My child doesn’t play. Or talk. – What does NOT help

We have become a electronics and TV-culture, and many people have the TV on all day and/or spend hours in front of computers, mobiles or other electronic devices. Everyone does. The difficult-to-engage child who wants to watch TV or play with mobile or computer all day seems to be just like any other child. Parents often see this with relief. Surely, he too will learn something from watching TV, videos or computer games? But then doubts begin to creep in. He never talks about it. It does not seem to affect him. He does not play-act what he has seen like his age-mates, or he plays nothing else. He only wants to see the same video. On closer inspection, it actually looks like some kind of addiction.

Is watching TV/videos wasting your child’s developmental time?

Because of the autistic child’s difficulties with communication and making sense of perceptions, his experience of what goes on in a screen is likely to be very different from ours. If he is unable to pull his senses together into one single meaningful focus, then whatever he is watching will not make sense. If it does not make sense, then we are faced with the serious question: what is he getting out of this passive ‘activity’?

Language delay and electronics

Research shows that in families where the TV is on all the time, people talk less. The child is glued to the screen of an iPad or iPhone or watching videos is not talking, and is not available for any conversation, – which results to LANGUAGE DELAY in the child who does not talk! Children who do not talk or play, need as much 1-1 active interaction with another human being as possible, not being passive and quiet in front of a screen.

Battery-operated press-the-button and flashy-noisy toys

Battery-operated flashy-noisy toys too seem to have a particular attraction and an almost hypnotic effect. But although the child may look blissfully happy when absorbed in their lights and sounds, they do not in fact  stimulate his thinking and they do not help his mind to grow, – and in fact they just make time pass unused, leading to play-deprivation and starving his mind from learning from and with other people.

The sight-and-sound bath

Making sense of the story-line in a film, although so immediate and natural to you and me, is really a complicated mental process, which is impossible without a good grasp of speech and comprehension. Essentially it requires the ability and the desire to make sense of things, to understand what things ‘mean’ and to let them affect us, – the autistic child’s blind spots. But what is left of the TV or video experience, if we take away the story-line and the meaning of what is said and shown on the screen? A purely sensuous sight-sound-experience, a ‘sight-and-sound-bath’: a constantly changing colourful display of movement with an ongoing noise-background of patterns of sound, or tunes.

The tranquiliser function of TV/video

But without meaningful seeing, there will be little learning. Most young autistic children do not learn much from watching TV or video. They use the ‘sight-sound bath’ to envelop, to wash over them in a comforting way allowing them to cut off, to let themselves drift off passively. Surrendering to that sensual and essentially mindless experience means that much of their mental functioning is switched off, with brain-activity, and learning, probably minimal. Periodically, his attention is activated by the catchy attention-grabbing jingle of advertisements, before ebbing off again into the more soothing, or hypnotic, lullaby-like flow of sounds.

(Excerpt from ‘Reaching the young autistic child’ by Sibylle Janert)

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