[The fun part about looking back through old posts is coming upon one that really struck a chord with others. This is one of those posts. Reading it again, I can remember the day my son answered his first Blue’s Clues question out loud. How far he has come since that day! Reading back fuels my continual hope for the future.
He still finds time for “Joe” and “Steve” in between “Team Umizoomi” and (sigh) Spongebob…]
When my son was about a year old, he started to watch Blue’s Clues every day. The premise behind it was that a cartoon puppy would help his human friend, Steve, a real person in a semi-cartoonish background. They would play a very simplified version of a sort of charades since the puppy could not speak. Instead, the puppy would leave her paw print on three objects, the clues. Once the three clues were found, “Steve” would have to figure out the answer to a question such as “What does Blue want for her birthday?”
My son watched this show, without fail for about a year and a half. Throughout that time, he formed attachments to certain episodes and characters. We had all the Blue’s Clues paraphernalia: stuffed toys, books, and stickers. He would say the names of the characters and phrases from the show. It was one of the most annoying children’s shows on television but he seemed to love it. He would smile and laugh at whatever was going on.
There were many times, during this same period, that he would wake in the middle of the night, screaming until he was out of breath. Literally, screaming and crying uncontrollably. There were times we were panicking ourselves over these “night terrors”. We consulted the pediatrician. No help. She just said they were “night terrors.” At times, we were so scared that we pondered going to the emergency room. We gave him bottles, changed his diaper, rocked him, held him and tried everything to calm him down so he would go to sleep. Often, the only thing that could calm him down was an episode of Blue’s Clues.
Looking back on it now, it may have been because the show’s formula. Without fail, it followed a strict routine of singing: the rules song, looking for clues song, sitting in the thinking chair song, solving the “mystery” song and the goodbye song (my personal favorite). The predictability and routine of the show probably soothed him back to sleep when nothing else could.
During the show, Steve would ask questions to the camera and wait for the child in the audience to give an answer. I would always expect my son to respond. Even with prompting and modeling by me, he never did. He knew the answers. He’d watched the episodes a hundred times.
I had a few scattered thoughts about his lack of response. First, I figured he was distracted and not paying attention. Often, though, he would be looking right at the TV while the questions were asked. Then, I figured he knew the answer and that he was uninterested in sharing it out loud because he knew he was not talking to Steve but to a TV. Having actually put that second thought down in writing, I realize how idiotic it sounds. I really don’t think now, that my two year old had that kind of sophisticated thought process but, hey, this was my first and only kid and I did not think that hard about it. Silly as it was, that was my thought at the time. Pre-diagnosis, of course. Post diagnosis, I thought he could not do it.
At some point, my son became averse to Blue’s Clues. I was quite relieved at this because it meant that I did not have to watch it 30 times a day. He moved on to other shows, similar in the predictability of their format. The odd piece of this is that he did not just tire of the show (like I had) but actively and vehemently avoided it like the plague. For example, he would become anxious if it happened to pop up on TV. He would bring me the remote to change the channel or simply start yelling for some other show, repeatedly. He had to do this act quite a bit before I caught on that there was something seriously upsetting to him about continuing to watch this program. He gave me a clue. It had become forbidden territory bringing on terrified looks, screams, panic and meltdowns if it was not removed from his senses.
Once I understood this aversion, I still did not erase the episodes from our TiVo. Instead, I would ask from time to time, if he wanted to watch it. The answer was consistently, “No, no, no, no, no!” He was so determined that he would approach me and try to grab the remote control from my hand. He made it clear. Blue’s Clues was banned.
I would estimate that we went on about a year and a half Blue’s Clues hiatus. Then, one day probably just before he was four years old, he asked to watch a particular episode. In this episode, Blue goes through a car wash. The episode was different. The main character Steve had been replaced by his “younger brother” Joe. Joe had changed up the show’s routine. Blue was riding in the car giving clues out a window instead of inside her house. The idea was to guess where she was going. Same songs, different scenery. Hmmm. That my son wanted to watch only this episode was mysterious in its own way. What kind of clue was that? I still don’t know.
The episode was placed on his request list, off and on, for about eight months. He would either be watching no TV or something else and ask for mommy to put on “Joe car” which was the only sanctioned episode for our household. A very curious display.
The whole TV show is kind of ironic in ASD terms. It depicts a communication impairment between the man and his dog. The impairment does not mean, in this show, that the dog is intellectually impaired. The way it is set up, the impairment seems to be in the human who is slow to understand the dog’s communication. Often the dog is trying to help the human understand something like an approaching storm or where a lost blanket is located. The dog cannot use words so it must communicate differently to get the human to understand it. It must give the human clues to the message it is trying to convey. Yeah, ironic.
Just at the beginning of the week, I found an old DVD because he’d started asking for another show about a cartoon octopus. Yesterday, I started the DVD from the beginning in the car and on came Blue’s Clues, the banned episodes. I watched his reaction in the rear view mirror.
He smiled. He watched without turning away. Without any self-talk. Watching and listening. A few minutes into the show, Steve asked, “Would you like to play puppets?” And during the usual pause, my son, smiled at the screen. “Yes,” he replied softly.
I waited three and a half years for that one word response. I had dreamed of a day that he would listen, comprehend and talk back to “Steve.” Yesterday, it happened. You have no idea the joy this brought to me. I smiled and watched.
In your world, it might seem like the craziest thing you’ve ever heard. To me, it was music. It was beautiful, timely, perfect and something that I had dreamed of coming true. Within 30 seconds he was back to playing on the iPad and talking to himself. But that moment is etched in my mind. It was the best clue of all. The clue of communication, delayed but not lost. I suddenly find myself wanting to watch more episodes of Blue’s Clues too…