Don’t Touch That Dial…

A child watching TV.

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I’m going to defend the indefensible: According to modern study after modern study, I am an evil lazy mum for leaving my television on from dusk till dawn. I am ruining my children’s eyes, their imaginations, and making them fat in the process. All day, every day, our television is on TVNZ 6, otherwise known as “Kidzone“. The channel is non-stop kids programs – no advertisements. The programs repeat every four hours, so they potentially see each show three times a day.

My kids are so used to the television being on, that it means little to them. Both get up and do lots of other indoors and outdoors activities; the television being on is nothing special or worthy of attention most of the time. Sometimes a favourite show will come on (The Wiggles or Fireman Sam), and one or the other will pay attention for a while.

When the television does capture my autistic son’s attention I use that opportunity to teach him how to follow story lines and comment and elaborate on what he sees. If it’s something like The Wiggles we do the dances together, because that’s just plain fun, but also because it helps his co-ordination. Because the shows repeat three times a day, he gets the chance to become familiar with a show he may be liking that day – by the third time it comes around he starts to understand and enjoy what most kids would have picked up the first time round.

There are times every day when my son’s autism makes him have to seek refuge from human interaction – the world becomes overwhelming, and if he doesn’t go off and do something passive and non-challenging for a while, he will have a meltdown. When those times come he climbs onto the couch, goes into a self-pressure pose to relax his body and watches the television quietly, until he’s ready to engage with other humans and the world around him again.

The television is also background noise. My son has a wide range of sensory issues due to his autism. One of his issues is needing a steady stream of background noise. This need developed prior to the television being on so much through-out the day – I used to have to satisfy it with computer noise or talking to him non-stop, I’d get a sore throat from trying to meet his needs and still he’d need me to talk through my croaky pain. The television fills this role beautifully. There are days when he won’t want the television on, and those times he will turn it off himself, and that’s fine too. The television is on for him, not us.

Both my children get out of the house a lot too. In particular my five-year old attends about two hours of kindergarten a day, visits his grandma and great-grandma each weekend, and has various other shop visits and outings through-out the week and weekend. But when you add up the time the kids spend at home, with that television going in the background, it’s a lot of hours every single day.

So is my five-year-old autistic son fat due to all this television? No, if anything he’s slightly on the skinny side. Is he physically inactive? Anything but – he’s a non-stop bustle of noise and movement most of any given day. Does he stay inside all day – no. Do his eyes have issues with focus or movement – no (his eyes have been tested). Are there any bad side-effects that I have seen with his television watching? No, in fact I’ve seen a wide variety of very positive effects it has had on him. Every day we do art and games and reading and writing and work on his skills and language, the television has never got in the way of that, only helped it – by leveling out his sensory issues, or giving him down time, or inspiring us both with new activities and interests we can do together.

My eleven month old is largely indifferent to the television unless something particularly engaging is on, he just trots around and laughs and plays. At this very moment he is playing with the patterns the sunlight is casting on the carpet.

I’ve seen how children react when they’re usually deprived of television, and then get the chance to see it at someone else’s house – as will inevitably happen. They act like it’s a big deal, can barely pull their eyes away, and trying to interrupt their laser focus on this wonderful (and it is wonderful) thing, is almost futile. It is that sort of intense television watching that appears potentially damaging to me; not the way in which I use it.

I just see the television as a valuable resource, which I am using to full effect. I still feel guilty when people come around and the television is on, but only because of the modern parenting “wisdom” against showing children television. In case you haven’t noticed in my blog yet, I’m not too enamoured with modern parenting wisdom; I prefer to think for myself, to apply my research and common-sense to the specific situations my children are in. My autistic five-year old has advanced this past year in ways that astound his therapists and my family and friends, and my eleven month old is one amazingly happy and healthy little man, he’s ticking off those developmental milestones at an impressive pace. So clearly, this evil lazy mummy is doing something right.

This entry was posted in Parenting an Autistic Child, Sensory Issues, TV and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Don’t Touch That Dial…

  1. Wow!

    It’s great to enjoy with your son what he watched on TV.

    The background noise thing is an interesting one.

  2. Pingback: Motherhood is no time for sanctimony « blue milk

  3. Deborah says:

    Here via Blue Milk.

    I found television to be an incredibly useful tool when I was feeding my twins, and trying to manage their toddler sister at the same time. She would happily watch Maisie or the Wiggles or whatever, and give me a little bit of space. Plus I’ve used it when I know the children are tired, and they need to wind down and relax. It’s so useful.

    • It’s definitely one of those resources which is under-appreciated (in my opinion); there’s no need to demonise it the way it has been. It’s like refusing to let children use the internet because of its reputation for porn. The better approach is to find age-appropriate ways to use technology to enhance children’s lives.

  4. sandrine says:

    Hi, I came here from Blue Milk.
    We too used to have tv on a lot for our autistic son: he learnt a lot of language from favourite dvds that would play on a loop or from the Cbeebies we used to put on every single morning. He would be reassured if it was on in the background, especially when something unsettling was going on (so if we had guests for dinner, he would put a dvd on, but without the sound. Now he’s eight, he watches a lot less, and when he does, he seems to follow the plot better. He’s done a lot of crafts activities and computer games based on what he watches. And one of the first picture book with more than one sentence per page he read from cover to cover was based on one of his favourite characters. On the whole I think the tv played a huge role in helping him learn. Also, like your son, it certainly hasn’t made him fat or inactive. In fact I’m usually relieved when he’ll sit down to watch something for a couple of minutes… As to our neurotypical daughter who’s three years older than our son, she usually ignores the tv and reads her book. So no harm there either. So although a lot of people made it clear to us that they thought we had the tv on too often, I’m glad we were too tired to pay any attention to them!

  5. KDL says:

    I’m with you on this one. Each family needs to determine their own best practice. We use our DVD player in our van a lot. I would feel guilty except it keeps my children from distracting me when I’m trying to drive on congested roads. It is also a great incentive for nipping any sibling torture in the bud. Early on we used Baby Einstein dvds to teach our daughter words, and to decode HER words. This was before we knew her diagnosis and only knew that she was slow to talk. We would watch with her, repeat any words that she said, expand on those words with descriptions or actions, and have some of the best verbal interactions with her around the tv. I still do this sometimes so I can gauge how much of a storyline she’s getting, or what she is most enjoying about a given show. We don’t have it on all the time, but that is for my sanity. I can’t take the constant noise when I’m trying to do something and also monitor what the kids are doing. But if it works for you – more power to you!

    • Interesting you should say that KDL, because there are times when the TV being on so much does drive me a little nuts. Especially because it’s never something I personally want to watch! Thankfully there are enough hours in a day when my eldest is out at kindy or going on a little outing with his daddy, that I get enough quiet to keep me (semi) sane. There are also those time when my son decides he wants the TV off, and turns it off himself. Whenever I get out of the house myself I get away from it too of course. On the most part I think I’ve learnt to largely block out the noise, in the same way my youngest son seems to.

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