The study by Cornell researchers (in the Johnson School of Business) about a possible link between autism and TV has been reported everywhere across the internet, from here at Digital Silence to here at Occupational Health and Safety.
Professor Michael Waldman’s hypothesis about TV possibly causing autism is certainly provocative. The study draws on statistics and data from sources ranging from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ American Time Use Survey to county-level autism data for California, Oregon, and Washington to percentages of households that subscribe to cable television—but not on actual observations of autistic children watching TV. On First it was iPods, now it’s TV: Blaming autism on electronic appliances, my post about the Cornell study, I made these observations about autistic children watching TV:
While Waldman’s study gathers together and compares the results of a number of studies on autism, media, the effects of those media on children, and so forth, the study does not take into account some of the particularities, or peculiarities if one prefers to phrase it that way, of autistic children “watching” television. TV “watching” for some autistic children is a perhaps a sort of sensory experience in which children interface with a machine producing sound and numerous visual stimuli. Autistic children may have a hard time sitting down and sitting still to watch a TV show; in the case of my son, he gets up frequently and often ends up pacing the room while occasionally glancing (through the corners of his eyes) at a TV set.
Watching TV for an autistic child may be a neurologically different experience than it is for those of us who are not autistic, and (as far as I can tell) this sort of “non-NT” experience of watching TV does not seem to be in Waldman’s article. It would be interesting to learn about any observations he and his research team have regarding the actual experience of an autistic child watching TV.