When I was younger, just a child, I used to spend a lot of time in front of the TV. When I became a teenager and discovered the magic of movies and films, I would try to watch them as much as possible.
I didn’t think about this until recently but watching TV and movies taught me a thing or two about interaction and opening myself up to others.
I’ve said several times before that I suffered from bullying during all my elementary and almost all my high school, with the sole exception of the final months of senior year. Books and video games may have helped, but now, looking back to those days, I cannot help but wonder if the audiovisual world affected me in some way. Chances are it did.
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From a very young age, I felt like a stranger among my mates. While others preferred to play basketball, I would rather read a book, and when they wanted to have a party at their houses with the whole classroom, I just wanted two or three friends to come over. The short answer is that I’ve never felt comfortable with big groups of people. I felt exposed, as if all the laughs were because of me, and not because I said a joke. I’d rather be alone and do something else.
The long answer is that I never knew how to express myself well and what to say in certain moments. Keeping a casual conversation was impossible for me, and I would often find myself fabricating fiction, and I guess no one suspected a thing. Why? Because I consumed a lot of fiction. Fiction has been and is still my escape.
Watching several characters have a conversation repeatedly made me understand that there’s nothing dangerous about talking a bit now and then, and it turns out that many children on the autism spectrum learn through seeing. Visual supports are valuable to children regardless of their IQ and communication skills. (Savner and Myles, 2000.)
To see those characters I loved so much act as I wanted to act served me like a secondary, indirect school. While it is true that at some point I wouldn’t leave a screen of any type (TV, movies, videogames, even my cellphone when I had my first Android), I started to guess what certain characters would say and how they would behave in certain situations.
I suddenly didn’t feel that lonely anymore. I had so many characters in my head and on the screen in front of me that I could always come to them and think I was just paying a visit, or that they came to my home. Either way, I saw them as real people in some way and realized that if they wouldn’t hurt me, the real world wouldn’t either (most of the time.)
These characters served as a point of reference when I wanted to have a conversation, and I could usually name their shows or movies when I met someone new. Slowly, I included music as well, talking about the videos and singles I saw. Sometimes I felt embarrassed when they didn’t have my tastes, and it made it all clearer that I wasn’t “normal” because of what I liked to see, but several friendships I still have today started that way: with some “friends” in common.
This isn’t uncommon. Having shared interests makes it easier to connect with someone. Ozonoff, Dawson, and McPartland (2002) explained that a child with Asperger’s syndrome may thrive in a science fiction club or a TV fan club when he/she has specific expertise which can help earn social status.
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Of course, this wouldn’t have happened had I stayed indoors and didn’t make an attempt to be more open and allow myself to meet new people. The change starts inside, that’s something we all have to come to terms with at some point. I still get embarrassed when I say or do something I shouldn’t have, but it’s easier to change my perception and control my feelings now that I know that it can happen to anyone anytime, whether we’re real people or characters on a screen.
Ozonoff, S., Dawson, G. and McPartland, J. (2002). A Parent’s Guide to Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism: How to Meet the Challenges and Help Your Child Thrive. 1st ed. New York: Guilford Press.
Savner, J. and Myles, B. (2000). Making visual supports work in the home and community. Shawnee Mission, Kan.: Autism Asperger Pub. Co.
This article was featured in Issue 94 – Daily Strategies Families Need