Get Out, Explore & Have Fun: Take TV to the Next Level!

Having fun with your child with autism is absolutely essential.  It’s a key to your emotional health, and to the relationship you’re building both with your autistic child and with your typically developing children.  Perhaps just as importantly, when you see your child with autism outside of the classroom or therapist’s office, you may just discover that (1) he or she has some talents you never noticed before and (2) your child with autism is actually a lot of fun to be with

Each Sunday in April we’ll featuring a guest post from Lisa Jo Rudy, the author of Get Out, Explore and Have Fun: How Families of Children with Autism and Asperger Syndrome Can Get the Most out of Community Activities.   She was the the About.com Guide to Autism for five years, and is now an inclusion consultant for community organizations and  museums, a writer for autismafter16.com, and (of course) the mom of Tom Cook, age 15, diagnosed with PDD-NOS.  Find her at www.authenticinclusion.org or at www.lisajorudy.com

Take TV to the Next Level!

Our kids are often sponges, who can learn almost anything by heart if it’s introduced through videos, TV or even music.  At first we were horrified by our son’s echolalia: he’d simply memorize entire scripts from his favorite TV shows, and recite them.  Later, though, we came to embrace certain TV shows and videos: they provided him with the tools he needed to engage with other kids, with the real world, and even with academics.

Like many parents, when our kids were small we allowed only “educational television.”  But kids watch an awful lot of shows on ad-heavy cable TV.  We didn’t want either of our kids getting seduced by ads, but even more particularly we didn’t want our son wandering around reciting ads for pop-tarts.  So we started borrowing videos and DVDs of kids’ shows from our library.  We could choose our time to watch together – and avoid the ads completely.

If you have a child who is mesmerized by TV, you may have started to use TV as an opportunity to get away for a little while.  Instead, try this:

  • Choose a TV show that your child really likes, and purchase a few toys (action figures, die-cast figures, etc.) that relate to the show.  Don’t worry too much if your child is “too old” for the show: grown ups still love the Muppets, and even grandparents love Disney
  • Choose a time to watch together, and talk about the show as you watch.  Ask your child questions; if he doesn’t reply instantly, try saying outrageous things that he knows are wrong (eg, Big Bird is purple with green stripes, isn’t he?).  Your child’s connection with and love of the show and characters may well prompt him to interact with you in new ways
  • Once the show is over, try using your new toys as puppets, acting out bits from the show.  Or use them in interactive play (Thomas the Tank Engine is ideal for this, since model train layouts are fabulous tools for sharing, creative thinking, role play, etc.)

You may find that your child is more verbally responsive to Thomas the Tank Engine or Elmo than he is to other human beings – or more fascinated by the tracks than by the people playing with them.  If that’s the case, you can build on that in the real world!  Your child might love attending puppet shows or going to TV-show oriented events (a Wiggles concert could be an ideal introduction to concerts and plays, even if your child is “too old” for the Wiggles).

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