On tiptoes, he performs the eight-step, mini-circle dance while looking up. His eyes are fixed on the movement of pixels on the flat screen. He is smiling and happy. No, he is not following directions for a new dance. He is reacting either to the recorded show, the video game, or the commercial. All of these can hold his attention for between 30 seconds to maybe 5 minutes. Forget a TV “special” like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer or A Christmas Carol. And a movie? You must be joking.
My son likes television. He is highly rigid about what he will watch and even then, about the portions within the program to which he will actually pay attention. Certain shows he used to watch (and love), he now fears – like Yo Gabba Gabba. If that show is on, he will start with mild panic. Unless it is immediately switched off, he will actually melt down watching it. Although, I can’t really blame him. The giant one-eyed Muno is really quite frightening.
His line up of TV shows runs in cycles, much like his interest in toys. He was very into Batman in late spring and early summer. Then, he turned back the clock and went very retro into the cancelled show Oswald (a Nick Jr. octopus cartoon) and the dreaded Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (dreaded to me – not to him), with a little Team Umizoomi (exciting, yet feared, simultaneously) and Wow Wow Wubzy mixed in. Blue’s Clues was simply a fluke, the only show he’d watch beginning to end.
He doesn’t “watch” any of these for real, though. He watches 30 second clips within specific shows. He then asks for repeats of the 30 second clips, over and over. He will laugh, express excitement, echo what he hears, and ask me to confirm what he witnesses over and over.
Long ago I tired of the rewind. I rarely do it. Yes, admittedly, sometimes I allow it. This is because, either I hear the 30 second clip over and over, or I hear the 147th request for the clip. I set a limit – “You can watch it two more times and that’s it.” He actually respects this – who’d of thunk it right? Now, if he wants to see that section of Wubzy where Wubzy rides the overflowing cake batter like a wave, to the center of Wuzzleburg, and Earl says, “Kooky” one more time, he’ll have to figure out how to use the remote himself.
And he does figure out the remote. So, I listen to Earl say, “Kooky!” on average, 30 times per day. In the car and at home. Yes, I said “in the car”. You see, back before I knew about ASD, I had this brilliant idea that it would be fun for him to watch his Nick Jr. shows in the car while I drove. This worked out great – – for him, not so much for me.
Even in the car, though, his attention is divided between TV and some electronic form of entertainment, mostly the iPad. So actual watching something all the way through (maybe 6-8 minutes for the average cartoon episode) is a rarity. He hyper-focuses on 30 seconds and ignores the rest.
I used to watch something called the local and network news. As a matter of fact, which you probably don’t know, before I became a lawyer, I worked in television and double majored in broadcast journalism and political science in college. I worked at an NBC radio affiliate in the newsroom, and for PBS doing documentary news features – a lifetime ago… So, having given up all of that and much of my legal career to raise my son, maybe you can see how I might go a little stir crazy, having watched almost nothing but children’s cartoons over and over for the last three years…
Recently, feeling kooky myself, I picked up a copy of Cars 2 that was just released. I figured that someday, maybe when my son was 12 or 32 or something, we’d get around to watching it. Imagine my surprise when he asked to go upstairs (where our big TV is) and watch the movie over the weekend! Hooray! I’d get away from Kooky Earl, see something relatively new, in the nature of a movie, and possibly be entertained!! Was it too much to hope for?
And the little guy watched. He really, really watched. It helped that he knew all the characters from Mater’s Tales and saw bits and pieces of the first movie. It helped that he has a zillion Cars toys. And it helped that there were plenty of racing scenes.
There were moments that he got up, ran, and tried to body slam the screen. There was only one time that he asked to go back downstairs. Part of the time, he spent playing his DS. But he made it through the whole movie and watched quite a bit of it! He asked questions about things he didn’t understand like the oil riggers. He asked questions about things he did understand like the “cars” elevators (which he loved)…
And it was the best movie I’ve seen in three years… Oh yeah, that includes me seeing The Social Network… lame. I’d watch Cars 2 over that again easily. What does that say about me? Don’t answer that.