The idiot box, the boob tube, the baby sitter. At some point or another in our lives, we've all heard our parents refer to that square, loud and colorful box by some clever name that signified their annoyance of...THE TELEVISION. As strange is it may sound, I am eternally grateful for that loud, square and colorful box. And I will tell you why. The television quite literally helped Chase find his voice, and was instrumental in demonstrating to him how to socialize with others and engage with the world in general, through a safe, non-threatening venue. As you know by now, Chase is part of a large family. We are an active, social and outgoing group. However, the speech and cognitive delay aspect of his medical condition made social situations overwhelming and at times unbearable for him.
Large holiday gatherings, birthday parties and amusement parks were torture for him. He could speak very few words, and could understand equally as many or less which made socializing almost non-existent for him. Being an almost entirely visual learner, T.V. provided the venue through which Chase could hear and observe language in action without feeling the stress and anxiety of having to participate in it. He learned how people interacted with one another, and how to respond appropriately in different situations. He was able to see the many types of people, places and things that make up this world. He could preview circumstances and take the time he needed to process what he was seeing, and then determine what he liked or disliked; what he wanted to experience or avoid; and learn what words and phrases he needed to use to express his thoughts to others. The television also taught him about the things that his peers were interested in, and provided him with information and vocabulary to connect and engage in conversation.
Of course, television was not Chase's only form of speech, cognitive, and socialization therapy. He was receiving intense speech therapy in the school environment and socialization therapy at home at this time as well. Flash cards, story boards, and group socialization therapy were being used to also assist in creating the visual learning tools required to help Chase not only learn the English language, but how to use it. It was during one of these in home therapy sessions however, that myself and his therapists began to recognize words and phrases that Chase was using from television shows to communicate with us. We would ask a question, or make a statement and he would quickly recall a scene from a show which was similar to the question or circumstance he was being presented with and would repeat verbatim the response from the show which would be an entirely appropriate response. It was actually rather genius of him!
Until I realized how Chase's time in front of the television was actually transforming and opening up his life, I must admit I felt conflicted and guilty about the amount of time he was spending watching T.V. There was a time when he could and would do little else except watch T.V. I am a very active get-up-and go person, and I desperately wanted to take Chase places and do things but he just couldn't do them at that time and I learned why. He was being a good student. He was learning before he leaped! As time went by and Chase learned more and more about language, he gradually started expressing a healthy interest in activities, people, places and things.
Today, I am excited and relieved that Chase prefers above all else to spend time with friends and family. He loves meeting new people, going places and trying new things and I can't keep up with all of his ideas, plans, and expectations. The T.V. was never a substitute for any of his other support systems or catalysts in his life. But T.V. was definitely a part of the positive foundation on which Chase began to establish a relationship with the world around him.
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