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Friday, March 6, 2015

The Slightest Hint of Negative Emotion on TV

I'll have to admit I'd love it if Janey would watch TV passively.  At the end of a long day, it would be a dream to have her just sit there glued to the screen, watching whatever came along and giving us all a little break.  If that makes me a horrible mother, so be it.  But it never happens.  Janey's TV watching is an interactive, restless and volatile experience.  The videos are stopped and started, the shows turned off and changed and turned back on.  Almost always, at some point during a video or show, Janey screams and angrily turns everything off.  For a while, she felt the need to smash the TV while doing so, but after long enough of us just unplugging everything when she did this, she now turns it off more delicately.  Then, due to today's complicated mix of Netflix and Amazon Prime and so on, to watch again, she usually needs some help (partly because I had to install passwords on Amazon Prime after she bought several expensive seasons of shows on her own).  Therefore, lately when she's watching TV, I watch with her, knitting or sneaking in a little reading between putting shows back on.   This has let me figure out what seems to trigger the need to freak out and turn off shows.

Basically, Janey hates characters on a show to demonstrate any negative emotions.  Strangely, this is more so the case for subtle negative emotions.  If the characters are very plain in what is making them upset or mean or angry, it's usually okay---she watches "Courage the Cowardly Dog" happily often, and there is some wild and strange emotion there, but it's very, very obvious.  She can happily view the bizarre enchanted evil book in "The Care Bears Movie",  but she loses it at the merest hint of annoyance of Little Bear's antics shown by his parents.

Janey's favorite shows are usually very mild ones.  Right now, she most often is watching "Little Bear", "Kipper" and "Oswald".  All of them were originally on Nickelodeon for preschools, and trust me, they don't feature a lot of fight scenes or confrontations.  But Janey picks up on anything less than perfect harmony, and seems horribly upset by it.  For example, in one episode, Kipper's friend Tiger is fishing.  He is not catching anything, and at one point he says to Kipper "Let me tell you something.  Fishing is very, very boring"  Tiger is a bit of a malcontent, and he says this in a slightly annoyed voice.  Janey freaks out.  She has to turn off the show every time at that point.  Or Oswald's friend, the penguin Henry, another slightly grouchy character, turns down Oswald's offer to go to the beach, saying he doesn't like the water.  His very minorly prickly tone causes Janey to start crying and turn off the show immediately.

Janey's discomfort with such slight shows of negative emotion seems to go against a lot of things people think about autism.  Isn't she supposed to be unaware of subtle emotions?  And in fact, stronger emotions often seem to not affect her a bit.  Freddy and I watch a lot of "Star Trek Voyager", and there are some fairly dramatic scenes in that show, but Janey never seems to mind.  My theory is that Janey feels scared when she doesn't know quite why people are acting the way they are.  If it's very obvious, that's okay---she can classify that.  But if the scene is more subtle, and her hugely sensitive ears pick
up a tone indicating something is happening she can't quite put her finger on, that is scary.

Lately I have tried to talk to Janey about the scenes that upset her.  Yesterday, when watching Little Bear, the mother bear came home after Little Bear and his friends had messed up the house.  They cleaned up most of it before she got in, but she realized things were out of place and said something like "Little Bear, why is there a croquet ball in my knitting basket?"  Her tone was enough to get the TV shut off.  I said "Mama Bear was a little upset there, wasn't she?  She figured out that Little Bear had been a little silly while she was gone.  But she understands that bears sometimes get a little silly.  She isn't that angry"  Janey gave me one of her deep, intense looks, one of those looks I love that seem to say "Hey, you hit on something there.  You got me"  We put the show back on and watched the rest together.

Realizing how sensitive Janey is to even mild TV shows makes me realize how the world must often feel to her.  It's a confusing, overwhelming place, and often, just shutting it out must feel like the best strategy.  I can see why she screams and lashes out when it gets overwhelming.  It must be easier to put our her own strong emotions to cover up all those swirling confusion messages out there.  I hope I can somehow help Janey a little to be able to face this emotionally complex world, but it's not going to be that easy.


pianorox said...

Congratulations on figuring out what is going on. You are a great mama. This does confirm that a lot more is going on in Janey's mind than she can express (which you knew anyway). I can't imagine how frustrating life must be for her. Keep peeling away layers and you will find out how her mind works little by little.

raynette jones said...

I have been reading your blog for a while now. I found it somehow and went from beginning to end and i was especially saddened when your daughter was in the hospital and know that the "break" you had was not a break at all with the worrying, driving, and calling all the drs and ins etc. I just wanted you to know that I really think you are doing a great job. You have both the older boys that are getting so grown now and seem like fine young men and doing your very best that you know how for Janey, plus keep a husband. Just wanted to let you know that even though I cant personally help your situation, I commend you for your sanity that you still have and all the love that I can tell from your blog that you have for your family. try not to be so hard on yourself. i know that is hard as i am a mother myself. Just wanted to let you know your whole family is in my prayers and am so proud of how well your boys are doing. hang in there.

Kenneth Hawkes said...

This is a really good insight you had. I love to theorize about in autism in my son and pretty much like to theorize about everyone's psychology. I tell my wife about what I read here and try to develop theories. For instance, if I am sitting around hanging out with someone, my mind thinks of different things to do or say next. This might be going on unconsciously. If it crosses my mind I could pinch, that idea will be immediately rejected and passed over if we are getting along now and being happy together. But what if my autism gives me a disorder in that process so that I think it through a little bit more and remember the bad reactions I got when I pinched before. And now thinking about that I am mad about it again and I want to pinch. My son had some of this problem for a while. Negative response or anger just reinforces it. My dream approach with real ABA, and I really don't know if such ABA professionalism exists, would be to take all the negative angry type reaction reinforcers your daughter gets from pinching and whatever and to just spam her with them so she drops the bad behavior it used to take to get them.. Like do them a lot of the time but fun and crazy and in a sort of game like pretending a stuffed animal is pinching and disturbing your morning a bit and explain it if she is receptive. There must be some way to get that started and get on her good side with it. Carefully, carefully, carefully so you don't blow it and never be able to do it again. I think that is the best way to root out these bad behaviors that are reinforced by negative reactions.

Also I suspect in your daughter that she does not had the same type of Ego we have that grapples with emotions and steers them and gives her confidence that she can do this. I see her as maybe riding with the emotions more and of course we all could get addicted to riding our emotions upward, she may be letting them hurry up and bottom out when they are going down.

I remember the post you wrote about her being out on a wonderful day with you and her dad having a wonderful time and then she all of a sudden went into an emotion of agony and horror. Maybe she reached a peek in her ecstasy and had to come down just a bit, or maybe something a little imperfect crossed her mind. Then she looks directly at the fact that her happiness just went from a 9.7 to a 9.4. And that makes her a little bothered and takes off a point and then she looks at that, etc, and it crashes her down. Actually she probably knows from experience this is what happens so she just quite instantly rides it down. Actually "riding it down" whatever it is I think I mean by that, is one way to feel ok and in control. And with her musical type personality she may see beauty and creativity in it.