1374722 tn?1278674819

autistic child scared of movies/tv shows

I am the mother of a wonderful 5 year old child with high functionning autism.

I am faced with a dilema that I haven't been able to find a solution too for some time now.

My child gets absolutely scared while wathing tv shows or movies. If there is the slightest suspense, even during shows as child friendy as Winnie the Pooh, he panics and screams out loud: "NOOO I'M TOO SCARED!!" (which is problamatic at the movie theater!!). If he is home, he will turn off the TV. He even get scared when he sees one of the characters disobeys a rule. It is as if he is emotionnaly living the story like it was happening to him. It happens even if he knows the story, has seen it before and knows it turns out ok. I wouldn't insist but they sometimes watch movies at school ànd he can't tolerate it.
I beleive that if he avoids the situation, ie turns off the tv or leaves the theater, it reinforces the avoidance behavior.
So I've tried reassure him, reminding him how it turns out, holding him (deep presures), allowing him to turn away, close his eyes until the suspence is resolved because I want him to see the it turns out ok. I remind him that he is ok, that it is not happening to him and he trusts me enough to live through it but it is sooooooo emotional for him.
I had made some progress, taking him to the movies and helping him throught it but we went to see toy story 3 and that was just too much suspence. He doesn't want to watch another movie anymore.

He is not scared of other things, he does roller coasters and water slides that I'm even scared to do!

I hope someone has an idea to help us out! (ps. pardon my spelling, english is my secong language! :)
Thank you in advance!!
6 Responses
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973741 tn?1342342773
Well, I would not take him to the movie theatre, to be honest.  If it is not enjoyable for him and scares him----- I see no reason to force it.  And at a movie theatre, it is intensified with the big screen, speakers, dark atmosphere.  That is overload for a lot of kids.  My son does not have autism and he becomes frightened (he's 5).  My son that is 6 has a developmental delay ------- sensory integration disorder and I think if it were him, I'd just not force it.  

I think that most schools watch movies once in a blue moon as a special treat.  My 6 year olds kindergarten class did so 2 times last year.  I think you could talk to the teachers and have an alternate plan for him.  

At home, I guess if you wanted to try and see if he wants to watch something------ you can try it here and there.  I understand that socially tv is a big things with kids------ they talk about characters and shows/movies.  You could always get books on it and read to him.  In fact, many movies also have a scholastic book or two associated with it------ you know.  Anything for marketing.  LOL  So you could read those books first and peak his interest in the movie and he'd have more familiarity to it.  But movie theatres just probably are not a good idea------- for the above mentioned reasons.  Could just be too overwhelming.

Oh, and watch for scary things to interfere in other ways.  My son was enjoying scooby doo (pretty harmless)------- resulted in a couple weeks of nightmares and difficulty with sleep.  
good luck
Helpful - 0
Avatar universal
My 6 year old is similar with suspenseful shows/movies, too.  He's not autistic (maybe ADHD, but we'll cross that bridge when we get there).  But he has some sensitivity to suspense in shows he's watched before and asks for us to turn it off.  He's not to the extreme of screaming or crying, but he can get a touch panicky, at times, until we turn it off.  His fears have subsided some as he gets older (we've finally been able to make it through 5 of the Star Wars movies without too much incident).  

Honestly, it seems like a fairly normal part of growing up - and with your son, it may just be intensified by his autism.  Right now, I wouldn't force it on him.  Yes, forcing him to watch can show him that everything turns out fine, but turning it off can send a message that you're watching out for him and will keep him safe.  It's a fine line of "is it good to make him deal with it" or "show him you're there for him."  Since he's autistic, it may be better to chose the latter, for now.  And as he gets older, slowly re-introduce the movies and shows he's been fearful of.  My teenage daughter also had some problems, but now she loves suspenseful movies!
Helpful - 0
134578 tn?1614729226
As the other ladies say, don't require him to do this because you think it's good for him in some way.  Just support him and allow him to grow past his fears in a more gentle way.  I can think of a lot worse things than a child who doesn't want to watch TV, for example, a child who does want to watch TV.
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Avatar universal
Why is watching the TV necessary? Or for that matter movies?  Can he read?  Many autistic kids are very intelligent so why not feed his brain?  Honestly I am not sure television is really all that healthy for any kids, particularly autistic kids.
Helpful - 0
1374722 tn?1278674819
Thank you all for taking the time to answer my post!

I understand your point of view about forcing him to do something that isn't enjoyable to him, and trust me I am very sensitive to that as well. I am mostly perplexed as to why he isn't differenciating his own emotions from the ones portrayed on the screen. And people say autistic children don't have empathy, they haven't met my son!!
Tolerating negative emotions is an important part of socialisation and self regulation and as he is un full intergration at school,  this is a worry of mine because it manifest itself in social conflict as well.

I have to fill you in on the latest developements about the situation. We spoke to the ABA team and they suggested we made a visual plan about going to the movies: what he likes, what he dislikes, what he can do if he is scared etc. This got him excited to try again and we went to see Dispicable Me. As the suspence got to him, his favorite "chewy" turned out to be the best solution. He was able to soothe himself but chewing on it and he was proud of himself at the end! By the way, he always had the option of leaving the theater if it was too much for him.
Our occupational therapist suggested we introduce some "battle games" with him. This way, he will learn to understand that what happens to the charachters isn't happening to him (always with emotional support). I felt this way a great idea because it would also target imaginary play and appropriate scenarios to play with other little boys.

Ps. I agree that a child who doeasn't like TV is far less troublesom that a child who does! LOL
Helpful - 0
973741 tn?1342342773
So glad the chewy worked.  Isn't it amazing how oral soothing can take care of a problem?  I never knew before my son what a wonderful tool that is.  

I think the thing that some don't understand about kids with autism and delays is that it is not important that they see the movie or tv show . . . but that they are current with what their friends are talking about.  My son at 6 wants to mix and mingle with the other kids.  I help him stay up on what the kids are into.  He's never seen some of the movies that other kids have seen . . . but he's read the books with me from the library that come out simultaneously or that the movie is based on.  My sons don't watch much tv but they know all about super heroes so that when the suggestion on the playground comes about to play this . . . they'll be in the mix and able to play.  Helping a child with a developmental delay out socially is part of what a parent must do.  And like it or not, tv and movies are part of our culture.  Like I said----------my kids don't watch tv much nor do they really want to---------- but I keep them up on what kids their age are into.  Sometimes I'll hear something when we are playing with other kids and go find the books on it to read to my boys so they know what the kids are talking about.  This probably sounds strange to those that haven't had to spoon feed social skills to their kids.  

Anyway, I love occupational therapists for their input into how to help a child move along.  Imaginary play is how we address a lot of things.  Probably good for all of our minds!  Good luck on the journey!
Helpful - 0
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