Before I had kids, I did a lot of thinking about learning from television and technology. I still do, but with a completely different viewpoint. I used to think, “When I become a mom, I’m going to limit screen time for my children to one hour a day.” Ha! Not only is this thought completely unrealistic in this day and age, but with a child on the spectrum it is near impossible. To be fair, screens have become more ubiquitous in our lives since I first had my kids. Some have also argued that not all screens are the same.
When I wrote my doctoral dissertation about co-viewing, I knew I was going to take that aspect of television-watching seriously. And I did. I even created my first blog about co-viewing. It wasn’t until we started to deal with Quentin’s struggle with autism head-on that I realized he just isn’t a typical co-viewer. That realization led me to create this blog.
Most children on the autism spectrum have difficulty interacting with others. Many don’t attempt to interact with anyone at all. Quentin is not like this, and I see a lot of hope in his ability to socialize. However, his preferred method of interacting is through TV and touchscreen devices. He begs us to label logos on the screen, things he is seeing. Even if he knows what it is, he wants to hear it. Over and over again, perseverating on logos and images. (I wrote about this when we took our summer vacation, and included a cute video of Quentin asking Fiona to name things for him on the ipad.) These days, he’s especially into logos. The only other way he really wants to interact with other is when he is reading a book or a magazine, or asking us to name logos out in the world. No matter what, his interactions are all based on naming visual images, and I cannot help but think I played a part in creating this monster.
You see, the hypothesis for my dissertation was that children can learn more from educational videos if an adult guides them with open-ended questions. While my children were not a part of this study, this method of co-viewing greatly influenced the way that I watch TV with them. As soon as they were old enough to watch TV, I watched with them, probing for answers. When it became clear that Quentin had a problem forming words, I would always probe him for language. I started watching different with Quentin. Here is a quick video of Quentin watching something on an iphone with me:
So you see, I am constantly re-thinking my methods now. Did I cause this – his constant need to demand verbal labels from us? He looks us in the eyes and interacts… but this is not reciprocal social interaction. There’s no back-and-forth, only constant demands. I’m beginning to wonder if my co-viewing techniques are to blame.
There’s no knowing the answer to this, of course. This is simply what I am pondering at the moment.