Saturday, November 1, 2014

Don't Believe Everything You Hear

"Did you know that Bud Light is the official sponsor of the NFL?" Ethan announced during a recent Sunday football game.

I did know, in fact. We'd been seeing the Bud Light commercials non-stop. Along with a plethora of others.

Okay, so the older I get, the more I really, really can't stand ads. Well, except for the Super Bowl, when most people are watching strictly FOR the commercials.

But other than that, they're loud. They're annoying. More and more, they're inappropriate (Victoria's Secret ads, anyone?). The remote's mute button was made for them. Except -- in our house, when I mute a commercial, everyone (including Dan sometimes) either watches the silent screen, or calls out, "Unmute it! I really like this one!"

A long time ago (meaning college), I wanted to go into advertising. For about five minutes. Then I realized I'd quickly hate myself for convincing people they needed things that they really, truly did not need.

I clearly remember the day Anna got a stern education on the evils of advertising. She was about three, and I had just watched a news special about how slapping a familiar cartoon character on any old grocery item significantly increased a child's chance of wanting it. The clincher was when a kid was filmed preferring to eat a ROCK for breakfast rather than a cereal bar because they'd placed it in a box with a Sponge Bob picture.

Anna asked for some soup that had the Dora the Explorer characters on the can, and I was all over that. To this day she walks down the aisles with a discriminating eye, looking to see whose trying to bamboozle her.

Then we have Ethan. Oh, Ethan.

"Mama, you can get a new house for just $29.95!" he called out to me the other morning. We always listen to news on the radio during breakfast.

"Ethan, that's new windows for your house. And they're actually charging you two THOUSAND dollars, not 29."

In the car, driving to school one day, he spotted a satellite dish on someone's house. "It's time to get rid of cable and get Direct TV," he said earnestly.

"Where'd you hear that?"

"That's what they said on the commercial. We need to do that!"

Many people on the spectrum love commercials. In Autism World there's a lot of talk about scripting, which is when a person with autism lifts a familiar line from something they've heard or read and either enjoys repeating it over and over (sort of a comfort thing, or stress-reliever), or uses that "script" to appropriately apply in conversation. Ethan's done both, but usually the latter.

Commericals are perfect scripts, because that's really all they are: snippets meant to stick in our heads; particularly if they're set to music. Which is why I can't remember a lick of the Algebra I was taught, but nearly 30 years later I can sing to you

New Tato Skins got baked potato appeal
Because they're made with real potatoes and skins that are real


The political ads of late have sobered me to the fact that Ethan is not just listening to ads, he's wholeheartedly believing them. Thanks to our (no big surprise) contentious gubernatorial race here in Connecticut, the ads have been on the radio and TV non-stop. And Ethan has begun to state, "Dannel Malloy, he's on our side," and ask "Why doesn't Tom Foley care about us?"

In some respects, this has us trying to hide our giggles, but autism and gullibility are a very real thing. People on the spectrum take what's said at face value and aren't the best at thinking about the internal motivations that might lead someone to say one thing and do another, or speak untruthfully. The last thing we want is for Ethan to believe everything everyone tells him without blinking an eye.

And so we're starting to talk about this, just a little bit.

"Do you know what ads are?" I asked him the other day. "It's people trying to get you to buy something or do something, even if you don't need to."

I'm not sure how much he was listening, but hopefully this message begins to sink in, as the holiday toy ads come out in full swing. Or before kids at school ask Ethan to do something completely inappropriate just because they know if they tell him to do something, he'll go and do it.



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