Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My Thoughts on Tallen and Television

I frequently hear about the woes of children and the ill effects that television viewing has on them. Maybe this is true for the majority of the population but, in Tallen's case, that just wasn't and still isn't true.

From the very beginning, my son had an obvious problem with making connections with the other people in his life. We were there, he was there, but most attempts at any sort of meaningful interaction were futile. We would attempt to cuddle him, he would become stiff as a board. We would smile at him, he would scream back at us. Direct eye contact really annoyed him. He talked very early, but not to us. His conversations, when we could understand them, were a string of letters, or numbers, or shapes, or colors. No "Mama", or "Daddy" etc... Every day was just a routine of making sure he was clean, fed, and did not injure himself while maneuvering around on the tips of his toes.

His doctor, although a wonderful man, couldn't give us any answers. The best he could do was give us the speech about all kids being different, blah blah blah. Doctors have a tendency, especially when it comes to your children, to try and make you feel better about things. That was the case with ours. But I wasn't satisfied with the mental band aid he was trying to press onto me. I felt like grabbing him by the collar and shaking him and screaming, " What the hell do you know? You have only observed him for 15 minutes! We are with him 24-7 and we know that something is wrong with our child! I don't want to feel better! I want my son to be better!" Of course, I did not do that. But I did decide to let the doctor think what he liked. I also decided that I wasn't wasting any more time. It was left up to me to help my child.

Early on, we noticed that, although he treated us like flesh covered furniture, certain things on TV captured his attention. To begin with, it was a few commercials, like the People PC ad that was mostly black and white. Also, he was entranced by Lawyer ads, those cheesy ones that tell you to call if you have been injured etc... To this day, I don't know exactly why he found those so interesting. At any rate, I was jealous. What did that stupid TV have that his family did not? I could follow the standard "limited TV" way of thinking, or I could go with the flow and see what happened.

I decided to use it as a tool, not as a babysitter.This required watching the shows with him and noting his responses. I tried different shows, if something captured his interest, I did my best to mimic it here at home. If leaves got his attention, after the show, I would carry him outside and let him touch a real leaf and tell him, "leaf". The same with flowers, cooking, painting,writing, etc... I bought acrylic paints and painted tiny paw print "clues" all over the house. In effect, I had to bring things from the TV and make them part of his real world. It worked! Soon he was pointing to things here at home and telling me what they were.

When he was 2, we went out for Pizza, he pointed to the sign and said, "Pizza Hut". We assumed this because he had saw that logo on TV and heard it pronounced. I soon learned that he was actually reading. His memory was amazing, which worked to our advantage. On that note, I will add that another important part of this was the fact that I recorded the shows that he responded to and played them for him again and again. The repetition helped so much. I could see his face light up when he knew what was coming next in a show.

I also did this in reverse. I would look for shows on TV about things we did here at home. Cooking, Cleaning, Driving. It was important for him to see people on there doing things we did out here in the real world. Also, when he could see kids his size doing something, it helped teach him how he should be acting. How to get dressed, how to comb his hair, etc... Even playing games, I tried playing games with him a lot with no luck, but once he saw other children doing it, he made the association.

I am absolutely convinced that his TV viewing was a huge part of bringing him out of his shell. That and the fact that we didn't simply "park" him in front of it and leave him there to veg. We asked him questions about what he was seeing. He ignored us for ages but finally started answering. NOW he asks us questions about the shows he is watching. He is like a completely different child and everyday brings more improvement.

I taught him to use a mouse and keyboard at age 3 and he gradually moved from the TV to our computer. Finally, he was able to go to the web addresses he had memorized since age 2 lol These days, he doesn't even care for the TV much at all, except for a few favorite shows, and spends most of his fun time online, studying the Russian alphabet and clay-mation ( his 2 latest obsessions )and using the ASL browser to learn new words in Sign Language.

I also want to say that at one point, Tallen was completely absorbed in learning his letters,numbers,shapes,colors, and sign language. Now that he has mastered those things,the more social he become with us. I have realized now that he wasn't anti-social, he just had no room in his brain for socialization while he was obsessed with learning all that other stuff. Once he got that out of the way, he could relax and get to know his family. His brain finally had room to process emotional connections. I think all the educational shows he watched helped to speed up that process.

I can't comment on the effects of video games and we don't own any. But, at least in Tallen's case, TV was our friend.


Carole said...

I don't have anything worthwhile to add, just want to say that was very interesting!

kidzorg.blogspot.com said...

I loved this post!

I think rules are meant to be broken. I personally believe all forms of media are like food - they're good for you in proper doses and in conjunction with other activities. I loved how you said that you didn't use the TV as a baby-sitter but as a tool. There are so many good aspects to things on TV for children - color, interaction, sounds.... I love how you used the paw prints as clues. You're an amazing and insightful mother!

I would love to share this post and/or Tallen's entire story. I have quite a few readers on the kidz site who struggle with autism, and your proactive approach and positive attitude would help so many! Just let me know if you're interested.

Dan River Mama said...

You are welcome to share this post with anyone you think might be helped by it. If there is anything else you would like to know, or anything I can do to help, just let me know. By the way, where is the kidz site?