The Disney Channel & Aspergers

My eldest, who is autistic, likes to watch the Disney Channel. My youngest, who is also autistic, derisively calls it 'Disney & Ketchup', likening it to fast food that's all the same (they have a point). But then, their autism presents very differently to each other - that's the thing about autism - no two people have exactly the same symptoms, which is why it can be so hard to diagnose.

I believe that Disney programmes such as Shake It Up, Wizards of Waverley Place, iCarly and Sonny With A Chance, can help people with AS develop their social awareness.

The Disney Channel offers very moral programmes. They teach right from wrong, model behaviours, discuss social dilemmas and show conflicts that are resolved by taking the right course of action. Most of all, they're not subtle and are over-acted, so are easy for a child with AS to get to grips with, without confusion.

They portray young people who are integrated with the world and their surroundings, who relate well-and sometimes not so well- to others, often in an overblown way, which is good when you can miss subtle cues. They show the cool kid, the bully and the nerd and hold mirrors up to their behaviour enabling their traits to be magnified in a way that is easy for a child with poor social understanding to comprehend. Sometimes bad things happen to the central characters and we are shown how they deal with it and get through it. Sometimes, to me as an adult, it can seem puerile, but it's that simplicity that works on a level that gets the message across.

While it wouldn't be a great idea for a child to copy the actions of the characters exactly and over-act in real life (a danger in a child with AS), it is possible to use these programmes to discuss why certain things happened, why certain reactions were shown or why particular misunderstandings happened.  While real life isn't as clear-cut or sugary as Disney life, I think it is possible to use the programmes as a learning tool for exploring social situations and to apply the lessons learned by the characters in the programmes to every day situations.

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Tania Tirraoro
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