Here I am in the den trying to think of something to write about that I haven’t already covered. I have writer’s block – such torture. As I sit and ponder I hear the sounds of hardy laughter emanating from Matt’s room.
Matt is watching Bugs Bunny – the new DVD he just bought. The DVD is a collection of the classics and Matt grew up on the classics. Bugs Bunny and all his friends, the familiar theme songs and character voices – what a blast from the past. Matt has been steadily laughing now for 5 minutes straight. I take a moment to listen – ah, Road Runner and Wiley Coyote. No wonder he’s laughing so hard.
Cartoons have always been something I enjoy and I started my kids out early on the antics of such characters as Tom and Jerry, Scooby-do, The Flintstones (I know every episode by heart), and of course, Bugs Bunny. Matt has found cartoons – especially these silly ones from the past – to be the most enjoyable too. He has openly laughed while watching since he was just a toddler. There were times in the car that Matt would burst out laughing and we would all look at each other quizzically, “What’s so funny?” we wondered. I had to wait until he could speak to find out the answer to that question – Road Runner and Wiley Coyote, Bugs Bunny or some other cartoon. Yep, all those times he would burst out laughing, Matt had actually been replaying cartoons. Matt was watching these reruns in his mind and laughing at all the right moments. If you asked him “What’s so funny?” he could describe the entire scene to you, complete with any road-signs poor Road Runner had to read, or Bugs Bunny or Elmer Fudd held in their hands.
Holidays and Birthdays always brought VCR tapes of classic cartoons from the grandparents. Matt literally wore out each tape (and 2 VCRs). Each replay brought hardy laughter and memorized speech – which was fine with me. I know, I know . . . I should have modified his behavior – according to all those experts who have no autistic child of their own. According to them, I was supposed to try and curb his desire for routines and “strange” behaviors. But I must confess, I liked it (gasp!). I loved hearing the joy. I loved seeing the smile. Why in the world would I break his heart over something as trivial as watching cartoons? So I let Matt enjoy his cartoons and his movies over and over (and over and over) until the tape or the VCR just couldn’t play anymore. And Matt stayed happy and openly displayed this most precious of emotions. Did it ever do any real harm? Well, I guess if you counted how many people thought they would lose their mind after hearing the same cartoon 8-10 times in a row – but heck, they’re family, so they just accepted it and suffered.
I have another confession; I still love cartoons. I haven’t watched any of the newer ones. They are not the same. The plots are too serious or they are just not goofy enough to suit my sense of humor. Matt understands – he likes goofy too.
So as I sit in the den and listen to his laughter – yep, still going on – I think about how much joy this child carries with him everyday. He laughs so readily, he smiles and jokes so easily. Hearing the sounds of joy fill my house I am glad that I never took away his desire to replay tapes. I survived, my family survived and Matt grew up with laughter and joy. In the end, the only thing that really matters is that my son is happy.
From all indications, he is enjoying his new DVD immensely. I sit and ponder on the teaching value of such silly animations. The facial expressions are really obvious for each character – you definitely know what they are thinking. A Daffey Duck with a face full of buck-shot from Elmer clearly displays disgust, loathing, and shock. A Road Runner looking at a bowl of seed tainted with explosives clearly shows intelligence and a “yeah, right . . . “ Matt laughs at these expressions because he can read them clearly. He could watch the facial expressions of animated characters long before he could stand to look at a human face. He was safe with the animations – and he learned facial expressions relate to human emotions. He also picked up a wonderful sense of humor and an easy laugh – 2 very endearing traits. So, did they teach Matt anything? Of course! Every exposure to cartoons taught something.
Children learn through interacting with their environment. What type of environment we choose to expose them to is up to us. An autistic child learns the same way in this regard – their environment is everything. Watching the classics (cartoons)? Well, they're really just another minor player in the entire scheme of things, but vastly important to Matt experiencing joy on command. Bad day? Turn-on the cartoons and watch the bad times slip away.
As I finish writing I hear the whistling sound of a bomb dropping on Wiley Coyote and a very hardy laugh burst from Matt. Yep, cartoons rule!
To this day whenever I hear a cartoon on I know thw laughs are not far behind - it remains music to my ears.