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Top 10 Good Reasons for Allowing Autistic Children to Watch TV and Videos

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Updated June 15, 2007

It's true that children on the autism spectrum need a great deal of therapeutic interaction. In fact, many therapeutic experts recommend hours a day of therapy -- often provided by parents. TV and videos aren't interactive...so does that mean they're forbidden to parents with autistic children? Actually, TV and videos -- in limited amounts and carefully selected -- can actually be a boon to parents and autistic children alike!

1. Research Shows that Autistic Children Learn From Videos

Researchers have looked into the power of video modeling for children with autism. They've discovered that videos, which can be viewed over and over again, are actually powerful tools for teaching skills, concepts, and even emotional responses. Some video modeling has been shown to effectively teach life skills like tooth brushing, shoe tying and more!

2. Carefully Selected TV Shows Can Help Your Child Connect to His Peers

Children with autism are idiosyncratic enough without being denied the common cultural language of television. Even if your child with autism doesn't fully grasp the humor of Spongebob, his knowledge of the characters and settings will provide him with better tools for connecting with his peers.

3. TV and Video Can Provide Parent and Child with a Common Language

As you and your child watch videos or TV together, you can establish a common symbolic language. That language can provide the basis for shared imaginative play. Our son became fascinated with one particular Pooh video, and it has led to really meaningful conversation, role play, drawing, even puppet shows.

4. TV and Videos Can Open the World to Your Child

Many children on the autism spectrum are fascinated by animals, trains, or other aspects of the real world. Selected TV and videos, such as Animal Planet and the Eye Witness videos can build on those interests. Next step: a trip to the real zoo to see real crocodiles, a real-life train ride, or just a visit to the pet store.

5. TV and Videos can Create a Link Between the Internal and External Worlds

At age three, our son's language consisted largely of memorized scripts. Some of those scripts came from a Canadian TV show called Theodore Tugboat which featured talking boats in a harbor. We had no idea how much he'd learned from the show until we went to a real harbor, where our three-year-old correctly pointed out real research vessels, container ships, tugs and more!

6. TV Provides a Much-Needed Respite for Parents

It's easy to feel guilty for plopping your autistic child in front of the TV. The truth is, though, that no one can be physically and emotionally available all day, every day. Even parents of special needs kids need a break. And carefully selected TV or videos, offered in a structured and limited manner, can be a sanity-saver.

7. TV and Videos Can Build Parent-Child Relationships

Even if you're not actively engaging with each other in a therapeutic manner, you can cuddle together on the couch. Those quiet, physically intimate moments together may be just as signficant to your child's development as high energy interactive play.

8. TV and Videos Can Stimulate Ideas for Therapy

If you are a parent who practices developmental therapies like floortime, RDI or Sonshine, you may simply run out of creative ideas. And very often, children with autism are not much help in that department. TV and Videos can stimulate your imagination with new images, ideas and scenarios.

9. Autistic Children Relate Intensely to TV-Related Merchandise and Games

Typical children may tire quickly of Sesame Street toys. Children on the autism spectrum, however, are more likely to find real comfort and pleasure in toys that relate to their favorite videos. And those toys can become a wonderful source for therapeutic play. So can some of the video games related to PBS television program. In fact, the Arthur website includes a game which asks kids to connect facial expressions to story events!

10. Auditory and Visual Teaching Is Ideal for Autistic Children

Autistic people often learn best with their eyes and ears, while words may not sink in. Our son plays the clarinet, but it was tough to get him to play anything new. That is, until the Disney show Little Einsteins introduced the Mozart piece Eine Kleine Nacht Musik. Now, he plays like a whiz! The same goes for Pink Panther: we showed him the animation from the beginning of the Pink Panther movie; now he can play the piece with proper rhythm and intonation.
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