LIFE IS A SPECTRUM

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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Tv

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 :-)

Total 6 comments

There's a line in the Disney story "Cars" that reads, "Sally was touched." It's the moment when the main car's girlfriend is overwhelmed by emotion when the neon lights of her Route 66 town are lit up for the first time in decades.

cars_lunch

Billy loves "Cars." He doesn't call it "Cars," though. He calls it "Mater," after his favorite character. He loves the movie; he loves the books. He loves the matchbox-sized replicas of the characters. He loves his Mater-themed Pullups and his sippy cup with Lightning McQueen on it. If you have a kid going through a Cars phase, at first you consider yourself in luck, because it's everywhere. Then one day, you look around yourself and realize, "It's...everywhere."

So anyway, Sally was touched. Billy repeats this line as he reaches out his pointer finger and pokes me in the nose. "Sally was ... touched." Poke. Again and again. Sally was touched. Poke.

See? He's touching me.

It's almost like he realizes that he doesn't quite get this line. So he's working it out by thinking aloud.

A lot has been written about how literal autistic people can be, how they often don't get jokes or understand metaphor or irony. So I've been going out of my way to explain this line every time it comes up. "Sally was touched," I say, "means that she was happy, that she felt love. She was touched in her heart." And I pat myself on the chest.

Billy stares at my hand patting my chest. He's thinking.

Poke. "Mama was touched." He smiles. And for the millionth time, I wonder how much he actually knows.

It's like when we were practicing egg hunting this week at his friend EJ's house. Billy loves finding the eggs this year. He'll spot one, his face will light up and he'll go tearing across the yard toward it.

Then he opens it up, eats the candy out of it, and leaves the open plastic egg lying in his hiding place. I looked around the yard at one point and saw half a dozen plastic eggs, broken open and still lying in their hiding place, his basket long since abandoned.

I took his hand, led him to a hidden egg, and showed him how to pick it up and put it in the basket. He sighed, and moved on to the next egg, dutifully picking it up and dropping it in the basket. Then he started singing the "Clean up" song while he worked.

Any parent with a child in preschool knows the "Cleanup song:" Clean up, Clean up/Everybody everywhere/Clean up, clean up/Everybody does their share."

Dave watched him for a second and laughed. "You know," he said in his English accent, "I think Billy has a point. Easter egg hunting is a little bit like bleedin' 'clean up, clean up.'"

One of these days, Billy's gonna be watching "Cars" and finally turn to me and ask, "How can a car have a girlfriend? Or a condo in Hawaii? And if they're all cars, who changes their oil? And who installed the hardwood floors and ceiling fans in the court house?"

And then I'll know he's going to be just fine.

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