Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Decoding Elmo

So, Elmo has returned to our house after a several-year hiatus.

Back when Anna was about two, Sesame Street was the first show we'd let her watch, and she quickly fell in love with Elmo's World.

For those uninitiated, Elmo's World is a section of the show Elmo the red furry monster has all for himself. He explores topics like books, food, singing, bath time, and so on with help from his pet goldfish Dorothy, friend Mr. Noodle, and various other kids and Muppet characters. Over time, we began watching Elmo not just on Sesame Street but on a nice little collection of Elmo's World DVDs we collected since Anna liked him so much.

When Ethan was little he wasn't much into Elmo -- or maybe I was so tired of him I decided to turn other things on. But not long ago, both he and Chloe were pulling old DVDs off the shelf and Elmo ended up on TV once again. Chloe absolutely loved it...

...and so did Ethan. To the point where he begged to watch more. And started asking every day after school if we could watch Elmo.

This brings up an interesting side point that's come up a lot with people who have kids with special needs: age appropriateness. Many times for numbers of reasons these kids prefer toys, games or shows that are at a younger level, developmentally, than what their typical peers are "into."

This shouldn't be a problem. Kids should be able to like what they like and play with what they want to play with. But sometimes it becomes a problem...if your child is social and vocal and you know constantly talking about whatever it is they love could open them up to ridicule from other kids. Anna has rolled her eyes and asked why he wants to watch a show for babies, but I tell her to stop.

Right now this is not the issue. Rather, I've been trying to figure out what draws Ethan to Elmo.

Anna and I both thought at first it was the predictability. Elmo always says the same things and does the same things, in the same order. And in fact Ethan was scripting nearly entire episodes for fun a few weeks ago. Elmo talking to Dorothy. Elmo making his shade go up. Elmo asking a baby a question. Elmo pulling out his magical drawer and clicking on his computer.

Ethan denied this, but when I asked him why he loves Elmo so much, all I heard was, "I don't know."

As usual, all of this Elmo interest led to me Googling the show and learning they haven't made new episodes in nearly a decade. Ethan nearly began salivating when he saw how many episodes we've missed. Then he wanted to know why on some episodes, the crayon drawings on the wall behind Elmo danced, and on some they didn't. As usual, I hadn't noticed.

"Look it up on the computer!" he exclaimed, his answer to almost everything. But alas, I couldn't find anything that specific on the computer animation in Elmo's World, at least without doing much more digging than I felt like doing.

In the mornings Ethan has been pulling up his shade, talking Elmo, trying to make his shade go up the way Elmo does when he wants to see his friend Mr. Noodle -- then doing the same thing, struggling with his dresser drawer like Elmo's drawer, who seems to have a mind of its own.

Yesterday in the car Ethan blurted out, "I think my autism likes Elmo." While we never told him it wasn't something most kids his age liked, somehow, I think he knows.

"Why is that, Ethan?"

"I think it's because all of the objects are alive."

"You mean like the shade and the drawer?"

"Yeah, I like that."

Wow.

It made perfect sense. I wondered how many other kids on the spectrum love Elmo's World for the same reason. People with autism often gravitate towards objects first before people. But these objects have personalities of their own and act a little bit like people.

I love the way Ethan provides this window into what it's like to see through a different lens. And while I know if you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism, I am still hoping, still wondering: if he is this articulate now, what will he be able to tell us about what it's like to live autism when he's older?

Amazing things, indeed.

















1 comment:

Angel Miller said...

That is interesting that he likes how all of Elmo's things are "alive." Elmo did not arrive on Sesame Street until my brother and I were past the usual Sesame Street viewing age, but I remember we did used to watch it sometimes because we liked Elmo! We thought he was so cute! We liked his little baby voice. That was back before he had his own world and everything... he was just one of the regular monsters.