Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Lights, camera, distraction

Sometimes it's the things we want most that end up being the worst for us.

Junk food can be like that for a lot of people. For Bud, it's the video camera. He loves working the camera, and he loves watching home movies of himself. But there are few things I can think of that are more dysregulating for him.

When Bud watches movies of himself, two things happen. First, he is reminded of obsessions that have passed, toys that have long been broken that he must have right now, and scripts that were hard to lose but are easily found. Second, the movies themselves become sources of echolalic scripts - he begins quoting a younger, less verbal self.

So, this weekend when Bud pleaded with me to let him watch home videos, I hesitated. He was persistent, and ultimately my resolve wore down and I compromised. I told him I would get a blank video so that he could make a new movie, then watch it. He was thrilled, and he focused his attention exclusively on the upcoming activity until I was able to get a new video so that he could get to work.

It was all downhill from there. In a very short time, Bud became distracted, short-tempered, dissatisfied, and anxious. I've been trying to figure out what happens for Bud when he uses the video camera, and what I've come up with is this: he reacts to the video camera the way an addict reacts to a drug.

Initially, it's just about having a good time. So he uses, and it feels good.

Then it doesn't feel right. It feels bad.

It feels really bad. And he wants to feel good again.

So he uses.

And he feels better, but not good. He wants to feel good.

So he uses more. Or he uses differently.

And he feels good.

Then he feels bad.

Then he feels worse.

And so he uses.

By the end of the day, Bud seemed strung out. He seemed miserable. He wanted more, different, again, back, other, bigger, slower, faster, closer, away, near, stop, go, moviemoviemovie.

I cut him off cold turkey, and he actually seemed relieved. He hasn't asked for it since.

I need to continue to keep the video camera out of sight. Unfortunately, this means that I have very little footage of my adorable, talented boy. It's okay, though; I still have a front-row seat to a terrific live performance.


kristina said...

This is Charlie exactly regarding some of his "favorite things"--long-lost Barney videos, sushi, Lite Brite. And I have showed him short videos of himself riding his bike and he wants to watch and watch with a kind of over-determined, all-consuming fixation.

The live-action show is the best.

Zilari said...

Hmm, I think I understand this, in 2 ways.

First, wanting to see videos of onesself is quite probably related to a sort of need to trace a path of identity through time. Seeing his "younger self" probably makes Bud feel more connected with his identity. I used to have a very strong fixation on going through all my old school papers and such, and would pester my parents for ages to let me up into the attic so I could dig through boxes of old things.

I do hope that at some point Bud becomes able to self-regulate about these sorts of things, because growing up really is sort of an existential adventure, and being able to trace onesself through the past can be, well, centering in a way.

My parents used to tell me, "If you get upset when you're doing something you think is fun, you have to stop". And if I ended up getting upset or at a point where I couldn't stop, then I wouldn't get to do the "fun thing" for a while. I also remember having very strong feelings not only of liking something a whole lot, but wanting to continue liking that thing, and getting edgy when the thing started to not have quite the same appeal.

Over time I have learned to alternate perseverations a bit, and keep an eye open for new things on the horizon that have the potential to be just as interesting. The "brain stickiness" is always there and is something I would never want to lose because I do think it lends tremendous, awesome, all-encompassing depth to experiences.

But fun is supposed to be fun, and when it's not fun anymore, that is indeed a sign that it is time to take a break.

Anonymous said...

the addict anlogy is a good one, I think: I have something of the same "addiction" to writing: I start and it feels good, and after a long time it all starts running together, but I can't seem to stop, etc.

I think this goes beyond mere autism, though the fixation that autistics have may intensify the effect. We don't watch a whole heckuva lot of home movies, but I now know a possible pitfall to avoid.

MOM-NOS said...

Zilari, thanks for your thoughts on this. They are helpful as I think about how to help Bud make choices that will keep fun things fun for him. Your thoughts on his need to "trace a path" are also interesting. I hadn't thought about it before, but he ALSO loves to look through photo albums and use the digital camera, neither of which have the same effect on him as the video camera does. I think we'll stick with those for a while longer.