back to the fridge with a magnetized letter “Q” and takes his milk to the table.

Billy comes to the table looking beautiful and sleepy-eyed and announces, “Cereal! With milk!” After a moment: “Please!”

And I look from Billy to the fridge covered with my crazy notes to myself and I wonder seriously about which one of us is dealing with the bigger issues.

Neurodiversity it is.

Reader Comments

You are not Catholic, so stop beating yourself up!!

J/K about the subject line (a little bit...). So, so wish you could have attended the Richard Grinker lecture last week at FSU! Very compelling research he has done on the history of the autism "epidemic". Not really a biomed vs. ND lecture, but nonetheless, very interesting and inspiring. I bought a copy of his book that I will lend to you in a few years after I have had chance to read it, LOL.

EJ asks me every day, "Is Billy sick? Does his belly hurt?" He misses his friend!! Hope things are going as well as can be expected. You have had an extraordinarily full plate these last few months; it is no surprise that you are up in the middle of the night pondering "missed opportunities". I hope you will give yourself a break from that emotional self-flagellation; we do too much of that as mothers even when our kids don't have special needs!

Big hugs- J~

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Billy has been walking around this week, reciting the same line from “It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” over and over.


It's the scene where Lucy tries to get Charlie Brown, once again, to kick the football she's holding. She promises him that she means it this time, that she won't pull the ball away at the last minute. In fact, she even has a contract to that effect, which she shows him.

Of course, at the last minute, she pulls the ball away and Charlie Brown goes flying. “Curious thing about this document,” Lucy says. “It was never notarized.” That's the line that, for some reason, Billy can't get out of his head.

This got me thinking about a couple of things. First of all, the kids in Charlie Brown cartoons are really mean and terrible role models.

Secondly, I thought, OK, Bucko, if you're interested in contracts, let's make one for the summer. We have nearly three months at home ahead of us, me and you and Willow, and we need to establish some ground rules. So here goes ...


The house rule “Please don't poke Mama in the eyes” still stands. But let's agree not to share it repeatedly with guests or people at church. I'll take my chances with them.

I promise to keep your baby sister away from your train table if you promise not to sit on her. For long.

If you will nap for two hours every afternoon, I will buy you a car.

If a thunderstorm scares you, you can crawl into my bed with me and we'll watch cartoons the rest of the day.

If you force me to watch “The Great Pumpkin” more than five times in a row, I am entitled to throw the television out the window. Upstairs.

In the event that it rains three consecutive days in a row and you are unable to go outside, I reserve the right to call in the babysitter, lock the door of the playroom from the outside and drink heavily in my bedroom. You may paint anything within arm's length, including the aforementioned babysitter, until the sun comes out.

I promise not to loudly ask, “Have you done a poo-poo?” in public any more – after all, you'll be four next month – if you promise not to loudly proclaim “Chugga-chugga POOOOO-POOOOO!” in the library. (For supporting documentation, refer to the book “The Potty Train.”)

On the day you poop in the potty, I will sign the house over to you.

If you stumble and fall, I will be there to pick you up every single time, kiss it better, and immdiately apply a “Bang-aid” if required. In return, you promise not to seal your sister's eyes shut with Bang-aids.


At 5:30 each and every weekday, I transfer power of attorney over to your father. Any and all requests for juice, fixing of broken toys or watching of the “Great Pumpkin” must go through him until such time as I emerge from a hot bath with my game face on again.

I will throw you the birthday party of your dreams this year and every year ... if you promise not to grow up too fast.

If you will hold my hand this summer and put up with me, I'll hold yours and find joy in each and every day we share together.

Please sign at the left if you agree.

Reader Comments

Love the contract

Contract is too cute!

I think this is a wonderful contract!
Did he stick to it? ;)

Isn't it funny how the cartoons and movies we watched as kids seem so innocent in our memories... until we watch them again as adults and realize how bratty all the kid characters actually are?! I noticed the same thing about Dorothy (from The Wizard of Oz) a few months ago when I finally got around to watching it again. That little girl needed a stern talking to and a time out!

Total 2 comments

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