Your Special Needs Child and The Media

First of all…let’s make sure we’re all on the same page…

MEDIA: (mee-dee-uh)”The means of communication, as radio and television, newspapers, and magazines, that reach or influence people widely. Forms of media are advertising, broadcast, digital, electronic, mass, multi,news, print, published, recording…and the ever growing social media.

Okay, now that we are all on the same page, let’s talk about handling media with your special needs child. First of all, we don’t have an iPad (although I’d love to get one if anyone has an extra one they’d like to “lend” us forever) so I can’t really comment on how useful the iPad is and how to handle that device with your special needs child. I hear rave reviews about iPad and all the apps and such for all children–typical or special needs–and I look forward to getting one someday. 

What I’d like to discuss is how we as a family with a special needs child (5-years-old) and a typical child (3-years-old) handle media such as print, published, electronic, broadcast and video games. Once again, THERE IS NO RIGHT OR WRONG ANSWER…just like children with autism, every single situation is different. YOU NEED TO RESEARCH, DISCUSS WITH YOUR FAMILY AND MAKE YOUR OWN JUDGEMENTS AND DECISIONS.

Here goes…

PRINT MEDIA…(books and magazines) Read, read, read…and then read some more to you child whether they have autism or are typical…you can never go wrong with books and stories. My son with autism is amazing when it comes to books–he will get fixed on a few books and want to read them over and over and over–while this might seem like a great thing, it’s best to mix them up–don’t let them get in a rut of reading the same books over and over–they’re not learning, they’re just memorizing and while that’s not a bad thing, you need to continue to stretch their minds and abilities. We have so many books in our home–some I wish we could throw away we’ve read them so many times…but both my children love reading them and we always read a few books just before bedtime.

Try reading in the morning when their minds are fresh and then at the end of the day, after you brush their teeth and right before you put them down for the night–it will sooth them and settle them down a bit. Make sure you set the expectation beforehand: “okay, we’re going to read ‘X’ number of books and then we’re going to get in bed”…you set the expectation and so they know what is to come next.

MAGAZINES–we never really considered a magazine to be a treat or outlet, but my son LOVES to read “Living” Magazine? HUH? Shouldn’t he be into SportsIllustrated? But he loves the images of the flowers and whatever else…I don’t know. So it’s almost a treat and a great distraction for him. If he’s pacing or stemming around the house and you can just tell he’s about to lose it or get into something he’s not supposed to, we’ll say, “William, would you like to read the magazine?” and he’ll immediately be distracted for a few minutes.

Try them out…books and magazines, mix up the stories but have the old favorites and find magazines with fun photos that your child might like.

MUSIC–I might have the only 5-year-old and 3-year-old children on the planet who know who: John Denver, Harry Connick Jr., Huey Lewis & The News and Pink Martini are…yes, they’re strange…and wonderful!

We listen to a lot of music in our home. That’s the way I remember growing up and it brings back memories and that is something music has a tendancy to do. We have music that is classical, good tempo, tasteful (to some) music. Never do we listen to loud over-stimulating music. As much as I’d love to jam to some music from time-to-time, I know it’l just hype both my children up to a level that would be hard to come down from.

Again, be consistent…in the mornings we’ll listen to “church music” as my children call it. Sing-songs of Bible verses or hymns and CDs that are made for children. They are simiple songs and repetitive so they children will easily learn the songs. Make songs a treat…make sure they understand that if they do something good then they can listen to their favorite song or CD…always have some standard CDs that are tried-and-true in your car and on longer trips just in case there’s a meltdown and you need to distract with familiar songs.

BROADCAST This one is a tough one–I’m an early GenX’er and I can’t believe how much stimuli and media via the TV there is out there for our children. It’s hard because there certainly are those times when you want to just turn on the TV and let them have the “electronic babysitter” while you catch your breath or get a few minutes alone–and that’s okay–but don’t rely on that as a crutch and then get into the bad habit of using the TV everytime you need a break.

I would highly recommend limiting watching time to a few programs (1 or 2)a day–we don’t understand how the mind of a child with autsim digests images and stimuli therefore be sure not to watch programs that are so quick frames or too much action–even if they say “Disney” on them–quick changes, back-and-forth, loud sounds, maybe scary images…that’s just a receipe for disaster.

Parents–make sure you watch the program a few times before you let your child watch–think about the program from their perspective–would it make sense? Would it be too stimulating? Would they be afraid? Would they be bored?

I admit, I have no idea why, at times, my son with autism flips out while watching “Little Bear” and then at other times he’s watching another program and is totally fine–but always be prepared if something happens…if you have to turn off the program abruptly–have a backup plan, a little treat, another activity that will distract your child with special needs so they won’t just dwell on the fact that you just turned off their favorite program…or any program.

TV programs are not made for children with special needs…be careful about plopping your child down when other parents say, “oh that’s totally fine”….that might not be the case.

SIDE NOTE be prepared for your child with special needs throwing objects at your TV…as many sets are flat screens and pretty pricey and can break easily–the BEST INVESTMENT that our family has made in the past few years is called TV Armor…no I don’t work for them or get paid by them…I learned the hard way when my son with autism, for some reason or another, chunked an object at the grandparent’s TV about 12 seconds before Thanksgiving dinner a few years back–needless to say the TV was cooked more than the turkey and it call could’ve been avoided for about $300 piece of hard plastic called TV Armor that goes over your set, is crystal clear and will stop a speeding toy, piece of food, shoe–whatever….trust me…DO IT!

VIDEO GAMES I would assume it goes without saying that we stay far, far away from the typical video games…too much noise, over stimulation, images I don’t even know if a typical child should absorb. WE DO however, have certain Websites that have fairly harmless games, matching, creating, colors…that we like and it’s amazing the dexterity my 5-year-old and my 3-year-old possess.

So that’s it…be flexible but consistent. Parents check it out beforehand, pay attention to how many programs your child watches a day–limit it. It’s okay to rely on the TV as a babysitter and distraction from time-to-time, but be careful–treat it as a treat…you wouldn’t think M&M’s are a treat if you get them all the time.

Most of all…find out what works for you and your family and create a routine, set expectations, have fun…and teach them songs they’ll remember, read books you read as a child…it’ll be fun for you and your child!

Good luck

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Seth/Melanie Fowler on Twitter
Seth/Melanie Fowler
Authored, Look at my Eyes, a parent's perspective re: navigating autism-early intervention, insurance, treatments, a paradigm of a family & child with autism
Seth/Melanie Fowler

Seth/Melanie Fowler

Authored, Look at my Eyes, a parent's perspective re: navigating autism-early intervention, insurance, treatments, a paradigm of a family & child with autism

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